Rafael Benítez has urged Chelsea's senior players and supporters to accept times are changing at Stamford Bridge and warned that loyalty to the old guard, although understandable, cannot be allowed to frustrate the evolution of the squad if the club are to continue to be successful.
The interim first-team manager will include some of the team's most experienced players in his line-up for the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final against Swansea City on Wednesday night , alongside the younger talent recruited since the summer, with the sense of metamorphosis within the ranks inescapable. The next six months will constitute a final hurrah after 12 glittering years at the club for Frank Lampard and, potentially, a similar farewell for Ashley Cole if the one-year deal that remains on the table for the England left-back is not taken up.
The process of rejuvenation, truly kickstarted after winning last season's Champions League, will continue in the summer, with Chelsea committed to offering at best one-year deals to players in their 30s. That will have implications for John Terry, who has entered the last 18 months of his contract and has yet to address his future with the club. The club captain will again be absent against Swansea but will return from his knee ligament injury for the Under-21s development side against Fulham on Thursday and will be assessed before the weekend trip to Stoke.
There has been outrage among supporters that Lampard and Cole may be allowed to depart for nothing, yet the process of revitalisation will continue regardless. "It's always easy to talk about the legends, and you have to have a lot of respect for them," said Benítez, whose contract extends only to the end of the season. "What they've achieved for this club has been fantastic but you have to have new players 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 in. It's part of life. You have to think about the future and move forward, bring in new players and try, at the same time, to bring the best out of those you have. You have to use their experience, too.
"I can see the club is changing things for the future, thinking about being successful again. It's not just: 'Oh, we won [the Champions League] and that's it.' You have to keep winning and evolving as much as you can. That means you have to keep bringing in good new players. Every year you have to bring in someone else but, last summer, you saw three or four players – Eden Hazard, Oscar, Lucas Piazon [into the first-team set-up] and Marko [Marin] – and they will need some time. Maybe in the next couple of years we will be talking about these players as fantastic players and then we will be talking about other players who need to come [and challenge them]. That is part of the evolution of the team."
Efforts are still being made to add to Benítez's squad in the current window, with talks ongoing with Metalist Kharkiv over a fee for the Brazilian midfielder Taison Freda despite Manchester City's interest having forced up the Ukrainian club's asking price. Further signings will follow in the summer, regardless of the identity of the manager, with the stand-in confident he will hand over a "good team and squad" to his successor if he is to depart. "Some of these players, in five months' time, will be even better with this experience," said Benítez. "Others will maybe not be at the level expected at this club, but you have to do well if others are pushing and pushing.
"You have to adapt. When I was a coach at Real Madrid's academy, I'd ask [my players]: 'Can you break into the first team? You have legends there but still you must have ambition.' That has to be the way. If you want to keep the winning mentality, you need the new generation pushing you. Chelsea are managing this situation because they were successful. That is the problem. They were so successful that now everybody can see only the players who won, but you have to see the new players coming and maybe winning in the future. It is difficult."
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image: © Jason Bagley