Rafa Ben├¡tez took charge of training on Thursday as Chelsea insisted it was business as usual at the club, the day after their interim manager launched extraordinary criticism at the club’s fans and hierarchy for their lack of support for him and spoke out against the ‘interim’ label on his job title.
On first view Ben├¡tez and the Chelsea players, with whom he also had a major disagreement earlier in the week, were going about their jobs unaffected by Wednesday night’s tirade in front of the media following Chelsea’s 2-0 FA Cup victory over Middlesbrough.
However, behind the scenes the cloud surrounding the club as they look towards challenging on three fronts – the FA Cup, Europa League and qualification for next season’s Champions League – saw chief executive Ron Gourlay at Cobham.
Gouraly is seen as one of owner Roman Abramovich’s right hand men and it is uncommon for him to attend club training in ordinary circumstances.
Ben├¡tez revealed on Wednesday night that he will leave the club when his contract expires in the summer and, despite his potentially incendiary comments, it is understood the club believe Ben├¡tez’s frustrations were aimed at the supporters rather than Abramovich.
As things stand the Spaniard is expected to be in charge of the team against West Brom on Saturday.
Ben├¡tez was highly critical of the supporters who have aimed gratuitous abuse at him since he took the job 99 days ago.
He accused the fans of “wasting their time” because he would be gone at the end of the season, and also said that the decision to call him interim manger was “a big mistake”, a phrase that has been interpreted as criticism of Abramovich.
Within Chelsea, however, there is a view that, given the level of abuse Ben├¡tez has had to absorb his comments were understandable, and the club is minded to let him continue leading the chase for a place in next season’s Champions League.
The club acknowledge the Spaniard spoke out because he believes the poisonous atmosphere at Stamford Bridge, and away from home, is affecting the team, and trust his judgment given his daily contact with the players.
Regardless of the club’s current support, however, Ben├¡tez is certain to face a hugely challenging atmosphere at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.