On Wednesday night, Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 0-2 in the 5th round of the FA Cup in what can be described as a solid, if not convincing, display. Goals from Fernando Torres and Victor Moses were enough to send Chelsea into the quarter-finals of a tournament which Chelsea loves. However, what made headlines was Rafael Benitez’s astonishing rant that saw him attack the Chelsea board, owner and the fans.
There’s no point mentioning each and every thing he said for I’m sure that everyone knows exactly what he said by now. Instead, let’s cross-examine some of the more inflammatory things he said in order to see how much truth there is in his words.
Rafa began his entire verbal assault by taking on “some Chelsea fans” who boo him at every game. He described them as “a group of fans with an agenda”, further adding that they should “support the team” and not worry about him because he will “leave at the end of the season, so they don’t need to waste time with me”.
Benitez then goes on to state that he has a problem with the title of ‘interim manager’. He said that the title was “a mistake” and that it was a “surprise for him” when he found out that he was only going to be in charge for a short time.
The rest of Benitez’s comments are largely repetitive (Professional, must do my job well, 9 trophies in 26 years etc.) but the comments that served to irk Chelsea fans are the ones I mentioned above.
First of all, let’s make one thing very clear: this outburst was inevitable. Benitez has been feeling the ire of the Chelsea faithful for more than 3 months now. It doesn’t matter how professional he appears; at the end of the day, he’s also human.
However, the timing of his rant is extremely poor. Firstly, it came off the back of a much-needed Chelsea win. Secondly, there were only 1,800-odd travelling fans at the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday. How much noise could they have possibly made? Granted Chelsea’s away support has always been excellent, but could the boos against him at the Riverside have been louder than the boos against him in his first match in charge, when nearly 40,000 Chelsea fans let him know exactly how they felt about him? I seriously doubt it. Now if he said something about it back then, it would have made a little more sense.
Leaving that aside, let’s get down to analyzing Rafa’s claims. Firstly, it’s not merely “a group of fans” or some “fans with an agenda” that were against his appointment; nearly every Chelsea fan over land and sea didn’t want him at the helm of Chelsea. Proof of that can be found across social networking sites. Another more concrete example would be when Roberto Di Matteo took charge of his first match as Chelsea’s interim manager. The match was an FA Cup replay against Birmingham City away from home. When rumours of Andre Villas-Boas’ sacking started doing the rounds, Benitez was one of the first names linked to the job. During the match against Birmingham, the Chelsea fans chanted “You’re not wanted here, you’re not wanted here, f**k off Benitez, you’re not wanted here” making one thing very clear: Chelsea fans would never welcome Rafa to the club with open arms.
Secondly, everyone knew full well, even before he was appointed, that he would only be the interim manager. So how exactly is it possible that Benitez only found out about the whole “interim manager” business later on? The only two logical explanations are: Chelsea lied to him when they were appointing him (and they wouldn’t do that, as that would amount to a business malpractice for which Benitez can legally take action against them) or that something got lost in translation (Rafa did mention something about Spanish-English translation). Of the two, the latter seems the likelier option but even then, he has lawyers to deal with that.
Lastly, a word on why Chelsea fans are against Rafael Benitez: it’s not just because of past insults that he has aimed at Chelsea as a club or towards the fans; it’s also because he’s simply not good enough to manage a top team anymore. His record of 9 trophies in 26 years (a record that he has paraded about a lot over the past 2 days) is not the record of a successful manager.
Sir Alex Ferguson, who is Britain’s most successful manager, has won a staggering 48 trophies in more than 30 years of managing at the highest level. His record is not something attainable by everyone, so let’s look at other managers. Jose Mourinho, widely regarded as one of the favourites to take over at Chelsea once Benitez moves on, has won 20 trophies in nearly 13 years of management, a remarkable record. Even Arsene Wenger, who is now the butt of many jokes having led Arsenal on a 7-year trophy drought, has won more trophies than Benitez; in nearly 30 years of management, he has won 15 trophies. Lastly, Benitez spent 6 years at Liverpool and won 2 trophies: the Champions League and the FA Cup. Roberto Di Matteo won both trophies with Chelsea in a span of 2 months (and with a weaker team than Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League winning squad).
So while there is some truth in Rafa’s words about the treatment he’s received from fans, he should have seen it coming. I’m not defending the fans or putting Rafa in the wrong, but the warning signs were there for all to see. His rant won’t serve to improve his standing with Chelsea fans; rather it will only make the situation worse. Let’s hope that, amongst all this chaos, the team doesn’t lose sight of what really matters: qualifying for the Champions League next season.
Written By Shayne Dias