The 50m question: So, Rafa, how do you solve a problem like Fernando
23:46 GMT, 24 November 2012
When Rafa Benitez takes his place in the Stamford Bridge dugout today in the Premier League showdown against champions Manchester City, some Chelsea supporters will doubtless have to remind themselves not to abuse their new manager.
Even on Friday at the club's Cobham training ground it was incongruous to see Benitez, the hated rival of Mourinho's Chelsea, dressed in blue. It will take some getting used to for everyone involved.
Come in No 9: Benitez must find a way for Fernando Torres to produce the form he showed at Liverpool
But Benitez is the latest man charged with restoring Chelsea's title challenge, redeeming their failures in Europe and, along the way, helping to improve their abysmal image in a week when they have sacked a Champions League winner and seen their accusation of racial abuse against referee Mark Clattenburg thrown out because of negligible evidence.
Chelsea may be toxic, not least for managers, but Benitez does not seem to mind. When he received the call to confirm his appointment at Dubai Airport on Wednesday night, Benitez, initially, showed excitement before reverting quickly to familiar work mode, methodically analysing his options.
He knows the risks. On Thursday, as he travelled by train to London to meet the squad before dining with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, he was enjoying the usual jokes doing the rounds: the one about him being given two seasons, winter and spring; the one about no one being more than 20 metres away from a former Chelsea manager by 2025.
But for almost two years he has sat and waited for the correct job to come along and his self-confidence has never diminished.
While others thought he might be tempted by reasonable offers from slightly below the top-level clubs, including Aston Villa or Sampdoria, Benitez never wavered.
Turning back time: Benitez's remit will be to get the best out of Fernando Torres, but the task is a tough one
'More than 20 years ago, I was sitting around with Vicente del Bosque at Real Madrid and he said to me, “There are not too many managers. Not many people can cope with this pressure and keep winning”. So I had a lot of confidence I would get a job, a good job. This one is a great opportunity. It doesn't matter it's for seven months, even three months.'
In fact, Benitez was Abramovich's favoured choice to hold the fort for Pep Guardiola back in March but the owner was dissuaded then by the board because of the fans' antipathy towards the former Liverpool manager.
So when the owner's patience ran out with Roberto di Matteo and Guardiola remained unavailable, it was to Benitez he turned. During a three-hour meeting at the owner's house on Thursday night, Abramovich outlined his hopes for the club to Benitez.
Transfer talk has not been the priority, although signing a striker in January is vital. Benitez might wish to add a holding midfielder to that, with Javier Mascherano his dream buy, though Barcelona are not in the mood to sell.
But what Abramovich desires more than anything is to see his 50million investment in Fernando Torres pay dividends. 'Obviously I cannot say that we were not talking about Torres,' said Benitez. 'But we were talking about a lot of things.
'We were talking about ideas, how you like to do this, how you like to do that. For two to three hours. And I talk a lot! They can see he has to improve. Everybody can see that he can improve because he has the potential.'
Short of options: Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge are Chelsea's only recognised strikers
It is wrong to assume Benitez has been hired solely to revive Torres. Abramovich, who has a deeper knowledge of football than most would imagine from his decision-making, would have relished Benitez's lengthy explanations of how to marry the side's new attacking ambition with a defensive solidity.
At some point in the conversation, it is almost certain that Benitez would have started using wine glasses to demonstrate positional plays in zonal marking to the billionaire oligarch.
And, at the training ground tour on Thursday afternoon, Benitez did not single Torres out. John Terry took the lead role in showing Benitez around. The players then had the first taste of Benitez's obsessive attention to detail. Training went on so long that dusk was falling and the lack of floodlights was proving problematic by the end.
But it is also true that Benitez has a blueprint to bring fresh life to the player he had at Liverpool. Benitez's analysis is that Chelsea cross the ball from deep areas, which does not suit Torres. Crosses need to come from higher up the pitch. He also hopes to restore the rampaging Torres, who used to go wide hunting the ball at Liverpool then cut in to unleash ferocious shots. Benitez feels Torres has lost that part of his game at Chelsea.
Then there is the matter of confidence. While at Liverpool, Torres was hardly indulged by Benitez – no one ever is – and the striker was shocked at what he took as his manager's coldness at times. But, having left Liverpool, he kept in touch and came to appreciate Benitez's ways.
Crucially, Benitez believes Torres needs both carrot and stick. He would always maintain he was harder on Torres and Steven Gerrard at Liverpool precisely because they were capable of world-class performances.
'With the arm on the shoulder, normally you are in the middle of the league table,' said Benitez. 'When you have to push the player, that is when you can compete for titles. With Fernando you have to put your arm around the shoulder and push him. Both things.'
Eden Hazard may well be the key to Torres. Benitez tried to sign him from Lille as a teenager to team him up with Torres. Even then, though, he was beyond Liverpool's price range.
'We were shopping in Marks & Spencer when we only had money for Lidl,' said one source involved in those negotiations.
No longer. Benitez's principal complaint at Liverpool was that he had to take risks in the transfer market because funds were limited.
Even so, his 2008-09 team went within four points of the title but Benitez acknowledges he is in a better position now. 'It's different. We didn't have too much money for the squad in 2008-09. We had to go for the 11 starters and four or five players, then we had to manage with the others. Here, there's a bit more depth at this moment.
'We had a good team but here we have a good team and also some players (below) them. I think Chelsea are as strong as Manchester City or United.
'The teams at the top are very close. You have enough players to beat anyone but obviously you have to tick all the boxes and they have to understand each other.'
Benitez believes he can tick those boxes. If he does, then even Chelsea fans might start to appreciate him.