Do club owners listen to the fans enough?

The sacking of Roberto Di Matteo and the appointment of Rafa Benítez at Chelsea last week has caused much criticism to come the club’s way.

Many have been taken aback by the level of venom shown towards Rafa Benítez when he came out in front of the Chelsea fans at Stamford Bridge on Sunday after the sacking of a manager who last season secured Chelsea the Champions League title and the FA Cup. The amount of booing towards the new appointment caused surprise and it is apparent that many Chelsea supporters are extremely unhappy at the decision.

Is this another incident that shows that club owners do not listen to what the fans want? It seems to be becoming more common that clubs are making decisions and running the club in ways many fans hugely disagree with.

The activity at Chelsea Football Club has clearly riled fans. Numerous supporters made it clear that they are angry at recent events, jeering Rafa Benítez, some holding signs, including phrases like ‘Rafa Out!’, ‘Chelsea fans never forget’ and ‘In Roberto We Trusted And Loved. In Rafa We Will Never Trust. Fact.’ They also had applause for Roberto Di Matteo at 16 minutes, referring to how he used to wear the number 16 shirt.

So, can it really be said that Roman Abramovich and the other people in charge at Chelsea really understand and listen to their fans when they have made such contentious decisions? They do not seem to have shown much regard for the history of the club, by sacking a man who is considered a club legend and seems to love Chelsea and managed the team when they won two titles. Can it be said that they really take into account the feelings of the fans when they employ a man who has previously criticised the fans and has had a generally bad relationship with the club.

This is not to say that the fans were right to boo their new interim manager and not actually give Rafa Benítez a chance. Additionally, it is not Rafa Benítez’s fault that Roberto Di Matteo was sacked. It is also a worry that some fans may want to see him fail, which, arguably, gives the impression they are not being good fans.

However, whatever people may think of the reaction of the fans at Sunday’s match, it still seems to give evidence that the owners may not really understand the club’s fans.

Trizia Fiorellino, the Chair of Chelsea Supporters’ Group has talked to BBC Sport about how while fans are not expecting to choose managers; she believes they chose someone unacceptable, saying: “The strength of feeling surprised even those in charge. It was quite venomous right at the beginning. The fans don’t expect to pick and choose the managers but it was pretty evident there were only two people that were not acceptable in this case – Benitez and Avram Grant. It was almost as if the board and the owner were trying to send a message to the fans to say ‘we run this club, not you – you have no say.’ Benitez is not popular and I think he will remain unpopular throughout his reign.”

Of course, Chelsea are not the only ones who could be accused of not listening to their fans. One notorious example is the outrage amongst Blackburn fans after their owners sacked Sam Allardyce in 2010, a move which even angered the players. They were also famously outraged about former manager Steve Kean, when many continuously called for his sacking. The sacking of Chris Hughton by Newcastle, in the same week as Sam Allardyce’s dismissal from Blackburn, was also an unpopular move.

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has caused anger amongst fans in the past, for example when St James’ Park was renamed the Sports Direct Arena last year. It could be argued that moves like this, which anger fans, show that some owners in modern football prioritise money over and business over the desires of the fans.

Many disagree with decisions their clubs have made. Arsenal fans have many opinions over the actions of the club. Many Arsenal fans have been concerned about the priorities of the club, including many wanting Arsenal to buy more players in transfer windows, and concerns over prices, where it seems that prices seem to be kept expensive despite protestations from supporters.

With the possibility that booing against Rafa Benítez could continue, it is clear that many fans are unhappy. It could be said that this means clubs perhaps should listen more to what the fans want.
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