Rafael Benítez has been assured of his immediate future by Chelsea but has told the hierarchy he does not want Avram Grant at Stamford Bridge. The club on Monday denied reports that the Israeli has been sounded out regarding whether he would consider joining as an adviser to the Spanish interim manager, who is yet to win a match after three games in charge.
After goalless draws with Manchester City and Fulham, on Saturday Chelsea lost at West Ham to put Benítez under pressure despite being appointed only a fortnight ago, with the former Liverpool manager continuing to be a highly unpopular choice with the fans after he succeeded Roberto Di Matteo.
Immediately after the defeat, Benítez admitted he was not “100% certain” of retaining the support of the owner, Roman Abramovich, while reports of the club’s supposed interest in Grant are understood to have angered the Spaniard.
Yet as he prepares to take charge of Chelsea’s final Champions League group game against Nordsjaelland at Stamford Bridge , there is a recognition that the club’s predicament in Europe is Di Matteo’s responsibility and that Benítez will be given more time if his side, as expected, go out of the competition. Shakhtar Donestk and Juventus need only draw their match for both sides to go through at the holders’ expense.
More in focus is the need to turn around Chelsea’s disappointing league form, starting with Saturday’s trip to the Stadium of Light – if Sunderland were to win then it would be Chelsea’s second domestic defeat in succession and the club, currently 10 points behind the leaders Manchester United, would probably be too far off the pace.
Should Abramovich decide to sack his second manager of the season, moreover, and instead turn to Grant it is thought there is no guarantee the Israeli would agree to a second spell in charge. While Grant accepted immediately when asked to follow José Mourinho as the manager in September 2007, this time he would have to give due consideration to taking the post.
While the recommendation to appoint Benítez was pushed for by Michael Emenalo, Chelsea’s technical director, who is now coming under scrutiny, Pep Guardiola remains the long-term first choice. But Paris Saint-Germain could pip Chelsea to the former Barça manager as he is also the No1 option for them to replace the under pressure Carlo Ancelotti, who was sacked as Chelsea’s manager in 2011.
Despite the heavy investment of PSG’s owner, Qatar Sports Investments, over the past two years, which included the €20m (£16.2m) summer transfer of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Milan that made him one of the top three paid players in the world, PSG trail Lyon by five points.
Guardiola, who is currently living in New York during a one year’s sabbatical after leaving Barcelona last summer, is also wanted by Manchester City and Manchester United but he may be tempted by the perceived vision at PSG rather than Chelsea’s short-term approach.
Guardiola has strong links with Qatar after being an ambassador for their successful 2022 World Cup bid and if Ancelotti is removed PSG reportedly want Eric Gerets as the interim manager – the Belgian recently became manager of Lekhwiya, the defending Qatari champions.
PSG host Porto on in their final Champions League group game with qualification already assured for each side, but Ancelotti acknowledged his side’s domestic struggles. “As coach, I have to take my share of responsibility, but the players have to do the same,” he said. “I get the impression the players feel the club’s project and the problems in the team’s play don’t concern them. My players don’t make a team. They’re still a group of individuals. We still don’t have any consistency in our game. It’s neither solid nor unified. The work of a coach is to find a solution very quickly.
“It’s certain I’ll find a solution. But we have to quickly find a solution to be more effective on the pitch. I want quality players to make a team, but I’m not thinking about the transfer window. I have to find solutions with the players I have.”
If sacked, Ancelotti would be due to receive a sizable pay-off of around €11m.