It was nice to see this weekend that a successful armistice has been agreed between manager – or rather interim manager – and fan at Stamford Bridge. I doubt the peace will last too long, most likely until Chelsea‘s next league defeat, and there is now further added pressure on the club now that Tottenham have risen above them in the Premier League table following their win in the North London derby.
Yet, the fact that the Blues faithful have responded positively to Rafa Benitez’s midweek outburst and have decided in the mean time to keep their issues with the club’s management away from match days, will surely pay off now that we are edging into the business end of the season. The discontent was affecting the team on the pitch, and making the Spanish gaffer’s job even more difficult.
He was criticised by former Chelsea players George Burley and Jason Cundy, for publicly speaking out against the board, as well as dishing out a prolonged rant about the protesting bloc of the Chelsea support.
However, his now famous rant should perhaps go down in the history books as a lesson in public relations. The man’s honesty appears to have struck a chord with the ney-sayers, and no one can deny that his outburst, although at first glance seemed somewhat unsympathetic to the current situation, had some valid points at its base.
But even so, should the discontent, the posters, the chants, the abuse and the hatred actually be aimed at Rafa Benitez, or the Chelsea board? They did hire him after all; it’s not as if the former Liverpool boss beheaded Roberto Di Matteo and claimed his divine right to rule over Stamford Bridge.
Similarly, the reason Roman Abramovich had to settle for Rafa Benitez was not only because he had sacked his former employee just weeks into the start of the season, but also due to the fact that every other high ranking coach on the Russian’s shortlist, most namely Pep Guardiola, was deterred from joining the club by the owner’s trigger-happy manner of relieving his staff of their duties without just cause or prior warning.
Furthermore, Benitez is right to criticise his job title, which was another decision made in the boardroom. Obviously, the thinking at the time was that fans would be less outraged by the appointment of a manger they’ve had a bitter history with and on the whole dislike if his job is labelled as a temporary solution from the start.
But could they simply not just have given him a contract until summer 2013, called him the manager and left out the’ interim’ bit? Just because his reign at the club is expected to be short does not mean it should be highlighted at every opportunity and most notably whenever anybody in the journalism and media industries mentions his name. Because of the ongoing controversy, as well as it being his official job title, every article, news report and reference concerning the Spaniard or the club includes the phrase ‘Interim Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez’ somewhere in its contents.
The terminology is naturally undermining. I’m not accusing the Chelsea players of being unprofessional, but there is a subliminal psychological impact of knowing your boss won’t be sticking around for too long. Similarly, it strips away Benitez’s powerbase and authority in a dressing room where big personalities have been well documented in the media, and have hindered the team’s progress in the recent past.
However, it is understandable how the Spaniard has failed to win over the fans at Stamford Bridge. He’s hardly a charismatic personality, and the Blues are still yet to hit anything near fifth gear this season. Furthermore, Benitez’s decision-making has arguably cost his side valuable points at times since his appointment. His rotation policy seemingly defies logic – chopping and changing personnel, especially in defence, can only cause more problems than it solves – and his substitutions have left a lot to be desired.
But it is not just the results that have left Chelsea supporters bitter and twisted; Benitez represents a number of failings at the club, most importantly the disregard for the opinions of the fan base as it was well known the Chelsea boss has always been intensely disliked by the Blues faithful.
Similarly, he’s tied in with the ongoing Fernando Torres saga, and his employment was viewed as an attempt by Roman Abramovich to get some use out of his failed £50million investment at the cost of deposting one of the club’s most cherished former footballers in Di Matteo who achieved legendary status during his playing days. The risk hasn’t paid off, with the former Liverpool striker scoring just twice more under Benitez than he has Di Matteo, and only three of his eight goals since the Spaniard took over coming in the Premier League.
In many ways it feels like a moot point to blame the board, despite having attributed many of the club’s failings to their decisions. The cold hard truth is that Abramovich is in a position of absolute power at Chelsea, and since his takeover at Stamford Bridge the fans have much to be grateful for. He’s taken the club from the brink of financial collapse to being one of the biggest names in world football, and along the way has provided fans with squads compiled of elite footballers, not to mention the 9 major trophies, including the Champions League title, and two community shields.
I do not expect to hear chants of “Abramovich out” or “sack the board” anytime soon, but it’s time the Russian owner accepted some responsibility for the torrid position Benitez has found himself in, as well as taking some of the flack on his interim manager’s behalf. The Spanish gaffer has hardly made life easy for himself, as the opportunity to prove the fans wrong is slowly slipping away, but the odds were stacked against him from the start.
Over the past three seasons the club has been undergoing a period of transition as it comes to terms with the golden generation of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and John Terry becoming ageing veterans and declining as footballers. But in that time, Abramovich has acted rashly, impulsively and selfishly, with a complete disregard for the club’s heritage or the wishes of the fans.
The club appears to be in the midst of an ever-continuing era of controversy, where every week another issue arises that has the players, the fans, the management and the boardroom in disarray. So perhaps it’s time the supporters began holding their Russian owner accountable for the instability, rather than his lackey.