Chelsea’s interim manager Rafael Benitez said the challenge of trying to win five trophies this season was too great an opportunity to turn down as he returned to the English Premier League on Thursday.
The 52-year-old Spaniard, who left Liverpool at the end of the 2009-10 season and has replaced Roberto Di Matteo at Stamford Bridge, told a packed news conference he was unconcerned about any notion of a short-team deal at the west London club.
“I don’t care about the short term, we have five trophies to fight for. The only thing that matters is that you win matches and then you can win trophies and then we will see what happens.In football, and in life, you never know what may happen,” Benitez said.
As well as the Premier League, the European champions are still involved in the Champions League – although they face elimination in the group stage. They are also in the League Cup with their defence of the FA Cup to start in January, a month after they take part in FIFA’s Club World Cup in Japan.
Asked how he felt at being perceived as a stop-gap until Chelsea’s billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich appoints Pep Guardiola after the former Barcelona coach ends his sabbatical, Benitez said he was not concerned.
“I have a very good relationship with Pep, he is a great man and a great manager, but what will happen in the future you never know. All I know is that we have a massive game at the weekend against Manchester City and five trophies to fight for.
“When you analyse why you go to a club for seven months, when you wait for the right opportunity to come after 18-months, two years, you go to a club that can win matches and win trophies.”
Benitez made a brief visit to Chelsea’s training ground at Cobham, south of London on Thursday to see the players, although he said he had not yet met Abramovich, who sacked Di Matteo on Wednesday, six months after the Italian guided Chelsea to victory in the Champions League final.
“I met the players, everything was good they were training well. My agent spoke to the owner, so I might meet him later today. I know what he wants. He wants to win matches and trophies,” Benitez said.
Earlier in the day a Premier League referee was cleared of career-threatening allegations that he racially abused Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel in an on-field confrontation, sparing the English game another damaging racism storm.
The Football Association said Mark Clattenburg had no case to answer after being accused by Chelsea midfielder Ramires of saying “shut up you monkey” to Mikel during an October 28 match against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. London police had already dropped their inquiries into the case because of a lack of evidence.
“To know you were innocent of something but that there was the opportunity for it to wreck your career was truly frightening,” said Clattenburg, who is free to resume his career, having not refereed a match since the incident.
The FA said it believes the accusations were made by Ramires “in good faith,” adding: “It is entirely possible for a witness to be genuinely mistaken and convincing in his belief.”
Chelsea said it accepted the FA’s judgment and welcomed the fact the governing body “recognises the club and players were correct in reporting the matter.”
Separately, Mikel was charged on Thursday with misconduct by the FA for “threatening and/or abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour” after the game, when he reportedly went into the referee’s changing room to confront Clattenburg.
Mikel has until November 30 to respond to the charge.