Rafa Benitez, also known as the Fat Spanish Waiter by many Chelsea fans, has had a turbulent 7 months at the Bridge. With the fans not approving of his appointment and a changing room becoming complacent, he will not look back on his time too fondly. As always he will see it as a professional accomplishment in which he can put on his famous CV.
Some of you reading will probably be thinking that securing Champions League football and being in another European final is not a bad season. Not for Chelsea. It is fair to say that the Champions League failure was not down to him but his league campaign has seen steady growth. Along with his two domestic cup semi-finals, Mr Benitez has been nothing but professional, bar that infamous rant after the FA Cup tie at Middlesborough. Roman Abramovich sent him in with a job: secure Champions League football. Anything else was seen as a bonus for both Abramovich and Benitez.
His first few months were a rocky few with Chelsea travelling to Japan expecting to win the Club World Cup championship, only for the team to lose in the final. Rafa has seen steady progress in his team and his position over the team. Benitez should have secured Champions League football a long time ago with the team he has in Chelsea but as also he made it difficult for himself.
As a Chelsea supporter, I, along with many supporters, was very disappointed in Roman’s decision on his latest appointment. Not only because he had sacked Blues hero Roberto Di Matteo and not giving him a longer tenure but that he appointed our arch-nemesis. Before his appointment, if you mentioned Rafa’s name at the Bridge you would hear a perfect ensemble of orchestrated boos, jeers and whistles. Not much has changed but what many logical supporters will take from his tenure at Chelsea is that he has professionally carried out a job under extreme circumstances. There is a sense in recent months that the word ‘professional’ has been overused by Benitez but it’s a justified expression of his job at Chelsea.
He knew coming in that he will not be loved by the Chelsea faithful and he will never truly win the boo boys over, no matter what he wins. What he had to do was clear: win. By winning Barclays Manager of the Month for April, he has grown a bit more confidence in his current ‘Interim’ position at Chelsea. At the weekend at Villa Park, a chorus of Jose Mourinho sung out from the away fans, when the team was 1-0 down and down to 10 men. But, with a slice of fortune with the justified sending off, Chelsea fought back. Rafa can be the master of tactics at times but he can also be the master of his own downfall. Many of his substitutions in some important games have been beyond bewildering and sometimes his tactics have not panned out.
The beauty of British football, its fans, its press and its general culture is that, as Mourinho said, ‘criticism comes but also credit when it’s due’. This no way means that Rafa’s reign at Chelsea has been a successful one but, once again, a professional one. Guus Hiddink came in for a short period of time, just like Rafa, and was desperately unlucky not to have a Champions League final under his belt, as well as a hugely successful league and FA Cup campaign. Rafa’s league campaign has been neither here nor there. He should of picked up points against teams that would of been dead-set three points but has picked up huge points, most notably at Old Trafford.
With the Europa League final to be played, Chelsea along with Benitez can have another trophy in their cabinet and CV respectively. Overall, I think Chelsea supporters will be just happy to be in the Champions League next season, with the likely return of The Special One and a nicely moulded new team, Chelsea will look to be the next big force to be reckoned with, not only England but Europe. The man deserves a dignified exit but it will not be certain. At the very least we should be thankful of him for the player he has bought out in Eden Hazard, Oscar and especially Juan Mata. Class and respect will need to prevail from Benitez and the Chelsea faithful at this weekend’s final home game against Everton and lap of honour. Future for both? ‘The Interim One’ will finally be OUT and ‘The Special One’ will most certainly be IN.
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