And after two long hours spent briefing journalists yesterday — primarily about Chelsea’s Russian owner and his pet striker, Fernando Torres — three further hours liaising with his players and three more spent over dinner with Roman Abramovich himself, the Spaniard goes into tomorrow’s Premier League match against Manchester City with a sore throat but also a pretty good idea of the problems he will face as the club’s latest interim manager.
Benitez was in buoyant mood as he met representatives of the English and international press at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground; he even spent a good 10 minutes explaining zonal marking using two glasses and a bottle of water, leaving most of the assembled reporters bemused and bamboozled.
But nobody left the meeting with any doubts that the former Liverpool manager is relishing the opportunity handed to him following Abramovich’s brutal disposal of Roberto Di Matteo this week; and nobody could doubt, either, that he has the energy and enthusiasm to make a real go of getting Chelsea back on track.
Communication, he pointed out, will be crucial — and he has already sought out the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech — Chelsea’s old guard — to outline his plans for the future and to deny he has been “anti-Chelsea’ in the past.
“I had that conversation today with John Terry and it was quite positive,” Benitez said. “He knows. He’s a winner. I’m a winner. It’s simple.”
Importantly, the Spaniard has also been able to spend quality time with Abramovich to finally get a real feel of the job he has accepted and the boundaries that go with it. “It was two or three hours and it was interesting as we were talking about everything,” he said. “We both spoke. Normally, as you know, I talk too much!
“My impression with him is he’s a nice person. You can talk with him. He understands. He likes to see you have a clear idea. But the priority of the owner is if I’m a good manager, a good coach, if the players understand me, if we’ll be a winning team. He was very clear with that. He’s happy with the things I’ve said.”
What is not clear is whether Benitez has been given any indication at all whether his time at Chelsea could be extended beyond seven months if he does well. But much could depend on how he handles £50m man Torres; and there, of course, he has an advantage, having managed the striker at Anfield.
“Football is a sport you play with 11 players and sometimes you pinpoint one. But if the striker’s not scoring too many, the rest of the team have to create more chances for him,” said Benitez in defence of his former player. “We need to put Fernando in a position to score goals.”
Interestingly, Benitez had already compiled a file on Chelsea’s strengths and weaknesses long before arriving in west London; pin-pointing defensive issues rather than problems up front as priority.
“I watched a lot of games every weekend, not just in the Premier League,” he said. “I take notes, write down the systems, make notes on the players. I have a folder with reports, a database on players. I have folders on almost every team I watch on telly.
“I saw Chelsea are scoring goals and they have very good players in attack. They have made some mistakes in defence. You can try to find a balance and find things you can improve; little things you can do to avoid conceding goals. We have to think ahead rather than being reactive. You have to have a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C.”
Already Benitez has had to deflect barbs from old rival Alex Ferguson who labelled him ‘lucky’ yesterday. “I thought we were playing against City,” was his response before warning he will not always be so placid in future.
“Sometimes I have to defend my team, my club. You’re playing to win trophies, and only one can win it. So I like to respect people, but sometimes I cannot because they push you...”
Fergie, you have been warned; and it’s fair to say Benitez won’t be settling for third, where Chelsea currently lie as they prepare to face leaders City this weekend.
“I was over 20 years in the Real Madrid academy,” he said. “To be first is the only thing I understand. To be second is to be unhappy. You can improve teams, but that’s not the same as winning trophies. I like to win trophies.”