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Benitez stands firm over 'flags' comment

ESPN staff
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Rafael Benitez was met with hostility from many Chelsea fans during his first game in the Stamford Bridge dugout © PA Photos
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Rafael Benitez says he understands Chelsea fans' anger towards him but feels he does not need to apologise for the 'flags' comment which has caused such consternation, and insists that the only way he can make amends is by simply doing his job well.

When the Spaniard was manager of Liverpool during the two clubs' Champions League bouts in 2007, he infamously said: "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."

It led to a chorus of booing before and throughout the 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge against Manchester City on Sunday, Benitez's first game in charge, with the stadium announcer having to ask fans for calm. Sections of Chelsea fans have requested an apology for the 2007 comments, but Benitez evaded the issue when questioned.

"I know how they feel," Benitez said. "I understand how they feel. It's not a situation we can change in one minute. But working hard, winning games, I can improve it, starting with Fulham.

"The problem is we can analyse what I said and I didn't say. Some things are true, some things are not true. I'll try my best to win their trust. That's it.

"[In 2007] I was praising the fans of my club, my team. But I'm here now, it's my club, and I will do my best for them. That's my explanation, very easy and very simple. I will try to defend my club, and this is now my club."

Benitez said he 'didn't know' when asked whether the fans would be any kinder on Wednesday against Fulham.

He said: "I can say that, since coming here, I've worked really hard, coming in at 8.30am, doing my job, talking to players and staff and trying to be ready for the game. I know how they feel, but the only thing I can do is try and win their trust working hard and doing my best.

"Here we come into a situation where it's a difficult time over the last few games. Hopefully, they will see. I'm a professional. I like to work hard."

When asked how he personally dealt with the booing on Sunday, Benitez said he merely thought of what he would say to a player under such pressure.

"I'd tell him to stay focused and try to do his job, don't be distracted," he said. "Concentrate on your football. I understand the feelings of the fans because of my time at Liverpool, where we had rivalry and it was quite difficult.

"But, at the same time, I will try to prove I'm here for the right reasons. We want to win, and we can do that together. I'll try and improve players and it'll be easier to win games and bring the fans back."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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