Rafa Benitez told Chelsea fans today they must accept that the “legends” of Stamford Bridge have to be moved on as the club prepares to bid farewell to many of the players who have been a key part of their most successful period ever.
Feelings are running high at Stamford Bridge at the club’s decision not to offer Frank Lampard a new contract when his current deal expires at the end of the season. Ashley Cole is also expected to leave as a free agent in July and no accommodation has yet been reached with John Terry, whose existing contract expires in the summer of next year.
As he prepared his team to face Swansea City in the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg at home tomorrow night, Benitez said that supporters had to accept that if Chelsea were to maintain the success of the last nine years they had to change. Although the decision not to renew Lampard’s and Cole’s deals was taken by the board, it has been the interim manager who has been obliged to defend the club’s position.
Benitez said: “I think it’s always easy to talk about the legends, and you have to have a lot of respect for them. What they’ve achieved for this club has been fantastic. But you have to have new players – English or foreign, it doesn’t matter – and carry on winning games. That’s what the fans are expecting. Everyone knows the legends have been here and what they have achieved, but you have to see new players coming. It’s part of life.
“The good thing about English football is that you have good memories and you respect people who achieve something for a club. That’s very positive. But, at the same time, you have to think about the future. You cannot be waiting. You have to move forward, bring in new players and try to bring the best out of those you have. You have to use their experience, too.”
Benitez acknowledged that the club could find themselves short of homegrown players. Under Uefa rules they are obliged to have four home-grown players from their own club and a further four home-grown by other English clubs. The sale of Daniel Sturridge to Liverpool this month means they have already lost one in the second category of the “4+4” rule, and stand to lose two more when Lampard and Cole leave.
Although home-grown players are not restricted by nationality, there is also the question of Chelsea losing their base of English players. Benitez said that he recognised the importance of a core of Englishmen and said that was the reason he had tried to sign Gareth Barry when he was Liverpool manager. He said: “It’s not that the club is moving away [from English players]. I know the club is working really hard to bring the best players and, obviously, English players are an important part of any team in England. It’s a situation we have to manage and the club is working hard to do that. But I have to use the best players I have, players under contract, and these players are doing well.
“In the Champions League, you need four home-grown players. Some of the decisions I had at Liverpool when I was criticised were because we needed English players [such as Barry]. Here it is the same situation. We are trying to find solutions. English players can play all the competitions, but these are managerial decisions and sometimes not easy for the fans to understand. But it’s part of the work you have to do in the club. You have to get on with your work.”
Benitez said that Terry, who has played just three games since the start of October, will have his first competitive run-out for Chelsea Under-21s against their Fulham counterparts tomorrow. He said goalkeeper Petr Cech was “very close” to a return.