Rafa Benitez. The name that evokes varied emotions among all chelsea fans. Some hate him. Some like him. Some tolerate him. Some have warmed up to him. But almost nobody wanted him. Look I don’t like most of these managers in rival clubs. When Rafa was at Liverpool he was a football figure I loved to hate. Part of it was also because he ruined some important moments for us. None of it was because he said certain things about Chelsea.
He’s not the most gifted with words. His English vocabulary is very limited. He does come out a bit raw, unpolished and naive at times. Even otherwise, we should know that players and managers will have strong allegiances towards their clubs and use any means to take an advantage over the opposition. When he was a manager at a (then) big club, he took some jibes at a rival club which I think is normal. Unfortunately for him, his ploy to get closer to the Liverpool fan base has now resulted in him getting distanced from the Chelsea fan base.
As I’ve said before, Rafa Benitez was not even my last choice to be Chelsea manager. I’d have preferred to go managerless instead of hiring Rafa because I’m just another bitter Chelsea fan who hated him and his jibes. With his stint at Inter, he further became a laughing stock for me. I’ve had so much fun and laughter at the expense of this man. There was no way I was going to want him to manage Chelsea. But then, as it always happens, Roman had other ideas.
If you look at it this way, this is a very shrewd appointment. We don’t know yet who would be our permanent manager (or we are waiting for him). So clearly we needed only an interim manager. To sign a good manager with the right pedigree on a short term basis is actually a good move. It’s a win-win for all except the fans that simply can’t stand him.
Rafa Benitez joined us on a short term contract that most league and champions league managers wouldn’t agree. As soon as he became the manager of Chelsea, I’ve dropped all the hate I had for him. He’s after all now the manager of my club working for the success of my club. And he’s a good manager, mind. His initial few games were a bit rocky but it’s fair to say that he’s steadied the ship.
Yes, we should have won the club world cup. That will go down as a blot in his (probably) short Chelsea career. But that game came a bit too early for his liking I think. He was facing a psychological battle. He was trying to pick up a team that’s disappointed with getting knocked out of a competition that they won last season and looked to doubt its abilities. It’s taken little bit of time for him.
RDM did a similar ship-steadying act last season. But he had the luxury of doing that with some experienced and great players who would pick themselves up and deliver (like they did under Grant). Rafa’s challenge is different. He was missing several key players because they are injured or because they don’t play for the club anymore. He has much younger and less experienced team for many of them it’s their first season with the club or in the league.
If I’m honest Rafa has done a very good job so far. We have lost more games than we should have but it should be no surprise that our away form has been much better than at Fortress Stamford Bridge. But still as you can see it’s still work in progress. And we are progressing in the capital one cup and are strong favourites to win the trophy.
And I thought it’s quite obvious that the team has improved under Rafa. We are lot more solid these days. We are harder to beat than we were under RDM. This season, we were always vulnerable under RDM. Our defence was a disaster waiting to happen and wins were turning into draws. And draws were turning into defeats.
To be fair to RDM, we were doing just fine until Mark Clattenburg decided to earn his Christmas bonus from Fergie. And then the racial abuse allegation happened. We had surely lost focus during that episode. Even the capital one cup win against Man Utd was not very convincing. It’s normal for teams to lose focus and take their foot off the pedal but normal is not good enough at Chelsea. He had to pay the price.
In our recent defensive performances, we can see the Rafa effect. You see the team lot more goal tight than we have been this season. You see the team working as one defensive unit. Most importantly, the hall mark of Rafa Benitez is clearly visible – pragmatism. Winning and conceding corners, giving away and taking up throw ins, when to show boat and when not to, when to clear and when not to etc. Clearly the whole team played like all that matters to them is a win.
It is still work in progress. Many point out that when RDM left we were third with 4 points off the top spot and now we are fourth and 14 points off (one game in hand though). But to be fair to him, the Chelsea free fall had started in the last few weeks of RDM’s reign and it simply continued under Rafa and all he’s trying to do us to resurrect.
Rafa is known to be a stubborn man. He has his principles and methods and he sticks to them. He gets proven wrong but he still persists with them and that’s why he’s known to be a stubborn manager. But he takes decisions and risks. And that’s why it becomes easy to criticise him. My biggest gripe about Carlo Ancelotti was that he took no risks whatsoever. At least Rafa is unlike him. He fails sometimes because he tries something.
Your risks and gambles work better when you know your team inside out and have a strong connection and bonding with them and you have to get your slice of luck. I think it’s still early days for Benitez to gamble too much at Chelsea. But he has a certain way of going about.
I’m no fan of Benitez. I’ve ridiculed and mocked him so much that I can’t believe I’m even writing this. But I’m convinced that he’s doing a decent job and he should allowed to do his job peacefully. This whole campaign against Rafa, attacking Rafa is such a cowardly act from some Chelsea fans. Rafa didn’t appoint himself. He was appointed by Roman and the board. If they really want to protest, they should protest against the Board and Roman and not against Rafa.
As I’ve said before, I don’t support this continuing 16th minute tribute for RDM. Doing that in the first game since his sack was a good gesture and an opportunity for us to thank the man who had a key role in our champions league win. And this 16th min tribute no longer seems to be about RDM. It’s purely being used as another form of ‘anti-Rafa’ campaign.
Everyone associated with football will know the positive impact of the home crowd and the extent of damage it can cause when it goes against the team. The attendances are falling. The booing and chanting from the ‘Rafa out’ camp is not dying down. There was even a news item that Roman was updated of the twitter meltdown that happened after Chelsea lost to Swansea at Stamford Bridge.
It’s a catch-22 situation. The home form is poor because of the home support. The home support is poor because of the home form. In my view, looking at how well we are doing in the away games, I’m certain that the home support is what’s causing the poor home form. No player wants to hear the boos at home. Doesn’t matter who it’s aimed at. No player wants the manager that he plays for to be ridiculed. It’s not a great feeling. Never gives you the feeling that there are about 35,000 are fully behind you and rooting for your win.
All said, I still don’t think he’s the man to take Chelsea to the beautiful future. He’s an interim manager and that’s how I treat him and assess him. I’m certainly not convinced that he can be our medium or long term manager. I don’t think he has the charisma or persona that I would expect in a Chelsea manager. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t get my support for him as an interim manager.
We all know that Roman has higher and tougher standards than any Chelsea fan when it comes assessing his managers’ performance. We know he is ruthless and decisive. If Rafa is not doing well, you don’t need a campaign to oust him. He’d be gone. There’s no room for doubt in the Chelsea managerial job. They say the buck stops with the manager but that’s not entirely true at Chelsea and that’s why after sacking AVB, Roman had to blast the Chelsea players for their role is the poor show so far and why they need buck up or get out.
Roman knows when to sack a manager. So I’d just leave that with him. I do recognise and appreciate the job that Rafa has played in the last 6 weeks. I’m sure he can improve this team further. Only if he gets some support that a manager of any team would expect from the fans of his club. It pains me to see that our away form is way better than the home form. For our home form, the blame doesn’t just lie with the manager and the players. It should also extend to the home fans who’ve been giving a hard time for the manager and in a way on the players too.
Whether you like Rafa Benitez or not, you can’t change the fact that he’s our manager. Like I said on twitter, I’m neither in ‘RAFA OUT’ camp nor in the ‘RAFA IN’ camp. I’m probably in the ‘RAFA NOW’ camp. The camp that supports the manager without really having to fall in love with him. The camp that knows that if he does a good job, he’s good for Chelsea and if he doesn’t do a good job, he doesn’t stand a chance with Roman. So then, RAFA NOW!