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'We don't need to give away flags for our fans to wave'

ESPN staff
November 23, 2012
Rafael Benitez has a bit of work to do to win over Chelsea fans © PA Photos
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Rafael Benitez will begin life as Chelsea manager - sorry, interim Chelsea manager - against Manchester City on Sunday, but even a handsome win against the reigning Premier League champions will not prevent him having a huge amount of work to do to win over the Stamford Bridge faithful.

It is fair to say the Spaniard has not been the most popular appointment in the club's history, thanks primarily to his history as Liverpool manager - where he constantly sparred with Jose Mourinho, an idol at the Bridge if ever there was one.

Indeed, Benitez made a habit of criticising Chelsea at nearly every opportunity, actions (well, words) that may come back to haunt him now. In that spirit, we look at ten choice quotes Benitez may now have to start explaining:

"Chelsea is a big club with fantastic players, every manager wants to coach a such a big team. But I would never take that job, in respect for my former team at Liverpool, no matter what. For me there is only club in England, and that's Liverpool."

What a difference five years makes, eh? Back in 2007, Benitez was adamant that a move to west London would never be in his future. But we guess nearly two years in the managerial wilderness can lead a man to compromise his ideals somewhat...

"We don't need to give away flags for our fans to wave - our supporters are always there with their hearts, and that is all we need. It's the passion of the fans that helps to win matches - not flags."

A version of this quote actually hangs on a wall at Liverpool's Melwood training centre, so eloquent was it believed to be by the powers-that-be on Merseyside. For the Chelsea faithful, it was a slap in the face, an accusation that somehow they are lesser fans than those who turn out at Anfield week after week. A bit of hard one to explain, this, if Rafa ever does a meet-and-great down King's Road.

"If Chelsea are naive and pure then I'm Little Red Riding Hood."

To clarify, Rafa Benitez is not Little Red Riding Hood.

"We know Chelsea are a very good team. In the last five years they have spent big money on players."

A lazy jibe Chelsea fans in the Abramovich era have got used to - 'you have only bought your way to success'. For Benitez, it becomes a prime case of the pot calling the kettle black - except if the pot had wasted £20 million on Robbie Keane and thought Alberto Riera was going to be the solution to his problems on the wing...

"To me, Arsenal played much better football two or three years ago. They won matches and were exciting to watch. They create excitement so how can you say Chelsea are the best in the world?"

Another famous insult of Benitez's directed at the Blues, after Mourinho had led the side to their first league title in 2005. The gist of the comment - 'Yeah, they may have won the title, but they didn't do it playing the right way - is all well and good ... but at least the club have won the Premier League, eh?

"I'm sure Chelsea do not like playing Liverpool. When they are talking and talking and talking before the game it means they are worried. Maybe they're afraid?"

Considering the other quotes in this list, Benitez might have unwittingly revealed more about himself than he would have liked with this comment, again uttered back in 2007.

"With Drogba it's important to have a good referee. You can't do anything [to stop him going down], but I will say it because it was so clear. He is amazing because he is massive [yet he goes down]. It's very impressive. I have a lot of clips of him from over the years and he surprises me. After four years I expected it. It's very impressive."

A pretty tough one for Benitez to squirm out of, especially after Drogba delivered perhaps the biggest victory of the club's history in Munich in May.

Not only that, but his presence might cause Drogba to rethink a mooted return to Stamford Bridge in the New Year. As he reacted at the time to Rafa's comments: "Benitez was a manager I respected a lot. He has really disappointed me. Until now, I found him very competent and also classy.

"A top boss would never go so low to attack a player."

Rafa Benitez did not endear himself to Chelsea fans during his time at Liverpool © Getty Images
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"After the game, Sheila, who was sitting right in line, said to me that the ball had crossed the line. She is a very honest person and that was good enough for me. It was a goal."

Benitez was confident Luis Garcia's infamous 'ghost goal' against Chelsea in the 2005 Champions League semi-final was valid, thanks to the testimony of his fortuitously-positioned secretary. Ever since, FIFA has rued not replacing all linesmen with secretaries (Chelsea, meanwhile, continue to feel aggrieved by the decision and the tie).

"We were good friends until Liverpool started winning, then he [Mourinho] started changing his mind."

That was Benitez then. Now: "I said I would never manage Chelsea until the phone didn't ring for 18 months, then I started changing my mind."

"The key to them is Abramovich. The only difference I see between Mourinho and [Avram] Grant is in their press conferences! I watched the game at Everton and they were playing the same as they always did. The media might miss Mourinho, but not me."

This might just be the most prescient of Benitez's comments in this list. While tactically the Blues have evolved since the Special One's departure (slowly, admittedly, but it happened), the owner remains the one calling the shots. Benitez might have room to introduce his own ideas but, over certain key issues (the primacy of Fernando Torres?), he will be forced to bow to his superior.

Will he be able to live up to those demands better - well, for longer - than some of his predecessors? Time will tell...

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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