The world is not enough: Benitez wants glory in Japan to be the springboard for domestic success
00:12 GMT, 15 December 2012
If all goes well for Chelsea in Yokohama on Sunday, Rafael Benitez knows the speech he intends to make. He will deliver it some time prior to the game with Aston Villa on Sunday, December 23, Chelsea’s first Premier League game after returning from Japan.
/12/14/article-2248309-16829310000005DC-373_634x396.jpg” width=”634″ height=”396″ alt=”Happy team: The squad are looking in good shape as they head into Sunday's final” class=”blkBorder” />
Happy team: The squad are looking in good shape as they head into Sunday's final
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What began so promisingly with eight wins and a draw in nine league games lost its way after the home defeat by Manchester United on October 28, resulting in Di Matteo’s brutal departure less than a month later and Benitez’s appointment as interim manager.
He hates the term, with its lack of permanence. Benitez does not see himself as Chelsea’s interim anything. He is the manager until the end of the season and then, he hopes, beyond. If Chelsea do not want him, he believes he will have improved his CV and a rival surely will.
He is not short of self-assurance, for all the brickbats he suffers from Chelsea loyalists. Far from being cowed, Benitez regards Chelsea as precisely the sort of club his track record merits and he may well be right.
For those willing to open their minds, there have been definite improvements under Benitez in recent matches, and not just in the goalscoring form of Fernando Torres. It is popularly believed that Benitez was brought in to restore the value to Roman Abramovich’s 50m investment and, with five goals in his last three games, he is doing that. But there is more.
David Luiz is playing with greater responsibility and has discovered an alternative role in midfield, and Chelsea are tighter and better organised throughout. Benitez would say his team is fitter and physically stronger, too, the result of adjustments in training.
He believes his techniques improve players. ‘I feel sure we will be better and better every single week,’ he said from his perch on the 70th floor of Chelsea’s waterfront hotel in Yokohama.
Mount Fuji lay in the distance, obscured by mist. It is much like Chelsea’s title challenge. It is there all right: but, right now, no-one can see it. ‘I remember at Valencia when we won the league in season 2003-04, we were eight points behind Real Madrid in January,’ said Benitez.
Improvement: Chelsea's defence, including David Luiz (left) has looked better thanks to Rafa Benitez
‘We were in a hotel, in a corridor,
and I was talking with Roberto Ayala, Santiago Canizares and Mauricio
Pellegrino, maybe Aimar, and I told them we would win the league. They
thought I was crazy.
told them we could do this and I remember Canizares mentioning that
conversation to the media when we’d finished eight points ahead of Real
‘The way we trained was the key and we will train in a similar way at Chelsea. I talk to the players here, too, but I cannot implement all of my ideas yet because we don’t have the time. When I took over, very quickly we had to play Manchester City, and then Fulham — so it’s about lifting confidence. Yes, I can see myself saying similar positive things if we return from Japan with this trophy.
‘It will be a slightly different speech, though, because it will be about that first game, against Aston Villa. If they can reproduce the same level in that match that they have produced out here, I think they will regularly again and it will become easier to play matches at a high level.’
Although he did not see it, Benitez was emboldened by reports of the Manchester derby. The resilience of Manchester United in scoring a late winner notwithstanding, the idea of them going two goals clear and then surrendering the lead, and of City going two behind, getting back into the game and still losing, has made him believe this remains an open race.
He is right, of course. The fact that no team have looked particularly convincing — apart, ironically, from Chelsea early on — leads Benitez to believe that a run of wins could easily restore his team to the contest. He has John Terry to return at the heart of defence, and limited improvements to be made in the January transfer window.
Benitez is unconvinced that Chelsea need a marquee signing such as Falcao of Atletico Madrid to assist Torres, but will work with whatever arrives. Another striker is the prime target, although he has ruled out using Theo Walcott in this role.
Clearly, short term, the plan is to dig in over Christmas, get back to winning ways and then wait for reinforcements.
Dig in: Benitez believes his team can challenge City and United for the title
As for his relationship with the fans,
Benitez is resigned to winning grudging respect and no more. The mission
begins on Sunday with the hope he will deliver a major trophy at the
Nissan Stadium in Yokohama.
‘If you talk with the players, especially after they have worked with me, you will understand what we are doing,’ he said. ‘Talk with Ruben Baraja, talk with Mista, my centre forward, we were pushing and pushing back then, but now they say it was the best time in their careers. We were improving, learning and winning.
‘I have a degree in physical education. I was a teacher in a school for three years, in a gym for five years. I was teaching people and to teach people you have to explain and they have to understand.
‘It’s not about explaining it once and that’s it. You might have to explain in different ways, repeat things, teach them.
'Yesterday, we had penetrating passes that were part of our training sessions, so I was really pleased to see what we had done put into practice. We are giving them solutions.
'Look, if you analyse my CV and then the CVs of other managers people think are amazing in England, you might think, “What is going on here”
‘I shouldn’t have to say this, but I have a lot of confidence with football. I have had this for years.
Finding the way: Fernando Torres (left) has been helped by the introduction of Benitez
'When I was 11 I was playing football,
winning the league between schools in Madrid, and I was the captain of
the team. After, I was writing and taking notes, even at 13, still
‘I was at the Real Madrid academy and got injured, but I’d been playing with the likes of Vicente del Bosque and I wasn’t scared of any of them. I might not have had the pace to compete, but I knew where I should make the run, or the pass, or the movement. I had confidence in my analysis.’
And he still does. They might not like Benitez at Chelsea, but they may have to lump him. Everything about the last two weeks suggests he may be about to do rather well.