Opinion. It’s the very basis on which democracy, free society, and on a slightly smaller scale, this website flourish. All of us have our wonderful opinions on something or the other. Recently, in the world of football, a lot of Chelsea fans have had rather strong opinions about a Spanish manager, namely Rafael Benitez. They haven’t exactly fallen in love with the “Interim One”, and have been rather vocal in their dislike of the man, consequently facing a lot of criticism for this expression of opinion. But are they wrong to make their doubts, fears and misgivings about him known?
Points of discussion
- Benitez’ history with the club
- Place of booing in football
- Support for Di Matteo
- Decision by the board
Vishal Patel- For
Benitez and Chelsea haven’t got along well with each other historically. A few years ago, while managing Liverpool, he took a pot shot at Chelsea supporters for their demonstration with flags. He also apparently had a dossier on Blues legend Didier Drogba, as ‘proof’ of the Ivorian’s play-acting. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that when a Champions League winning fan favourite was sacked and replaced by Benitez, the reception wasn’t going to be warm. Indeed, Chelsea fans made it very hard for the man, with posters/A4 banners and chants deriding him. He promised to win over them with his results, but statistically, he’s on shaky ground there.
As someone who pays a fat sum to the club every week to watch his beloved team play (apart from transportation costs), buys all the merchandise the club produces, and is emotionally attached to the club, a fan as a customer demands entertainment and quality to be delivered to him, and certainly has the right to voice his dissent when he disagrees with any of the decisions the club makes. So when a paying fan makes it known to the board and the owner that they want Rafa out, they’re not really in the wrong, as they’re only exercising a constitutional right firstly, and secondly, providing the proprietor of a business their feedback on some of his decision making. Surely the simple expression of an honest, heartfelt opinion cannot be ruled as misconduct. Violence, if any is definitely condemned, but not boo-ing.
A lot of people will tell you that the public has the memory of a senile dog, but not football fans. Roman may have forgotten, or ignored the derogatory comments that Benitez made about Chelsea fans and their expression of support for their team through the flags, but the fans haven’t, and initially, this was the cause for a lot of invective that was directed at Rafa. It’s easy to ask an insulted lot to be rational, and calm, but considering the matter personally will help. It is very difficult to be supportive of a former foe, and all of us know this from experience. While Rafa’s stoic reaction (for the most part) to these noises is admirable, we must understand that not all people are capable of such self control.
Apart from the history, Benitez isn’t the kind of manager who can inspire fans and win their support over with his words, charm and charisma, at least not in press conferences. This does play a huge role, it’s why so many fans back Mourinho and his sides up so vociferously.
Forget the fact that this is Chelsea FC, a club whose fans aren’t always respected. Forget the fact that they’re currently managed by Rafael Benitez, a manager who hasn’t been on friendly terms with the club’s fans. Forget the fact that he replaced a fan favourite. A simple look at statistics will clear the air about Benitez’ performance as Chelsea’s interim manager. After their first 16 games in charge, RDM had a win percentage of 69%, whereas Rafa has a win percentage of just 56%.
When initially confronted with a cold reception from the Stamford Bridge faithful, Benitez vowed to win them over by employing the simplest formula in the book- winning games. Things got off to a bright start as well (wins away at Stoke, Everton which are traditionally tough places to go to, and an 8-0 thrashing of Villa) but soon took a disastrous turn. The results deserted the Spaniard, and so did the little faith he had managed to garner until this point. When he replaced Di Matteo, Chelsea were 6 points behind the leaders with a game in hand. A cursory look at the current standings will reveal that the Blues are now mired in a battle to secure Champions League qualification, sandwiched between the North London rivals, Spurs and Arsenal. Even in other competitions, Chelsea struggled, losing the Club World Cup, and getting knocked out of the Capital One Cup by eventual winners Swansea. In the Europa League, they currently trail Steaua Bucharest by a goal after a listless away performance.
It doesn’t take only Chelsea fans to be enraged by the poor form and lack of results. A lot of teams and managers all over the world face similar problems when they’re going through a rough patch. Even Jose Mourinho was recently booed by the Real Madrid Ultras. Why should Rafa be exempted?
Sami Faizullah- Against
A champions league title, a runners-up finish, two La Liga titles (leading the last team besides Real-Barca to the title), UEFA Manager of the Year for two consecutive seasons (only Jose Mourinho and Vicente Del Bosque are the others to have won it twice. That, is a gist of who Rafa Benitez is. His capabilities as a coach cannot be brought into question. With a reputation of a tactical mastermind, Benitez can be considered as one of the ‘better’ coaches in World football. Unfortunately for his career, a couple of wrong decisions and even worse ownerships cost him a more fruitful career.
The biggest defence Chelsea fans provide in booing Benitez is that he was the man who publicly mocked & insulted their club, players and fans. As Vishal has mentioned, his infamous quote on the Chelsea flags hasn’t particularly gone down well with the Blues’ fan base. And rightly so. Benitez made a ‘not-so-convincing’ defence of his comments but no one was buying it.
So based on the history Benitez has with Chelsea Football Club, fans were displeased. But answer this? Who brought Benitez to Stamford Bridge? Did he walk in at Cobham and point a gun at Roman’s face before forcing him into an appointment? Did he hold Di Matteo’s family to ransom in exchange for the Italian’s job? No, Roman Abramovich and Chelsea Football Club took the initiative and got in touch with Benitez. They sacked the Champions League winning Di Matteo and replaced him with Rafa. It was a decision by the Chelsea board. Rafa was brought to Chelsea by the club. So how come, Rafa Benitez gets insulted, mocked and down-right abused for being at Chelsea, while Abramovich goes scot-free for bringing him here?
A defence provided by the Chelsea fans is that Technical Director, Michael Emenalo, was the mastermind behind Benitez’ appointment. That he ‘sold’ the idea of the Spaniard at Stamford Bridge. Emenalo, thus, should be on his way out along with Rafa. That claim is a poor and desperate attempt to ignore Abramovich’s recurrent misjudgments in managerial sackings. Mourinho, Ancelotti, Villas-Boas, Di Matteo are a few who should never have been sacked. Needless dismissals at the slightest dip in form. Of course Abramovich is a Legend at the club as he transformed it from a team hanging around the top four- into a title challenging side. But his obvious mistakes cannot be neglected.
Benitez has also been degraded for getting knocked out of the League Cup and failing to win the Club World Cup. However, under Di Matteo, Chelsea lost the Community Shield, UEFA Super Cup, all but ended their Champions League run and didn’t leave them in a very good position in the league either.
A level of consistency and faith is needed at any club. Di Matteo has been considered as a man who is not ‘big’ enough for a club like Chelsea, despite leading them to their greatest night ever while also winning the FA Cup. Only Sir Alex Ferguson has won both the FA Cup and the Champions League in the same season. Sacking the Italian in the first place, was an error on Abramovich’s part. Some complain that he didn’t deserve the job, but once he was appointed, surely he should have been given longer than a few months. Appointing Benitez too was an error, but again, once the decision has been made, the best thing to do from the fans’ point of view is to support the team and the manager. It’s one thing if the manager constantly fails to bring the results, but Rafa was someone who got booed from day-one.
Booing is a way to express displeasure and disagreement, but it never does any good to the club, and the players on the field. It’s an act that cannot be justified. Passion, commitment, loyalty, is what can define a football club. It isn’t a business, it isn’t about entertainment, its a football club that goes beyond rationality and “money’s-worth”. Unfortunately it seems like Benitez is paying for errors made by the Chelsea board, while support for Di Matteo has mistakenly been likened to the anti-Rafa campaign.
Featured image via telegraph.co.uk