I’m a Rafa man me, but that doesn’t mean I have an awful lot of sympathy for him in his current predicament. Firstly, no one put a gun to his head and forced him to become Chelsea’s “interim” manager. And secondly, I try and make a point of not feeling sorry for millionaire sports professionals.
Benitez made plenty of cogent points in his presser on Wednesday night, particularly in relation to the need for the club to accept that they are in a difficult transitionary period and that they must take a sensible and clear approach to that if the club is to get back to where it wants to be. But for me, his timing was way off and the emphasis on the negative effect some sections of the fans are having on the team is little more than an exercise in arse covering.
The reality of course is that Chelsea’s current problems – such as they are (plenty of clubs and fans would swap positions with them) – stem from an all powerful, meddlesome owner who really is more or less the club. The instability that hampers any sensible forward planning is the result of his haphazard interventions. So too is the critical player power problem that has bedevilled the club,
The fans are a sideshow – as is more or less everything else at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea is Abramovich – and everyone from the board to the bums on seats knows it. The fans – even the unpleasant and annoying A4 brigade – are powerless in the face of a man who holds all of the cards. Both may want the best for the club, but only the owner has the power to make things happen.
This is not Liverpool under Hodgson –when new owners not blessed with an oligarch’s riches began to get spooked by the empty seats at Anfield as Roy’s reign began to plumb unprecedented depths. Chelsea fans have no fan power. They could take the same tack – and stay away – but the club exists on one man’s money and not that of the paying customers.
That said, Benitez was wrong to point the finger at the fans so baldly, no matter how poorly some of them have treated a pretty decent manager and pretty affable fellow. No doubt it hurts him personally, but all managers must stand and fall on their results. In that Benitez has done ok. Chelsea are still well placed for a return to the Champions League next season, and still have two trophies to play for. The fact that the club are not serious title contenders in recent times is not down to him.
Ultimately, however, Rafa should have held his fire and kept his head down until the end of the season. If by then he had secured a top four position and picked up some silverware, he would have been excellently positioned to give the owner, board and the fans both barrels in a parting shot.