Today, Rafa Benitez bids farewell to a brief but eventful spell as Chelsea boss with a managerial standing somewhat repaired in the eyes of the footballing world. But why have Chelsea fans failed to warm to the man that’s done everything required of him? @dnsandnick take a look at Rafa Benitez and his brief reign.
April 21st 2013. Liverpool vs Chelsea at Anfield. The ‘away’ manager gets cheered by the home fans, and booed by his own travelling supporters.
18 months on from the beginning of the supposed AVB ‘era’ Chelsea fans find themselves in an uncomfortable position. Their feelings towards owner Roman Abramovich have never been so confused. More silverware added to the trophy cabinet and yet a feeling of betrayal – personified by one man, Rafael Benitez. Barring one dead rubber against Everton the Benitez era.. Wait, calling it an era feels wrong… The Benitez saga is coming to an end.
Fan appreciation of Abramovich is at an all time low since the dark days that saw Jose Mourinho leave the club. Considering the riches and success that Roman has brought to the club, he is surprisingly unpopular – likely due to his lack of communication with the fans and media. A simple word explaining what happened with Jose or Big Phil or Ancelotti or AVB or even RDM would cool a lot of fans’ ire. A press release is all very well, but it’s so considered – what fans want is an off-hand interview of the type we used to enjoy out of Harry’s car window outside Spurs’ training ground.
So in the midst of all this fury and injustice, Roman turns to the man who was seen as the yang to the ying of our most successful manager Jose Mourinho – Rafael Benitez. In years gone by it seems as though Chelsea and Liverpool have butted horns more than any two teams in England. League cup finals, Champions League semi finals, Steven Gerrard transfer sagas, ghost goals and the occasional league scuffle. Through which Jose flexed his charismatic muscles and tactical flare – Benitez’s perceived negative style and lack of personality was thrown into sharp relief.
Then Chelsea went and hired the other guy.
Was Abramovich’s move just the latest negative act of a man who does not understand his fans or a smart, emotionless move from a thoroughly successful businessman?
Cue booing, signs in the stands, and fans protesting. Like when Clough replaced Revie at Leeds back in 1974. When Benitez had a chance to ingratiate himself with the fans in his first press conference, he decided to deny the fact he was being booed. Added to this, he didn’t even wear a blue tie. All he needed to do was say ‘That was then, I’m Chelsea manager now’ – but he made no efforts to change fans’ opinions of him.
Another problem that Rafa faced was the word ‘Interim’. Not his choosing of course. Not only was he not planning for a long term relationship with the fans but the board, and Abramovich, clearly weren’t either.
Roll on a few weeks and a few decent results later, the Chelsea fans refused to change their tune. Rafa even started wearing a Chelsea badge on his suit. But to no avail, the boos continued to ring out around Stamford Bridge and away matches. This escalated until one day in Middlesborough when Rafa boiled over. Rafa’s ‘Rant’ as it was dubbed by overzealous media boiled down to the fact he thought the team would perform better with encouragement and not boos. Apparently ‘F*ck off Benitez, we don’t want you…’ undermined the confidence of the players.
Over the coming months while the boos subsided a little and the banners remained, ‘The Interim One’ didn’t seem to be doing much wrong. Quietly shepherding a very tired team to the World Club Cup final, the Champions League places and to the Europa League. His muted solo fist pump when Ivanovic’s 93rd minute goal went it said it all. This victory meant more to his CV than his role as a member of the club’s history.
On a personal note I really didn’t want to see Benitez in the home dugout at Stamford Bridge, but he’s done enough for me to wish him well for whatever comes next. Goodbye Rafa – and good luck. Though don’t come back soon…
We’re consistently told that football is a results business. But here we have the exception to the rule. Benitez has got the results – and yet, an extended stay has never been on the cards and Rafa is now being linked with the Real Madrid job. In this instance, in the case of Rafa it’s been more than just results. Old loyalties, old rivalries, can mean more than silverware, to the fans at least. And as the yang exits Stamford Bridge, old loyalties may see the ying return…