by Liam McConville
44 days. That’s how long that the legendary Brian Clough lasted in his troubled tenure at Leeds United. That story is immortalised in a brilliant book by David Peace and an equally excellent film so I’ll only briefly touch on it. Clough was a vocal critic of Leeds to say the least, Clough didn’t like them and especially their manager Don Revie and Leeds equally hated him. So imagine the incredulity when Clough took over from Revie who had recently departed to take over the England job.
An unusual decision seemed even more peculiar as Old Big ‘Ead had a dreadful start at Elland Road that culminated in his premature sacking. Clough would go on to achieve great things with Nottingham Forest but the Leeds job remained the only job that he failed in his much heralded managerial career. I refer to Clough at Leeds for its relevance to what is currently going on at Stamford Bridge at the moment, albeit on a much, smaller scale.
Rafael Benitez, parachuted into the job just over a week ago is already facing intense pressure as he failed to win any of his first three games in charge. From the outset, the Spaniard’s appointment was met with hostility. Chelsea fans aggrieved that club legend Roberto Di Matteo was ruthlessly dispensed with mere months after winning the Champions League, have been vitriolic in their opposition to the new man in charge.
Benitez developed a very bitter rivalry during his time at Liverpool. Chelsea met Liverpool five times in the Champions League in this time as well as several other fiery encounters in the Premier League. Benitez irked the Stamford Bridge faithful with infamous inflammatory comments about the club’s love of handing out plastic flags for important home games in contrast to way Liverpool approached European nights.
During his latter days at Anfield, Benitez became a figure of fun and a man very unpopular in West London. Rafa had been linked with the Chelsea job before last March where the club’s supporters made it very clear that he would not be welcome. So the dismay that has engulfed the fans is understandable. Benitez was greeted with boos and a number of signs demanding his speedy exit.
The Spaniard is renowned as a great tactician if not always for the attacking football (although the football played at the back end of the 08/09 season by Liverpool was sumptuous at times) that Roman Abramovich supposedly craves. His appointment seems even odder considering the change of style deployed by Chelsea and the clear change in transfer policy. It seems unlikely that Benitez wants to play the ‘three amigos’ together in the same team for the defensive vulnerability that they bring.
It is difficult to apply rational thinking to some of the decisions made in the Stamford Bridge boardroom. However if Benitez was to be given a fair crack of the whip he should have been given the job last summer where he could have stamped his own authority on the side. Instead he has inherited a team which clearly doesn’t suit him. Benitez is clearly seen as a stopgap to steady the ship but with such a vocal outcry against him surely his appointment is unsettling the club further.
Given time I feel Benitez could do well at Chelsea but with an angry fan base, a dressing room riddled with egos and an owner whose insatiable desire to land football’s hottest property, Pep Guardiola is destabilising his club, an early departure for Benitez seems inevitable. If results don’t pick up immediately, he may not last the year. The protests will continue for the foreseeable future and history has shown Abramovich isn’t a patient man.
All things considered getting through 44 days at Stamford Bridge will be no mean feat for Benitez; he has to turn this around quickly otherwise it’ll be another hefty compensation pay-off and yet another ‘new dawn’ at Stamford Bridge which unfortunately might suit everyone concerned.