Players matter most to me: Rafa
Interim manager Rafael Benitez has revealed his only concern at Chelsea is keeping his players happy.
Benitez’s appointment at Stamford Bridge has not been popular with sections of Blues fans, with an online petition calling for him not to be considered for the job full-time passing the 2,500 signatures it originally targeted.
Former Liverpool manager Benitez refused to be drawn on that, but when asked yesterday whether he felt he would forever be judged on his past, he said: “If I can see my players in training without conviction, I will be worried.
“Today, I was talking with one or two senior players, explaining and agreeing the way we are doing things is right or if we have to change this or that. We are working with the players every day, and they’re happy.
“We cannot control the perception from outside, but I can influence the players, explain things and analyse things.”
Benitez also revealed ahead of tonight’s Premier League game at Reading that he had even gone as far as to consult his players on team selection and tactics.
He said: “Not always, but sometimes. I have an experienced staff, too. But the feedback from the players is important.
“I talk with them, that’s my way. Some managers like to be seen in the press, ’man-management’ with arms on the shoulders.
“I talk to the players every day. I talk with the injured players in the physio room, with the players in training, or with senior players; why this, why that, and what we need to improve and what the game plan will be.”
More than one senior player has publicly backed Benitez since he took charge, although a ringing endorsement from captain John Terry and vice-captain Frank Lampard may help quell any supporter revolt.
Benitez said: “It’s not just to help me. We have to win together. It’s important for the team to have everyone behind us.
“If we’re winning, it’ll be easier. If not, we’ll need to have everyone pushing in the right direction. John, Frank, Ashley [Cole], [Fernando] Torres, [David] Luiz... they’re all trying to do their best. Everyone, in his own way, is trying to do his best.”
That did not look the case in the first half of Sunday’s FA Cup fourth-round draw at Brentford, but Benitez insisted he would never read the riot act to his players.
“No, I treat them with respect, as professionals,” he said. “They’re players, people, and I treat them normally.”