Somehow the longer this season goes on; the further away the finish line seems. Even the most ardent of Benitez loyalists would have a hard time arguing that his appointment was anything but a huge mistake at this stage. I think it’s safe to say we’ve reached an all time low in the Abramovich era, with player motivation and belief amongst the supporters, presently hovering just above rock bottom. Can anybody think of an occasion in recent history where a win over Manchester Utd seemed so unlikely? Given the circumstances I think forcing a replay would be a pretty impressive achievement for us on Sunday. It might just be our only real chance of progressing as well.
I still regard Benitez as a quality coach and I think only a fool wouldn’t. The horrendousness of his man managing abilities however really couldn’t be more apparent than they are at the minute. Too many players look so disinterested on the pitch, not running, not pressing, not taking any risks. You get the impression that the squad is anticipating the end of the season just as much as we are.
Having said this, if, given what Steaua’s owner, Gigi Becali said after the match, if Benitez can’t inspire his players to turn this tie around next Thursday – then I’ll accept he is a completely hopeless case.
This is what the Romanian had to say on Thursday night:
“Abramovich’s money are worth nothing. When Jesus Christ wants you to lose, you can have all the money in the world and it won’t count. Divinity can take all your money away in the blink of an eye, so his billions are worth nothing. I didn’t worry about losing the game, only bad luck could have affected us. We will surely score on Stamford Bridge, and Chelsea is not a team which can score three goals against us, so we are already qualified”.
He also said he didn’t even notice Lampard on the field, that Terry was so “out of his game” he didn’t know where he was on the pitch and that Eden Hazard posed absolutely no danger to his side at all.
Seriously now, who on Earth wouldn’t be capable of giving the pre-match team talk before the 2nd leg kicks off? Aside from the humiliation that comes from being the European champions and losing in the last 16 of the Europa League to a team from Romania, what footballer could fail to be motivated by these assertions?
If professionals as serious and as dedicated as JT and Frank Lampard allow themselves (and their team) to be insulted and patronised by this racist, misogynistic, homophobic, vile excuse for a human being, if they can’t drag themselves up to give his team a kicking in return next week, then their powers of leadership in this group need to be called into question. What about the Christians in this Chelsea squad? How could they possibly excuse such arrogance that this fascist should claim (in the name of their faith) that the tie is already over because of divine intervention? Also, which of the secular players will be spoken to in this fashion? What self-respecting atheist or agnostic will tolerate being told that their hard work and dedication means nothing compared to the superstitions of a megalomaniac fundamentalist?
Benitez hardly has to emulate Winston Churchill or William Wilberforce here. Surely the most basic appeal to his player’s pride will be enough to motivate them to salvage this tie and progress to the quarters. If we don’t improve on that 1st leg performance and we can’t get a result then it will be a slap in the face to every supporter who had to read Becali’s insolent blather, especially those that flew almost the length of Europe to attend the first game. A repeat of that heartless display we were subjected to yesterday would be beyond disgraceful.
Before then however we have an FA Cup quarter final at Old Trafford to occupy ourselves with. The extreme optimists might suggest that this is a good time to play Man Utd given they’ll be reeling after their apparently ‘scandalous’ exit from the Champions League to Real Madrid. I would disagree. In fact I’d say this is obviously fanciful wish thinking. Utd are playing the best football they have been all year at the moment. Their defence has tightened up substantially and David De Gea’s current form isn’t too bad either. It would be a huge upset if we were to get a result on Sunday. I just don’t see it happening.
If Oldham can beat Liverpool however, and Leeds can beat Tottenham, then there’s surely some hope left for the European Champions. Surely?
To finish, there’s no arguing we’re in a state at the moment and things aren’t getting any better before June. How far away are we though from being in a position where we can start challenging for the league again? What are we missing and how likely are we to get these things in the summer? Well, I believe the answer to the first question is, ‘not that far’. As far as I’m concerned the only things we’re missing are a reliable world class striker to compete with the RVPs and Agueros in this league, a strong and dynamic central midfielder and a manager who is a both a brilliant tactician and man manager.
Basically we need three men – Radamel Falcao, Marouane Fellaini and Jose Mourinho.
Last night I met Spanish journalist and broadcaster, Guillem Balague in Birmingham (he was promoting his biography of Pep Guardiola – which is a very good read by the way) and I asked him about Falcao. He seemed pretty confident in telling me that Chelsea were the Columbian’s most likely destination. As far as he is aware, Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid are the only clubs considering paying the striker’s release clause and the Premier League looks the most attractive option to him of the three. Partly because it would mean not having to deal with either breaking the non-aggression pact between the two major Madrid clubs, or having to work alongside an ego like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. If we get top 4, I agree with Guillem that we’d be the logical choice for the Atletico #9.
Skybet currently has Chelsea as 2/1 favourties to sign Marouane Fellaini from Everton in the summer. Again, this makes a lot of sense. We desperately need an enforcer in midfield, which is a role the Belgian apparently prefers to his new forward position that he’s been playing this year. His £22million release clause if a club in the Champions League comes bidding was made public earlier this season. The player himself has also pretty much issued a ‘come and a get me plea’ (as the tabloids like to phrase it) to the top clubs in the division. We’ve had links to Fellaini for the last few years so I think it’s pretty safe to assume that we’re interested. I’m sure he’ll leave Everton in the summer. Interest from Manchester Utd I think could be our only issue.
As for Mourinho, Balague was annoyingly less revealing. Although to be fair, trying to understand what Mourinho wants sometimes is practically impossible, regardless of how ‘in the know’ you are. However when you look at the facts, Mourinho wants to return to England (as he has admitted multiple times), Ferguson won’t be retiring this year, the directors at Manchester City are unlikely to hire him with Mancini likely to stay on anyway, add this to the fact that Chelsea obviously will need a manager, he’d be loved instantly by the fans and also his family will be living in London regardless with his daughter set to attend a fine arts college just a few miles from Stamford Bridge. The only alternative I see for Mourinho is to do a job swap with Carlo Ancelotti at PSG, but I don’t think it’s by any means a given that Carlo will get the sack or that Mourinho would want a job as comparatively unchallenging at this stage of his career. I’m not brave enough to start getting my hopes up, but if I had to place a bet on Jose’s next club, it’d have to be on Chelsea, having considered the ‘facts’ in true Benitez fashion.