• Benítez critical of Chelsea during time as Liverpool manager
• 'If I say this or that, I have to analyse the context'
The picture was painted for Rafael Benítez plainly enough. He has been parachuted into a club still in shock, hired on a short-term contract by a notoriously trigger-happy owner who has eyes for someone else, with his predecessor dismissed at the onset of the team's first blip despite having claimed Chelsea's first European Cup only six months earlier. The locals are hardly rejoicing, either, with discontent to be screamed right up to kick-off on Sunday when, as it happens, he must spark the revival against the unbeaten league champions.
That would be enough for most managers who feel they have a reputation to protect to dart for cover, though Benítez can offer a sense of perspective on what others consider a poisoned chalice. "Here you don't have two owners who don't even talk to each other, where you ask them for a striker and one of them says: 'Yes,' and the other: 'I don't know,'" said the Spaniard, his mind drifting back to life at Liverpool under Tom Hicks and George Gillett. "And yet you saw how we were performing even with all those problems back then. Here you have an owner, a technical director and good staff. Maybe it will be easier."
Benítez will need to retain that level of optimism if he is to thrive at Stamford Bridge. The past few days have been as much of a whirlwind for him as for his new employers, the 52-year-old whisked from a conference in Abu Dhabi on an overnight flight and, via the gridlock of the M25, straight into Chelsea's sparkling training facility at Cobham. There he had offered hurried handshakes to a playing staff still coming to terms with the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo in the small hours of Wednesday morning, before donning his own training gear and venturing outside on to the pitches to oversee his squad's first session since defeat to Juventus in Turin.
His inaugural media briefing was crammed in between engagements, with a dinner date with Roman Abramovich to follow. In the circumstances, he did well to offer any coherent thoughts on his appointment at all. Yet there was an insistence that he can reinvigorate this side, his eagerness all too evident to start work at a club capable of claiming trophies after two years in the wilderness deflecting interest from Al Wasl to Atlético Madrid, Sampdoria to Sunderland. He praised Di Matteo, and even implied that, should he thrive, the owner may be persuaded to call off his long-standing pursuit of Pep Guardiola. "My passion and forward-thinking is still there," he said. "I haven't lost anything. In fact it's the opposite. I have more desire and hunger now than ever before."
The supporters will need convincing. At first glance this is an awkward marriage of convenience with memories of the fractious collisions between Liverpool and Chelsea over the past decade far too fresh. Benítez and José Mourinho would indulge in mind games with gusto through Champions League semi-finals and League Cup finals, with all the insults lapped up by fans who will never really forget. One of Benítez's observations from five years ago graces a wall at Melwood, Liverpool's training ground: "We do not need to give away flags for our fans to wave – our supporters are always there with their hearts and that is all we need." Those same flags will be flapping for Chelsea's final Champions League group game against Nordsjaelland next month.
Perhaps more inopportune was his assertion, apparently delivered ahead of the 2007 European Cup semi-final against Chelsea, that he would "never take that job, in respect for my former team at Liverpool, no matter what". That declaration was put to Benítez and was not denied, the Spaniard suggesting it had actually been aimed as much at Manchester United, but unveilings are no times for expressions of regret. "You have to analyse the context," he said. "We were playing against a top side in the semi-finals of the Champions League. If I'm a fan I want to see my manager fighting for my team and doing everything to win. That wasn't a lack of respect for Chelsea fans. It was a manager defending his team.
"I'm sure the fans here would like to see me doing the same for them now. They want a top manager who can win trophies, so we have something in common: we both want to win every single game."
His self-belief remains unswerving, and the hope must be that it rubs off on players who have appeared dishevelled in recent weeks, and on Fernando Torres in particular. This feels like a last chance for Torres – one he arguably does not deserve – but if Benítez cannot eke out the form that propelled the striker at Liverpool then surely no one can. The interim manager will find his compatriot a player blunted, in terms of pace as well as confidence, but he may yet be reinvigorated.
"Everybody has been saying he wasn't playing well," he said. "I was saying the same, but his attitude was really good today at training. He is a top-class player and, with his attitude, he can improve. I know how good he can be, just as I know how good, say, David Luiz or Ramires can be. With these players we can win important things for this club.
"I have been waiting for almost two years for a chance like this, waiting for the right offer in the Premier League. I did not look at whether the job was for seven months or whatever. I looked at how many trophies I could win. Five? OK, I will do my best. Di Matteo was doing a great job but football is like this now. When I was at Internazionale we won two trophies in five months, and then I was out. If you look at my CV, I have all the trophies you can win at club level. People say I have not won the Premier League, but I won the league twice in Spain. In Spain, even Guardiola cannot win the Premier League …"
Chelsea are only four points off City so talk of breaking his own duck in England is not outrageous even if improvement must be speedily implemented. He will be assisted by Bolo Zenden, a former Chelsea and Liverpool player, with Paco de Miguel joining the fitness staff and Xavi Balero, a goalkeeping coach turned psychologist whose instruction has been praised by Torres in the past, among his coaches. Steve Holland and Eddie Newton have been retained for now, the latter potentially dropping down to assist with the under-21 development squad in some capacity. These are early days in the restructuring of the previous regime's back-room team.
At some stage the new man will catch his breath. There is apparently no sense of betrayal among his closer confidants back on Merseyside. "I can guarantee a lot of Liverpool fans are wishing me all the best," he said. "The people who know you and how you work are happy if you can succeed." That is his immediate task now in London. As the flashbulbs popped and he held aloft his Chelsea shirt, the photographers shouting for him to glance their way, Benítez had muttered through a smile: "You know my name, eh?" Acceptance is still some way off. From now on in, he must make a new name for himself.