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London – Chelsea insisted Thursday would be just another day at the office despite interim manager Rafael Benitez hitting out at the club's fans and management the day before.
Benitez launched a broadside following his side's 2-0 win at Middlesbrough in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday, criticising fans for protesting against him and questioning why he was only appointed on a temporary basis.
His outburst sparked speculation on social media that his position was in immediate danger, but a spokesperson for the club said: “It's business as usual.”
Benitez was expected to take training as scheduled on Thursday as the European champions began preparations for Saturday's league game with West Bromwich Albion.
The 52-year-old Spaniard has risked the wrath of owner Roman Abramovich by asking why the club insisted on making him an 'interim' manager when he replaced the sacked Roberto di Matteo in November.
“I have a title. Someone decided the title would be 'interim'. Why? Just in case?” he said on Wednesday.
“If they want to blame me for everything that is wrong and then they say, 'We will put interim just in case,' fine, that is your decision.
“I don't agree, but it's your decision and now everybody has to take responsibility. If we are in the Champions League, I will be the happiest man in the world.
“But next year, I will leave anyway because I have finished my contract, so they (his critics) don't need to be worried about me. What they have to do is concentrate on supporting the team.
“I have a contract until the end of the season, that's it, so they don't need to be worried about me.”
Benitez has faced opposition from a core of disillusioned Chelsea fans ever since he arrived at the club but he says those supporters have unrealistic expectations about the current squad.
“It's a team in transition -- they don't realise,” said the former Liverpool manager.
“In the past, we had (Didier) Drogba, (Michael) Essien, (Salomon) Kalou. These players, it was a very strong squad, players with experience in the Premier League.
“Now we have a group of players with talent, really good players with talent, but they need time. It's a time of transition.
“But they don't realise it was a time of transition when I came here.”
Benitez received support from some of his fellow Premier League managers, with Fulham's Martin Jol expressing sympathy for the Spaniard's predicament.
“I feel for any manager who is not well-liked and he wasn't well-liked from the start, so I feel for him,” said Jol.
“He is a professional so he will probably do his job until the end of the season.”
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew agreed that being installed as an 'interim' manager had undermined Benitez from the start.
“The title probably didn't do him any favours,” Pardew said.
“It probably didn't help Chelsea, and perhaps even upstairs, they might regret that title, if you want to call it that.
“He's a great manager; they are a great club. They will sort it out.” – AFP