Rafael Benitez is not a popular man at Stamford Bridge, there’s no escaping it. Using the infamous words of the Spaniard himself, ‘that is a fact’.
Benitez’ post-match rant brought his Chelsea tenure to a new low. With Chelsea sinking slowly in the league and having lost in the Club World Cup Final and Capital One Cup Semi Final, Chelsea have effectively seen their potential trophy tally for the season fall from 7 in August, to just 2; the FA Cup and the Europa League. Despite the Blues coming out on top 2-0 against Middlesbrough at the Riverside, Rafa was not a happy man. He decided to criticise the Chelsea fans and the Chelsea owner, and in part, blamed them for Chelsea’s bad form.
He also indicated – partly due to frustration no doubt, that he would be leaving at the end of the season, and I’m sure many a Chelsea supporter danced a merry jig at the news, and while most Blues fans won’t have much time for Benitez, one can’t help but think that Rafa Benitez has a point.
It can do the team no good if the fans are giving out negative vibes during every match, booing here and jeering there. Chelsea fans will argue that while they give Benitez grief, they maintain their support for the players, and while that may be true, it’s sort of missing the point. It’s important for the entirety of the fans to get behind the entirety of the team – and that includes the manager and his staff. A similar theme occurred with Steve Kean at Blackburn. Fans would end up going to Ewood Park primarily to boo the manager and the owners. Support for their team would simply come along with it, but was always overshadowed by the sheer mass of negative support from the Blackburn home fans, and that season Blackburn were relegated. Whether that was down to the fans’ negative support who knows, but it couldn’t have helped anyone.
So Benitez is right. It’s wrong and stupid for Chelsea fans to turn up to every game with banners demanding that Rafa be removed and it’s pointless for them to boo someone who is, at this moment in time, still one of their own. For starters, have the Chelsea fans considered what the plan would be should Benitez get the sack? If he did, then it would establish that not even interim managers brought in to guide the team to seasons’ end can keep their jobs. Talk about managerial insecurity at its most ridiculous. Who would take Rafa’s place? Chelsea fans want Mourinho right? Well I can’t see him resigning mid-season can you? So who’s it to be? Benitez may seem like the last person on earth fit for the job, but as things stand, the smartest thing to do is to treat the season for damage control and keep things as they are until the summer.
But as I said, it’s highly counterproductive for Chelsea fans to boo the manager, to bring anti-Benitez banners to games every week and to generally poison the usually fantastic atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are losing their 12th man, and Benitez is absolutely correct.
Saying that however, how silly was it of Benitez to go to the media with this? He is only shooting himself in the foot. What he says is right, but, does he really think being right will save him now? His results for Chelsea have been poor – worse than every single other manager under Abramovich. On top of that, the performances from his side have been well below par far too many times. The exciting, fast and free-flowing football being played in the early months of the season has turned into a slow, stale and often clueless style of play. And Benitez thinks that by blaming the Chelsea fans for his side’s bad form all his abuse will go away?
To begin with, the Spaniard did exactly the right thing. He kept his head down. The abuse he received without having even managed a single game was far too unnecessary but that’s football, and Benitez is an experienced manager and should have learned to deal with that. But instead of moaning about (and he had every right to), he didn’t. He kept his mouth shut and his head down and he got on with things. What that indicated was that he wasn’t affected by public perception, he just wanted the club to win matches, and that was exactly the right direction to move in, and who knows, had results been better, perhaps he would have won the Chelsea fans over. But now he’s officially blown it, as he’s failed to keep his cool. He’s finally snapped and the only winners here are the Chelsea fans. Benitez is in a sticky mess and there’s no clean way out of it now. The Chelsea faithful will gladly pack his bags for him in May regardless of whether Chelsea win the two remaining trophies they’re still fighting for or not, and Rafa’s reputation will have once again been damaged. He’s taken two Champions League winning sides and reduced them to conflict and mediocrity. Whether Chelsea’s downfall is Benitez’ fault or not, it will certainly be remembered that way after yet another ridiculous outburst.
On top of this, he decided to take a snipe at Abramovich for naming his position as ‘interim manager’. And since when has getting on the wrong side of Abramovich ever been a good idea? Just ask Jose, Big Phil, Andre and Roberto. He’s created conflict above and around him and in doing so has shot himself in the foot. What was meant as a stark wake-up call has ended up (as it was always going to) as an embarrassing, self-damaging whinge. And after taking a dig at the boss, I would be extremely surprised if Benitez was still in a job by mid-March. If he does get the chop, everybody loses. Abramovich, Benitez and the Chelsea fans. What a shame. If only Rafa had just kept his cool.