It hasn’t been ten months yet since the glorious memory of Munich but those feelings are a distant dream now, only Chelsea could turn what was meant to be a year of celebration into nothing short of a catastrophe. Before I’m accused of being a spoilt little brat, I understand there have been worse situations in the history of this club.
When Roberto Di Matteo was relieved of his duties as manager of Chelsea Football Club, it wasn’t necessarily the wrong decision, timing aside. The club were on the verge of Champions League elimination and would become the first holders of the tournament not to pass through the Group Stages. Chelsea’s form in the league was on a downward spiral but still found themselves only 4 points adrift of Manchester United but such is the expectation and pressure at the club under the Abramovich Era that it was to no one’s surprise the sacking occurred. What followed was indeed a shock to the system of many, ask the majority of Chelsea fans and you won’t have found a manager perhaps more despised than Rafael Benitez, even fewer would have wanted him in charge or anywhere near the club but that is, who Chelsea decided to hire. A move from the board that showed either blatant disregard for the feelings harboured by the fans or an astronomical distance in what they believed would be acceptable.
It wasn’t Benitez who approached the club but that isn’t an argument in defence of him for what has followed, he knew he wasn’t a popular figure at Stamford Bridge, he had his war of words with Jose Mourinho (the man who most fans attribute Chelsea’s initial success too, the “Special One”), he insulted one of the greatest players ever at the Club in Didier Drogba and he had a swipe publicly at the fans… He knew what he was getting himself into and for that I have no sympathy for the man.
From day one the animosity was clear and the so called ‘poison’ atmosphere has followed the team up and down the country, over land and sea (and Leicester) in voicing a complete opposition to Benitez’s reign. Following the recent 2-0 victory against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup in a post-match press conference, Benitez finally cracked, directing his frustration and anger at the fans insisting the banners (You mean he doesn’t love the handmade ones?) and general “lack of support for the team” has been detrimental, perhaps he hasn’t been paying enough attention but the support for the team has never waned, there’s just no support for the man in charge of them. Benitez almost looked to play the role of victim, attempting to deflect attention away from his own mishaps. His timing strange, considering it occurred after a victory. I’m not sure if it was naivety or genuine stupidity that made him believe the fans would change their views if he brought in trophies and silverware, the irony is that his theory hasn’t been put to the test, only Andre Villas-Boas, who himself came in at a time of transition, has a worse win percentage in the last ten years. Benitez has led the team to a semi-final League Cup exit to the hands of Swansea, guided the club from second place – a mere four points behind Manchester United – to fourth in the league table, a staggering 19 points adrift of the top and again fighting for their Champions League place next season and perhaps most memorably a 1-0 defeat against Corinthians in the Club World Cup final.
Debates have dominated my timeline on twitter as to where blame should lie for the shambles of this season. Beginning with the man at the top of the hierarchy, Roman Abramovich is far from the perfect owner and him and his cronies in the board made a catastrophic error replacing Di Matteo, a legend at the club, the man who delivered the most prized possession in all of Europe to where it belongs (queue uproar from non Chelsea fans) for a man so hated by the fans. The argument is that Benitez has been used as a scapegoat and that the real issue is the board and their judgement, I agree that the club have made clear errors with regard to management in the past, their treatment of Di Matteo was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many and it is unsurprising. The board unquestionably must hold up their hands for plenty of wrong doings and a lack of transparency makes it difficult for anyone to place accountability specifically on the one that is to blame. The situation that the club find themselves in does not emerge over night but has been the process of poor planning arguably ever since Ancelotti won the double and a wave of experienced international players departed the squad and were not replaced, at least not adequately. Multiply an ill-thought transfer policy with the lack of integration from the youth ranks and you are bound to eventually run into a period of transition. Clearly the decision to hire Benitez was ridiculous. Yet, do I think the board have personally transformed the performances on the pitch from the beginning of the season to what they are now? Of course not. Do I think the idea that a lack of managerial stability has a major impact on the squad? Not particularly, especially not for a squad that almost has a new identity with the amount of new signings in place. All across the major clubs in Europe, Arsenal (if they are still counted as one) and Manchester United have had their fair share of managerial casualties, this isn’t an environment that can accommodate the idea of patience as a virtue. One thing is for sure though, whoever suggested it as the solution to hire Benitez should probably pack his bags the day the ‘Interim One’ departs, unless it was Abramovich himself, in that case I hope he would’ve finally learned his lesson that he doesn’t have to run the club as a dictatorship. For those that question why Abramovich hasn’t received the same amount of criticism as Benitez? Well, from some he has but it is pure and simple, we wouldn’t be where we are now without him and to call for his departure is ungrateful for what he has contributed to this club and whilst he isn’t ‘untouchable’ it would be foolish to focus simply on the happenings of this one season and neglect the previous nine seasons.
In my eyes there can only be one prime reason for where the club find themselves, in terms of league position and a purely footballing perspective and that is Rafael Benitez. Forget the hatred that existed prior to his arrival, the reasons for the disdain now is crystal clear, he is nothing short of a charlatan. For a manager with a reputation as a tactical genius, I’ve never seen a team managed, or should I say mismanaged with such ineptness and the results have proven as such. One area in which I will mildly agree is that the negative support hasn’t helped the players, I’m sure the younger members of the squad in particular would find the environment strange and perhaps overwhelming at times but do I oppose the lack of support aimed towards Benitez? No and I certainly don’t agree with fans of other clubs suggesting we have overreacted to the events and should have accepted what happened. What initially started as a dislike for the man due to his
successful time at Liverpool has escalated, due to his inability to manage the side. There were those in the media who suggested Chelsea fans would eat their words once they saw what Benitez was capable of… I’m willing to bet those same people are struggling to (silently) digest their own condescending and patronising gibberish. There is no secret to why Benitez wasn’t employed for the better part of two years and it wasn’t because he was away golfing with Carlos Tevez nor was he ‘injured’ alongside Jack Wilshere. It is because he has become outdated as a coach and it was evident from his time at Inter Milan and arguably with Liverpool in which his infamous rotation policy, coupled with that rant on facts and fixtures, cost them their hope of domestic glory. It is almost as if he has carried around the same manual “The Rafael Benitez guide to coaching” around with him his whole career. A couple of my favourite tips include; #14 never make a substitution before the hour mark other than in the case of injury. #37 never in any situation, play with two up front, ever.
No doubt, that the players should carry some of the blame, they are after all the ones on the pitch and have managed to snatch draws and defeats out of the jaws of victory, only like the West Indies Cricket team know how. This season has been marred with a catalogue of individual errors that have cost the team a numerous amount of games. Yet it is difficult not to sympathise with their cause and the argument for whether this team is good enough should be saved for another day. Using the closing stages of the Manchester City game as an example, the set up of the XI on the field was mind boggling, whilst Chelsea weren’t playing two up front, both strikers were on the pitch, Ramires found himself at right back to accommodate Ivanovic’s shift to centre back and David Luiz was pushed further forward into the centre of midfield, that doesn’t even cover the whole eleven but already, four players find themselves playing outside of their natural position, even though there were players on the pitch capable of performing those tasks but they themselves were inexplicably out of position. The confusion caused me a headache and led to the second and game-sealing goal.
If I was to end this rant on the sheer inept nature of Benitez here it would have solid evidence to support the claim but I am far from finished. Moving on to another gem from his guidebook #50 The Rotation Policy – It is interesting to note that whilst it isn’t his fault that he was brought in to bring the best out of Fernando Torres, the out of form or more likely the not so good Spaniard has found himself a regular feature, in spite of the arrival of new striker Demba Ba. Benitez has seen fit to rotate those behind Torres all the way to the defence, sacrificing the creative brilliance offered by Mata and Hazard on grounds of fitness but Torres remained a constant. Yes, Ba was cup tied but simple planning would suggest if he doesn’t play in Europe it would be wise to play him in the league games before hand, but what do I know? What is far more infuriating about the rotation policy is in scenarios when Mata and Hazard are rested and brought on at half time and impact the game (Sparta Prague), the pro-Benitez support in the media rear their heads again claiming a master stroke, if only I knew putting your best players on the pitch was considered genius!
Above all, what remains unclear to me is how someone who was considered as an elite in his profession at one point, believes it is wise to play the #10 for Brazil ahead of the likes of Ronaldinho, Kaka and Ganso on the wings? The only solution that I have managed to construct is that this is perhaps one of the greatest real life trolls. The conspiracy was only strengthened with his comments post Middlesbrough when he suggested come the end of the season he will be gone and it will be the club that will have to deal with Europa League football for another season if the lack of support continues. There really isn’t much you can reply to that except for…
“When Rafa leaves the club, when Rafa leaves the club, we’re going to have a party, we’re going to have a party… We’re going to have a party! When Rafa leaves the club”