Roman Abramovich completed arguably his most controversial day yet at Chelsea after appointing Rafael Benitez to succeed Roberto Di Matteo as manager last night.
The Russian handed the former Liverpool boss a contract until the end of the season, having seemingly been unable to woo Pep Guardiola, the man said to be his No 1 target.
Announcing that Benitez was an “interim” rather than permanent appointment, Chelsea said in a statement: “Chelsea FC can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim first-team manager until the end of the season.
“The owner and the board believe that, in Benitez, we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives.”
The length of Benitez’s contract appears the clearest indication yet of Abramovich’s determination to land Guardiola once the former Barcelona boss completes his one-year sabbatical.
Last night’s announcement was also the culmination of a breathless 24-hour period that was extraordinary even by Chelsea’s standards.
What began on Tuesday night with Di Matteo finally axing Fernando Torres against Juventus, ended yesterday with the arrival of the man who made the £50m flop one of the best strikers in the world but became a man largely disliked among his new club’s supporters.
In between all that, Di Matteo joined the ever-increasing list of men to be ruthlessly sacked by Abramovich, who is now on his ninth manager in a little over eight years. Not even delivering Abramovich’s Holy Grail of the Champions League – as well as the FA Cup – could spare Di Matteo becoming the latest victim of the most uncompromising owner in football.
Tuesday night’s 3-0 defeat at Juventus was the final straw for Abramovich, who wasted little time after Di Matteo’s radical tactics and team selection backfired spectacularly in Turin, where Chelsea suffered their worst ever Champions League group stage result to leave them on the brink of becoming the first holders to crash out before Christmas.