Benitez appointed Blues boss

St Helens Star: Rafael Benitez, pictured, has been appointed Chelsea manager until the end of the season Rafael Benitez, pictured, has been appointed Chelsea manager until the end of the season

Roman Abramovich completed arguably his most controversial day yet at Chelsea after appointing Rafael Benitez to succeed Roberto Di Matteo as manager.

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 number one target.

Announcing that Benitez was an "interim" rather than permanent appointment, Chelsea said in a statement: "Chelsea Football Club can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim first-team manager until the end of the season."

The statement continued: "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 two-time UEFA Manager of the Year comes with outstanding pedigree.

"He began his managerial career in his homeland, most notably at Valencia where he built a reputation as one of Europe's top coaches by winning the Spanish League twice and the UEFA Cup. He then spent six years at Liverpool and led them to their fifth European Cup and an FA Cup."

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.

It would be no exaggeration to say Benitez would be the least popular of his appointments judging by the reaction of Chelsea supporters on social media. The Spaniard's Liverpool links, run-ins with former Blues boss Jose Mourinho and mixed records at both Anfield and Inter Milan were all criticised.

But that failed to deny Benitez, who spent Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, from where he agreed a contract with Chelsea after leaving little doubt about his interest in them. He told Sport360: "I am looking for a club that can challenge for trophies and Chelsea is one of these clubs."

Chelsea waited until 9am on Wednesday morning to confirm his departure "The team's recent performances and results have not been good enough and the owner and the board felt that a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction as we head into a vitally important part of the season," a statement read.

"The owner and the board would like to thank Roberto for all he has done for the club since taking over in March. Roberto helped guide us to an historic Champions League victory and a seventh FA Cup. We will never forget the huge contribution he has made to this club's history and he will always be welcome at Stamford Bridge."

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