Benitez protects Abramovich as Chelsea purge gathers pace
Was Spanish manager brought in simply to take the flak as old guard are shown the door?
COULD Roman Abramovich have pulled off a masterstroke by appointing Rafa Benitez as manager of his beloved Chelsea, and using him as a human shield as he dismantles the most successful team in the club's history?
By appointing a manager who is even less popular than him at Stamford Bridge, the Russian may hope to avoid some of the flak heading his way as the Blues wave farewell to a generation of legends, who are idolised by the fans.
Didier Drogba was first out of the door in the summer, and now that Benitez is at the helm it has been announced that Frank Lampard is surplus to requirements. Ashley Cole is also expected to leave at the end of the season, and there are said to be question marks over the futures of John Terry and Petr Cech. The news has not gone down well with the fans, but it is not as if they could turn on the manager, as he is already deeply unpopular.
The situation appears not to have deterred the Spaniard. If he has been tasked with the job of overseeing a clear-out Benitez appears to be tackling it with relish. Speaking ahead of the League Cup semi-final clash with Swansea he said: "It's always easy to talk about the legends, and you have to have a lot of respect for them. What they have achieved for this club has been fantastic. But you have to have new players... It's part of life."
Benitez knows which side his bread is buttered says Paul Kelso in the Daily Telegraph. "The Spaniard is only the interim manager at Stamford Bridge and has limited input into transfer dealings, but he is close enough to the hierarchy to know that Abramovich is committed to change," he writes.
And the manager must act as cheerleader for a policy he does not control. "Benitez played no part in the Lampard decision and is unlikely to have much influence over the futures of Cole and Terry, but he is aware that Roman Abramovich is determined to overhaul Chelsea's squad," explains The Times. "The Spaniard's message will not be welcomed by fans, some of whom continue to protest against his appointment at every match, and there could be a backlash at tonight’s Capital One Cup semi-final."
Many angry Blues fans see him as the leader of a purge. "The animosity towards Benitez from a majority of the most committed Chelsea supporters has not abated, with the Spaniard viewed by some as having been brought in by Roman Abramovich to do the 'dirty work' and clear the decks for his successor," explains The Mirror.
But, as the Daily Mail points out, when a new manager arrives next season much of the bloodletting will have been done and he will effectively have a clean slate to work with. "Chelsea are already deep into the transition and the development of this team is something the next manager will be responsible for," says the paper.