Rafael Benitez will return to Chelsea still wondering what might have been after being handed a mission to “save” the club.
The Newcastle boss will do so firmly believing he would have stayed longer than the six months he had at Stamford Bridge had it not been for a vocal minority among the Blues’ support.
Benitez was drafted in by owner Roman Abramovich to replace Roberto di Matteo in November 2012 after the Italian had guided the club to Champions League glory, only to falter the following season.
Despite winning the Europa League and finishing third in the Premier League, Benitez was on his way out in the following May and replaced by Jose Mourinho.
The Spaniard, who was never happy with the “interim” title he was given, said: “All the feedback that I had from the professionals and the board was very positive. They couldn’t manage with what happened with some fans.
Benitez won the Europa League and secured a third-place finish for Chelsea in his six-month stint
“Most fans realised the best way was to stay calm and let us do our job. We achieved what they were expecting.
“In the end, they had to decide and decided they had to change. Initially, he brought me to save the team and to achieve what we did achieve. Afterwards, they thought they had to change and they did.”
Benitez blamed a small, but influential group of critics for his swift exit, citing his spell at Liverpool and a claim – which he has always denied – that he had vowed never to manage Chelsea as the root of their ill-feeling towards him.
As Newcastle boss Benitez is expecting the reception to be fine when he returns to Stamford Bridge on Saturday for the first time since he was Chelsea interim manager.
As he prepared for his return as Magpies manager on Saturday, he said: “A teenager in the Czech Republic put on Twitter that I once said I would never manage Chelsea, but that is simply not true. Then this story was created.
“My relationship with Abramovich was really good, with the people of the board was really good. They knew that we were professionals and we were doing our job. We were achieving what they expected.
“We won the Europa League. Everything was fine. The majority of fans were happy. But maybe some of them, because of my past with Liverpool, they were unhappy.”