by Jamie Whitehead
“I don’t want that one, Daddy. I want this one… It makes noises and that one doesn’t” The words of my six year old daughter as I took her out to spend her birthday money. Naturally, the kindly given funds didn’t stretch to the more expensive version, and instead of being strong and saying no, I caved and gave her the extra few quid she needed.
It’s been a similar situation at Stamford Bridge this week. Roman Abramovich made the surprising decision to relive manager Roberto Di Matteo of his duties following Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of Juventus. Although recent results haven’t been great, Premier League defeats to Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion along with draws to Swansea City and Liverpool being testament to this, it’s hardly a crisis at the Bridge.
It seems like an awful long time ago when Di Matteo famously held aloft Ol’ Jug Ears into the Munich sky, in reality, it was seven months ago. With the sudden appointment of Rafa Benitez, Chelsea have now had more managers under Abramovich than Manchester United have had in their entire history. One can’t help but wonder how the course of history would have changed had Ferguson not one that game in which defeat would have meant the sack.
And so… to Rafa. All we know at this stage is it is a short-term appointment. A contract which will see him through to the end of this season with the option of a one-year extension should the next six months be a success (and what is a success at Chelsea? It seems like winning the European Cup isn’t enough for a ruthless Oligarch)
Twitter must have been invented for days like yesterday. To allow people the opportunity to tell the world what’s going on in their heads in real-time. It’s worth noting that under Mourinho, Chelsea and Liverpool faced one another sixteen times. The Special One gaining the upper hand overall, this is bound to cause tension between the two sides, a rivalry which played out in a slightly less glamorous way to that of United and Arsenal when Arsenal were still title contenders and would never have dreamed of sending their top goal scorer up the M6. But, because of some throw-away comment Benitez made about flags after a European Cup tie at Stamford Bridge, and claiming he would never take the Chelsea job, he is now public enemy number one.
There’s a schoolyard mentality to this. Mourinho is referred to on a number of Chelsea forums as ‘Dad’ And presently, Chelsea’s, ahem, support seem to be more than happy to play themselves as the child scorned after the bigger kid (In this case, Rafa) stole all their Pogs and now wants to join in for a kick about.
The common problem amongst the ‘new breed’ of football fans is how quick they are to forget things. A brief search on Twitter yields the following…
God I hate Rafa #Benitez. Can’t believe we’ve got to listen to his boring, deadpan, straight bat interviews for another year or more
Nah, Benitez better not be in control of who we sign, he’s s*** at EVEN that. Only time I’d allow the board 100% control of that.
The guns are already cocked and loaded, the target sought. ‘We didn’t get Pep’ the fans scream. Well, what did you expect? After coming out of arguably the most stressful job in football at Barcelona he was going to break his much-needed sabbatical for a short –term employment? Everyone also seems to forget/didn’t know that only last week Guardiola’s agent came out and said “We are listening to offers. But we will not be coming to London” Was Chelsea’s plan formulated as early as then? With the quick turnaround of Benitez, it would seem so.
A quick look at Benitez’s CV shows the talents he has at managerial level. Breaking the Madrid/Barca duopoly in La Liga with Valencia, winning the UEFA Cup and Champions League in successive seasons (Can you think of anyone else who did that, Chelsea fans?) almost wrestling the Premier League title off Manchester United, the FA Cup and another Champions League final. Considering the circumstances, this is a very good appointment.
Chelsea’s off field problems this season have been well documented, and weather or not these have led to a decline in form on the pitch and are somehow related to Di Matteo’s sacking remains to be seen. Once again, Mr Abramovich has proven himself to be utterly clueless when it comes to running a football club. When a Mourinho style siege mentality was needed at the club, to rein everybody in and make a showing as one, this was it. All he has done is shown how disenfranchised the squad and the club are.
In terms of finances available to them, Chelsea’s main rivals are Manchester City. Both lottery winners who have certainly benefited from the ‘Let’s throw a whole load of shit at a wall and see what sticks’ transfer policy. The argument though is although City needed a cash injection to get to where they are now, Chelsea didn’t. Chelsea were nearly there. They had a number of successful years under the ownership of Ken Bates and would have been in a position to attract The Special One with or without the blood money they suddenly found themselves in the possession of. Like a teenage girl desperate for the latest trends, Abramovich has fallen victim to the latest managerial trend on more than one occasion. The teenager’s bright pink Blackberry is Abramovich’s Pep Guardiola.
And where is the leadership now? It’s undeniable that Chelsea have been successful with the likes of Cole, Lampard and Terry on the field. Even to the point where it was considered that Stamford Bridge’s Holy Trinity took them to their two European Cup finals with interim managers merely making up the numbers on the bench.
Abramovich has seen the success of Barcelona, and now wants that. The signings of Mata, Hazard and Oscar bearing testament to this. But, whereas Barca are so ingrained in the culture of Catalonia, even to the point of teaching the ethos of Catalonianism to the students of La Masia, Chelsea seem to be looking for the next quick hit. Nothing more. Manchester City may attract criticism for their own lottery win, but at least they have regenerated the areas of Gorton and Denton with new training facilities, creating jobs and keeping an eye on the future welfare not only for members of the Elite Squad but the residents of the areas affected.
If Abramovich wants to recreate the success of Barcelona, wasting £50 million on a striker is not the way forward; it’s to build from the ground up. Something Chelsea don’t seem that willing to do.
And it all just leaves you wondering ‘who next?’ For all the will in the world, Guardiola eventually at Chelsea just doesn’t seem like a good fit. The former Barca boss, the most sought after in world football, and who learned the art of coaching with a year under Wenger, has everything he needs in north London to continue his Catalan legacy. With Arsenal’s business model from top to bottom, and the way in which the club is preparing for the forthcoming Financial Fair Play regulations, it almost seems like Wenger is getting ready to hand the reigns over to his former pupil once the Professor’s time is up. Arsenal wouldn’t be able to match the salary offered to Pep by their south river rivals, but it’s a better fit for Arsenal, Pep and the Premier League for him to be north of the Thames should the allure of the San Siro and Chelsea not be enough.
Had Chelsea stuck with Mourinho, the Old Guard could gradually have been faded out, and may well have been gone by now. The rumours of Didier Drogba returning on loan just show how directionless Chelsea are at the moment. Mourinho could have really put his own stamp on that side, and could have really challenged Manchester United both domestically and on the continent. And more importantly, The Blues status as a global superpower would not be in any doubt. Should they fail to get Pep next summer, where do they go? Keep Benitez until a 1-1 draw with PSG next September? In terms of the big managerial names, there’s no one left. Barring possibly the arrival of Sven Goran Eriksson. But he’s only won leagues in three different countries as well as three European wins, so they’ll complain about him, as well. Frank Rijkaard? A good option but he wants rubbish for Galatasary so we can rule him out, too. And what does this all say about Harry Redknapp? Widely touted for the QPR job but not even considered for the same position three miles up the road. It’s just another damming showing that the Champions League is more important than the Premier League is to some clubs and the eerie shadow of the European Super League still looms large.
For however long he’s there, Benitez is a very good appointment, especially when you consider the circumstances of his arrival. The Chelsea support would do well to remember this. And although scorned by the injustice of being managed by someone who once send something negative about them, should be grateful for the fact they have managed to appoint (yet another) Champions League winning manager and are not facing the same problems the supporters of Rangers and Portsmouth are.