Soccer: Benitez waves white flag to Chelsea faithful

Rafa Benitez claimed yesterday that a number of his Chelsea players had given him their private support after his broadside this week against the club's supporters and board, as the interim manager tried to calm another explosive few days at Chelsea.

With a combustible atmosphere awaiting him at Stamford Bridge last night as they took on West Bromwich Albion, Benitez said he had support in his appeal to Chelsea fans to get behind the team despite his unpopularity. Asked yesterday whether players had backed him, Benitez replied: "A lot of the players have been supporting me, telling me listen, carry on doing your job."

Later Benitez said that suggestions of discontent were not representative of the whole squad but did not deny that some are unhappy.

"The majority of them are happy with the training sessions," he said. "[Reporters] may speak with one or two, but there are another 21. If you have 25 players, you'll have one or two who are not happy, but you can find that in every squad."

Benitez tried to steer away from the controversy he whipped up earlier in the week. He urged fans and players to stick together, using that particular phrase itself 10 times, determined to stay on message.

Having accused the board of a mistake over his interim manager's title, Benitez claimed he had no problems with the club's hierarchy.

"The message is clear. I didn't have any problem with the board. I didn't have any problem with Michael Emenalo [technical director]. I didn't have problems with Roman Abramovich. Or the players," he said.

"I want to do the best for the team and the club. I have been coaching for 26 years. I have always had principles, respect and education."

On the subject of John Terry, who has started just eight games since the start of October in a season plagued by a knee injury, Benitez said he alone would decide when his captain was fit and that, in the past, the defender's failure to complete training precluded him from playing games. Terry has been cited as one of the key malcontents in recent weeks, something Benitez denied.

Meanwhile, the Premier League was set to showcase an 'old and new' moment last night.

Manchester United's Ryan Giggs, now 39, was due to play his 1000th senior competitive match in last night's game against Norwich.

On the same weekend, West Bromwich Albion midfielder Isaiah Brown was set to become the youngest player to feature in a Premier League match against Chelsea, at 16 years and 54 days.

But most will be looking for Giggs, who has received a one-year contract extension. His boss Alex Ferguson once said Giggs seemed to float across the ground "like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind".

- Independent

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