Chelsea announced that Rafael Benitez had been appointed their interim first team-manager until the end of the season after the European champions sacked Roberto di Matteo. The 52-year-old former Liverpool boss travelled back from Abu Dhabi to his Merseyside home on Wednesday. He is expected to arrive in London to meet his new players after training. The Spaniard has signed a deal until the end of the season, but it is understood the contract includes an option for a further year. A Chelsea statement said: “The owner and the board believe that in Benitez we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives.
The two-time Uefa Manager of the Year comes with outstanding pedigree.” Rafael Benitez began his managerial career in his homeland, most notably at Valencia where he built a reputation as one of Europe’s top coaches by winning the Spanish League twice and the UEFA Cup. He then spent six years at Liverpool and led them to their fifth European Cup and an FA Cup. Reports in Holland suggest that former Netherlands midfielder Boudewijn Zenden, 36, who spent three years at Chelsea until 2004, will be Benitez’s assistant manager. Zenden played under Benitez at Liverpool for two years from 2005. Benitez is Chelsea’s ninth manager since Roman Abramovich became owner in 2003. His first match in charge will be Sunday’s game at home to Manchester City, with Chelsea four points behind the league leaders. Benitez left Liverpool by “mutual consent” in 2010 after the club finished Premier League season in seventh place, their worst since 1999. However, days later, he then took charge of Inter Milan only for his spell in charge of the Italian giants to last just a matter of months. Benitez quit Inter in December 2010 after calling on the club to back him or sack him in the upcoming January transfer market following the team’s FIFA Club World Cup final win over Congolese side Mazembe in Abu Dhabi.
In between all that, Di Matteo joined the ever-increasing list of men to be ruthlessly sacked by Abramovich, who is now on his ninth manager in a little over eight years. It would be no exaggeration to say Benitez would be the least popular of his appointments judging by the reaction of Chelsea supporters on social media. However, given the break clause in Benitez’s contract, whether he gets beyond the next seven months could be in doubt.