Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Chelsea can't afford fans rift - Benitez

Rafael Benitez wants the Chelsea fans to get behind the team

Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez has called for the fans to support him, as part of the team, in Saturday's clash with West Brom at Stamford Bridge.

The Spaniard prepared as usual for the Barclays Premier League fixture after appearing to backtrack from some of his comments made earlier this week in which he criticised the decision to give him the 'interim' title and the supporters' continued barracking of him.

It was put to Benitez that the supporters might be even more angered following his comments, but he said: "I am part of the team. I need the supporters behind the team. The fans can express their feelings. That is normal. I don't have any problem with that. They have to stay behind the team, supporting the team."

Due to his prior association with Liverpool, Benitez was never a popular appointment in west London and has regularly been the subject of the fans' ire.

Benitez on Wednesday confirmed he will leave at the end of the season, with his target still a place in the top four and Champions League football next term, and insisted the timing of his comments was devised to encourage the supporters to back their side.

Benitez, who has met Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay in each of the past two days, pointed to the positive atmosphere in the wins over Napoli, which took place last season, and in January against Arsenal, which spurred the team on, and asked for that backing to return.

"The best for my team is to have a very good atmosphere behind them, players feeling the support," he said.

"Against Napoli they were running an extra mile. Feeling the support against Arsenal, they were running an extra mile. I was trying to explain that if we stick together it will be easier."

Benitez also insisted he has no issue with the Chelsea board and that his job title is not a concern, despite saying following Wednesday's FA Cup win at Middlesbrough that the decision to name him 'interim' boss was "a mistake".

Benitez said: "One thing's a mistake. Another's an issue. Now it's not an issue. In my head, I am the manager. I have to manage the team. The title doesn't matter. The Champions League is a big title."I just concentrate on my job."

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