Chelsea reap European rewards for their tenacity, says Ray Wilkins
Europa League champions Chelsea have succeeded through pure grit, says Ray Wilkins.
Last Updated: 16/05/13 1:41pm
On an emotional night in Amsterdam, Branislav Ivanovic's injury-time header secured a second European trophy in 12 months at Stamford Bridge and the perfect tonic for interim boss Rafa Benitez, whose six-month contract comes to an end next week.
It was a glorious finale to a spluttering campaign for a team guaranteeing their involvement in the Champions League with a top-four finish, having spent most of the last six months playing with boos ringing down on their manager.
Wilkins, caretaker boss at Chelsea in 2000, said: "It's been a difficult season having an interim manager and it goes to show what the team are made of.
"For large periods of the game, they were thoroughly outplayed by Benfica. They were ripped apart at times and the Portuguese team can feel very hard done by. It's a great achievement by a number of people.
"That's all the trophies and the full monty for owner Roman Abramovich and Ashley Cole. And as for Rafa Benitez - it might not be the Champions League but he'll feel ecstatic about the situation. He's come in and won something."
Despite some fans continuing to criticise Benitez after the victory on Wednesday night, Wilkins believes the Spaniard should be applauded for the team's mentality and achievements.
"Rafa's detractors will still say Chelsea never performed but they won," the Sky Sports pundit added. "Last year they won the Champions League in exactly the same way. They have this 'never-say-die' attitude and siege mentality.
"When people have a pop at them, they gather around and come as one and make it very tough for the opposition. If you keep plugging away and do the defensive things right - and Chelsea did that in Amsterdam - then you can get something out of games. Benfica piled the pressure on but they stood firm."
The summer may well be a watershed moment for the club, with the future over veterans John Terry and Frank Lampard still in doubt, and Wilkins insists the club are on track for continued success, particularly if a certain Portuguese returns to the helm.
"Abramovich will say thank you very much and goodbye to Benitez, but we'll see a new manager walk in and hopefully it will be the 'Special One'," said Wilkins, referring to Jose Mourinho who managed Chelsea between 2004 and 2007.
"He's got everything - eye candy for the ladies and a fantastic personality. We need those personalities and I'd love to see him come back. I'm sure Jose will want to keep Frank and John because he knows the influence they have on the pitch and in the dressing room.
"Having that influence in the dressing room is just as important, especially at the big clubs. Just look at the king of the ageing player - Sir Alex Ferguson. He's guided Ryan Giggs into his 39th year and brought Paul Scholes out of retirement.
"He keeps the older players and uses them in the right fashion and that's what Chelsea need to do.
I'm sure they will add to their squad, but all the new players - Juan Mata in particular who's been outstanding - will continue to improve and I can only see Chelsea get better."