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A BRIDGE TOO FAR

by Gareth Roberts // 26 November 2012 // 28 Comments

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SORRY Chelsea fans, but you really haven’t thought this one through. Singing “Fuck off, Benitez?” Booing your own manager on day one? Way to go.

When the stadium announcer read out the attendance at Stamford Bridge and followed it by thanking fans “for their support” he must have been stroking his chin while crossing his fingers.

If that’s support, what can Rafa Benitez expect when the Chelsea crowd turns nasty? You’d be forgiven for thinking the reincarnation of Jimmy Savile had walked into Stamford Bridge and promised to play the kids.

As it was, this was a manager who twice wrestled the La Liga title from the heavyweight grasp of Barcelona and Real Madrid as boss of Valencia. He also won the UEFA Cup there.

At Liverpool he won the Champions League with players like Djimi Traore and Igor Biscan. He reached another European Cup final, won the FA Cup, and was four points away from winning the title during his time on Merseyside.

Despite the shit-flinging from many hacks, he’s no dope. Given half a chance, perhaps he could inspire Chelsea to close the five-point gap between them and league leaders Man City.

Yet the Chelsea faithful greeted their new manager with an avalanche of shit. Even George Graham didn’t get that kind of reception when the former Arsenal manager took over at Spurs.

This was the most hate-filled hello from fans to their own manager in living memory. And for what? You can hardly blame Benitez for taking a top job after almost two years out of the game. He was fast becoming irrelevant since the sack at Inter in December 2010.

If Chelsea fans have an issue with the decision to sack Roberto Di Matteo and replace him with Benitez, why don’t they aim their ire at the man who made the call? It was Roman Abramovich who ultimately kicked the stool to hang Di Matteo and it was the Russian who lured the Spaniard to west London.

The Chelsea owner might be worth £8.4billion but he can make mistakes just like everyone else. Benitez is already being touted by The Shed End as one of his biggest. But is it any worse than replacing Jose Mourinho with Avram Grant?

It’s ridiculous that Abramovich is bomb-proof. Yes, his bullion has given Chelsea fans things they thought they’d never see. But it’s worth remembering that in the five years before he arrived at the club, Chelsea never finished outside the top six and won the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Cup Winners’ Cup and the Super Cup. They were hardly in the football wilderness.

What is a mistake is naming Benitez as “interim manager” – the dreamt-up title was even printed on the official team sheet on Sunday. It just adds to the pressure. The fans think he’s a stop-gap and the players will too. It’s a ready-made excuse should everything go wrong.

Abramovich and Chelsea fans have conspired to give Benitez no margin for error. The first blip will be a crisis; the first perceived mistake will be met with further fury.

Roberto Mancini said the only way Benitez will be loved at Stamford Bridge is to “win, win, win, win, win.” You get the feeling even that won’t be enough.

The ‘masterplan’ is to eventually tempt Pep Guardiola to Chelsea – probably the most coveted manager in world football right now. But even for a rumoured £15m a year, the former Barca man must be asking himself why he would want to walk into such a poisonous atmosphere.

And with Manchester City, Manchester United, Brazil and others vying for his signature, it’s not like he will be short on offers.

Chelsea fans might think they’re hanging a hate figure out to dry by booing Benitez. Abramovich probably sees his appointment as a symbol of his authority.

Yet all both fans and owner have done is serve up yet more evidence that this is a club to be avoided.

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28 Comments

  1. If he wins them the league and the CL will they still boo him? Rafa is a great manager and like Mancini said “win, win, win, win, win, win, win” and you’ll win over the fans.

    All the frankly idiots who hold the “Rafa Out” signs before a ball is kicked must realise that they don’t control the club, it’s Roman’s club and he decided what he does when he wants. By all means hold “Roman Out” signs and see how far you fall without his rubles.

    The sad reality is that Rafa will welcome all the negative focus on himself and fight it alone, as that relieves pressure from his Chelsea team making them perform better. That’s just the calibre of the man.

    You’ll Never Walk Alone Rafa!

  2. Great piece of writing enjoyed reading it, the Rentboys don’t deserve Rafa. He must be wondering “WTF have I done?” He’s not used to being treated like shit by the fans of the club he is managing. I don’t see him lasting the full term of his contract, Bigger name managers have been sacked by Ambramovich even after winning things, I’ll give Rafa another 5 games sadly.

  3. Just to point out. When Abramovic bought Chelsea they were in a wose financial position than Leeds. They may have finished top 6 and won some cups but they were on the verge of doom. Should Abramovic take his billions and walk they’ll be screwed. The fans know this so they’ll vent all their fury in a different direction. Rafa.

    The Chelsea fans are a disgrace but after Rafa’s comments questioning the credibility of their supporters is anyone surprised at the reaction he’s getting. We can sit on our high horse and condemn them but I’ve heard LFC fans say they’d be done with Liverpool if we brought Mourinho in. What if Ferguson became LFC manager? What would the reaction be?

    • quite right. Chelsea would have gone into administration.

      You know when Ken Bates is selling you something it’s because he’s made as much as he can out of it and won’t spend any more money on the project.

      As is the case at Leeds.

  4. Let’s face it, we could all list 100 reasons why Chelsea and it’s fans are the most crass in the country. The incident with Mark Clattenburg was just embarrassing and tells me everything I need to know about that club.

    I don’t want to say anything derogatory about Rafa as he’s a fantastic manager, fantastic bloke and has been seriously wronged here but I do feel his answering of the question about Cole and Lampard leaving was answered naively considering it was his first day or two in the job. I feel the press set him up a bit with the question on their contract talks but a lot of Chelsea fans will misinterpret those headline that they’re both heading for the exit door.

    In some ways, Chelsea is the reason I’m happy for LFC to build at a slower pace with foundations rather than just throwing millions at the club as some fans want. Where there’s a lot of money floating about you end up with the staff, players and fans that Chelsea have. Fuck that.

    • The issues with Lamps and Cashley’s contracts were already well known and in the public domain.

      Rafa didn’t announce anything but the press wanted it to look that way because they’re a bunch of scum buckets.

      But yes, Rafa isn’t the cleverest spin merchant on the block.

      He puts zero effort into that which given the British Media’s blood thirst and confrontational DNA is a problem. He really should get better PR. It’s not like he or his clubs can’t afford it.

      Mind you the Labour party is crap at it too, so it’s not just him.

      Abramovich couldn’t care less about PR. He’s SO rich he really doesn’t give a monkeys.

      What’s bizarre is he doesn’t get a fraction of the great feelings football should give you because of his attitude and the nature of Chelsea football club and London.

      Imagine if you owned Liverpool and had that continuous success. A thousand times more pleasure straight off the plate.

      London never fails to disgrace and prostitute itself.

  5. “They were hardly crisis-torn paupers on the verge of extinction.”

    Sorry, I stopped reading at that point. Yes. yes they very much were. I thought it was pretty common knowledge by know that they were days from administration with debts of £80+ million.

    Frankly, Chelsea fans should STFU about Abramovich, he has injected billions into HIS team. He can do whatever he likes with it because without him Chelsea F.C. would be where Leeds or Portsmouth are right now, they wouldn’t have had some of the best players in the world play for them, they wouldn’t have league titles or a Champions’ League victoy, and they certainly wouldn’t have one of the most exciting squads in the country in 2011/12 … Mata, Oscar, Hazard, Marin & Moses is an incredibly lineup of options and it’s only a matter of time until he goes and gives them another £100m to spend on some new strikers. Poor Chelsea fans, Roman really screwed your club over didn’t he. Just think back to the glory days of achieving fuck all on the way to bankruptcy under Ken Bates.

    Same thing annoys me with the aggro FSG get, they came in and saved this club from the humiliating prospect of administration, and the disaster that Hicks and Gillette’s breakdown in relationships was causing for the club. For me that earns them the right to fan’s respect and support. Sadly for most it means squat and they just want to know why the owners are not spending our way into debt again!

    • They’d just qualified for the Champions League when he took over. Were they really going to go pop or is that a convenient narrative that has emerged since? Regardless, all this being thankful for owners stuff is bollocks. Football clubs shouldn’t be a rich man’s plaything and owners should have some accountability to fans.

      • Has never been any different though? I mean we only exist because one rich man wanted a team to play in his stadium :)

        The reality is that titles are rarely won organically. We are not immune to this either (Daglish wasn’t exactly a nobody when we signed him)

      • There is a reality of who pays for the club.

        Abramovich pays for that club. it does earn money but without him they were bust.

        We were bust too but for owners forking out for it and clearing debts when they would be quite within their rights to leverage it up and expect it to pay its way.

        Tie Abramovich and his money to the manager and then see if Chelsea fans want the man out.

        They are clueless, with a sense of entitlement and pretty disgraceful.

  6. Bullshit Gareth, Everton have qualified for CL as have Spurs and Liverpool neither of them have gone on to win the PL. Chelsea have and City have due to their owners. We have owners who would rather balance the books than invest in star players so we are md table. You look like what you are, Envious of those clubs with money. Why face reality – Chelsea fans booed Rafa because his time with us and what was said then. You seem to forget the hostility our fans had for Woy and still ridicule him on your show. Dont be so two faced.

    • That was hardly my point, I was talking about the club going bust, not winning titles. Of course the dough has made a difference to their ability to challenge and win the league. My point was, they were hardly no-marks before Abramovich and his millions rocked up, whatever their financial position. Envious of Chelsea? If you say so. I’m really not.

      Hodgson wasn’t booed and told to fuck off the first time he set foot into Anfield, and to suggest his welcome from fans at the match was anything like what happened at Stamford Bridge is, as you put it, bullshit.

      It was only after a string of piss poor results, piss poor footie and piss poor comments (including a pop at Liverpool fans) that the crowd turned on Hodgson.

      Two faced my arse.

  7. I think there is a feeling amongst Chelsea fans that this is a symbol of authority, or a mighty “Fuck Off” in their direction. Benitez was being touted for the position sometime ago and the chavs made it clear the man who out thought their special one numerous occasions was the footballing Anti-Christ.

    Benitez, on the other hand has an opportunity to win some trophies and remind the footballing world of his credentials and add some more bling to his CV. And who could argue, after 6 years of performing minor miracles at Anfield, and working under some of the most clueless custodians in the game, a squad ready made to challenge with some defending deficiencies, was a gift too good to tune down.

    I’m absolutely delighted that Chelsea fans booed Benitez because it only goes to reinforce what many of us have known for years, that the Chelsea crowd are crowd devoid of substance. And only goes to strengthen of our support as being unique and fair game.

    The elephant in the room for Chelsea fans is that sometimes the truth hurts, because Benitez pointed out a truth, it is being used a stick to neat him with. Liverpool FC has put in the hard miles, the monumental journeys across Europe, the trophy cabinet glittering in prestige and history, the flags the songs. We take it as the norm, they grind their teeth enviously.

    Benitez waxed lyrically about the knowledge and passion of the Liverpool fans during his time as manager, but it was a pure emotion expressed from real experiences. It wasn’t a throw away comment when he told reporters “I can guarantee they will wish me well” when answering a question about how Liverpool fans would react, it was a nod in the direction of real support in the face of adversity.

    It’s ironic that on the corner of one of London’s most affluent areas this was footballs lowest class of the highest order.

  8. I don’t mind that the Chelsea fans jeer Benitez. What do you think would happen if Ferguson was hired by Liverpool? Hmm, no wait, Ferguson would never take the LFC job. Unlike Benitez, who has gone down in my estimation.

    • Why? There’s no long-lasting animosity between CFC and LFC, the ire was always directed at Mourinho. I don’t care how nice José is in private, publicly he’s a smug, divisive little twat. I’m sure Rafa had offers since Inter, he’s been on record saying he preferred a job in England as his family is settled on Merseyside. It’s also evident that he thinks he has unfinished business at LFC and equally evident that he’s not getting the job back any time soon.

      Crass reception apart, it’s a great chance to win something with a very talented squad and show how good a coach he is (as evidenced by Darth Ferg immediately letting fly with a volley of poisoned darts). Best of luck.

  9. Chelsea have always been classless and nothing has changed.

    The Chelsea board knew that giving rafa the job would be unpopular because of previous history with Liverpool, but they still wanted him, and I think there is more to rafa’s appointment then what has been disclosed.

    The Word Interim is being used for the settling in period to reduce the hostility as ” temporary” and enabling him to win over the fans during that period , imagine the hostility if it was permanent ??

    Also it is very interesting that in his press conference cole and lampard situation was disclosed which 3 other managers have previously failed to do, and Rafa does it in 1 conference , and taking the instant unpopularity hit with it at the same time as his introduction.

    Also it is pretty impressive that after only 2 training sessions, the Chelsea team keep there first clean sheet , preventing man city attacking from creating any chances, defending 11 corners, Luiz lloking like a center back like when we played benfica few seasons back, ivanovich the leader in the defence, ashley cole playing well, ramires becoming the lucas type of player, mata, hazard, oscar , defending and playing like a unit, and playing for there new manager amongst such a hostile and nasty atmosphere in the ground.
    That has also changed some views on the Chelsea forums, the clever fans obviously who have noticed a difference to their team, and all that achieved in 2 training sessions.
    Those Chavs are very lucky, I have a feeling they are in for a special season, the man looks refreshed, renergised, full of idea;s and hungry for winning matches and trophies.
    Love to see him do well, which he will, but also sad that it wont be with us.

  10. We all know just how stubborn Rafa can be (persisting with Lucas when the player was clearly affected by fan critiscm. His refusal to bow to H+G ).
    Woy was given time and space but it was clear in his own words that his ambitions were much lower than the fans. ” my buddy Sir Alex didn’t help his cause and saying the Derby defeat was the best we had played all that season was “Double speak” straight from 1984 the novel. Add that to buying that was disastrous, it was inevitable that the Hodge had to go.
    The chelsea fans inBenitez’ eyes will be another hurdle and let’s see how they sing his name when he gets them back into contention for the Premiership.
    I would have hoped he’d picked somewhere else to manage, but I wish him well if he does win the League, it will prove there was no luck involved.
    THAT will shut old Red nose up.

    • It won’t shut Fergie up.

      Rafa doesn’t have the PR skills to combat fergie or the blood thirsty, nostril snorting dobermans that make up the English media.

      However, it should be noted that Ferige is the luckiest man in football. Getting head hunted when you have a great CV isn’t luck.

      To spend 5 years doing nothing of significance at a huge club, spending every year, and keep your job – as Fergie did – that his a huge amount of luck. And it’s unparalleled.

      It wasn’t possible anywhere else. Maybe Fergie knew some secrets that stopped him getting fired, even when finishing in the bottom half of the table.

      Shame Rafa isn’t enough of a spin merchant to take on the snidey shit in Manchester.

  11. The most crucial factor in Benitez’s success or failure will not be the fans or the media (though none of them will be much help), but will in fact be the players he has under him. The likes of Mata, Oscar, Luiz, Torres (maybe) and Ivanovic appear to be solid pros, and will probably ‘get’ Rafa right out the blocks, but scumbags like Terry, Cole, Hazard, who appear to be out for nothing but themselves will be a challenge. How long will it be before someone starts briefing the media in an effort to ingratiate themselves with the fans and distance themselves from what prophecies will inevitably self-fulfill.

    Manly, heroic, ex-Engerland Captain Terry, struggling to carry Chelsea despite the machinations of the underhand Spanish fifth columnist. That is Martin Samuel’s, and Oliver Holt’s wet dream. You can practically smell them getting hard.

    ferd

  12. ‘You’d be forgiven for thinking the reincarnation of Jimmy Savile had walked into Stamford Bridge and promised to play the kids.’ Ha, nice.

    This article hits the nail on the head for me on this entire Benitez-Chelsea thing. How do Chelsea fans think they’re helping their club in either the short or long term? Has no one learnt anything from Blackburn last season? Their chances of achieving this season aren’t really up to much in that atmosphere. Guardiola’s gonna be watching saying, “Fuck that noise! The owner’s a loon and the fans aren’t much better. I thought managers got time and support in England. Chelsea isn’t the only place offering ‘loasdamoney’ so bollocks to yuz.” Well, maybe not in those exact words…

    It’s not like other fans can’t relate to their frustrations. Di Matteo was a hero of a player for them and turned a season going nowhere around by winning that elusive European Cup they had no right winning from when AVB was sacked as well the FA Cup. But, as you’ve pointed out Gareth, vent at the mad prick who gave him the bullet (as well as a who’s who list of world renowned managers who had achieved more than doin well at MK Dons then getting sacked by West Brom before getting the Chelsea boss), not at Benitez. If they don’t feel as that as a collective, they can publicly criticise their owner because of how he’s bought them unprecedented success and relevance, then they really are as sackless as they seem.

    And they hate him for what? Taking some passing digs at them when we seemingly played them in semi-finals every other week while they worship the infamously mouthy Mourinho for having the exact same chat x10. Get over it. Then again, he did taunt the Chelsea supporters on the line during a League Cup final. Oh wait, no – that was Mourinho and Reds couldn’t care less about it. Least of all EIGHT years on.

    Rafa, who had been out the game coming on nearly two years, has said two things: he wants to manage A) an English club and B) a big team preferably challenging for “troffees”. After a summer where a return to Liverpool was a nonstarter and Tottenham didn’t come calling what’s he meant to do? Turn it down? Chelsea fans should know he’s got a world class manager’s CV that’s up there with the best of them. It’s not as outrageous as say, wanting to sack Benitez to bring in Klinsmann, or actually sacking Benitez to bring in Hodgson.

    Part of me wouldn’t mind seeing Rafa the Interim succeed just to shove it up the arses of the media and ex-players* more than anything. And the eternally classless Ferguson (by his logic AVB really won the Champions League because it was ‘his’ team). Can’t forget him. But it’s Chelsea, so although I’d feel bad for Rafa when it inevitably ends in tears, their fans deserve their self-fulfiling prophecy to go accordingly tits up.

    Watching the City/Chelsea game and how it was a guarded bore draw with Man City always looking the side more likely to score, it’s funnily enough the exact type of game they would have conceded goals in and probably lost badly in under Di Matteo. Not saying the sacking was justified by any means and they’ve been excellent in the final third even with a less than excellent No. 9, but every time they’ve came up against an actual good side (ie not Arsenal, Tottenham or Livepool) they’ve come unstuck and been found out to be too open and naive at the back (Juve, a Falcao-led Athletico in the Super Cup and to a lesser extent Man U all ran riot). Just an observation.

    Anyway, rant over…

    *… Well, not quite. On Jeff Stelling on Saturday, Thommo praised Martin Samuel’s Suarez piece which is whatever but even madder (or maybe not considering the source), the galactically stupid Paul Merson thought Chelsea should have brought in Harry Redknapp instead of Benitez. That’s right, Abramovich is going to fire Di Matteo (who’s managed more trophies this calender year than Redknapp has in the last 30) for playing open, attacking football but with not enough tactical discipline at the back for his liking… And then hire Harry Redknapp. T’riffic thinking that. That’d be like West Ham getting rid of Allardyce to bring in Tony Pulis.

    Maybe ‘Merse’ genuinely thinks Redknapp is a better manager than Rafa Benitez just because Bale scored those goals against Inter. Or maybe because Redknapp won an FA Cup with Portsmouth (with a team payed for by a false economy which has seen that club fall into administration and near the bottom of League 1), even though Benitez’s list of honours may outnumber the amount of players ‘Arry has “looked at” or “put his arm round”. “Unbelievable Jeff!” indeed.

  13. Eh?
    Ferguson won the FA Cup and European Cup Winners Cup well within 5 years of joining United and was about to win the European Super Cup too.

    • I don’t think that’s a fair reply. JohnnySingapore was closer to the truth. The FA Cup at the end of his fourth season was his first trophy but more importantly saved his job. The point being, he spent 4 years at a big club, spent a load of money and didn’t get close to Liverpool. He was lucky to survive.

      • My point was that to describe that haul of 3 trophies by Ferguson as spending “5 years doing nothing of significance” was ludicrous. After all Rafa won only 2 trophies for Liverpool in 5 years so arguably that record was worse than Ferguson’s! Yes I know Rafa also got us runners-up spot to United in 2009 – but Ferguson also got United to runners-up spot to us in his second year.

  14. Look, can we get real? Who gives a feck what Chelsea fans want?

    Let them have what they deserve, that’s about the size of it right now. Let them prove their worthiness of plastic flags, of their mendacious mocking of managers that have proved their genius many times, & let Benítez instill his vision, whether of temporary limbo or by winning every competition in which his team competes. Either way, they’ll get what they deserve.

    Arise, Rafa Benítez, Leyenda. NCS

  15. Would expect no more from Chelsea – the club or the fans! In reality they are probably shooting themselves in the foot long term. Will Pep Guardiola fancy a job at that club in the future? …. probably not.

    I personally didn’t want Rafa back at Anfield but appreciate what he did during his time in charge. For now, I hope Benitez wins world club championship and then tells Chelsea, Abramovic and their idiotic support to do one!

  16. There was a time when I would have confidently stated that we would never behave like this, but these days I am not so sure. To be fair to all football fans, I think there has been a fundamental breakdown in trust between themselves and the people that run “their” clubs. I have no doubt that was the main reason for our “extraordinary” treatment of Roy Hodgson. Hicks and Gillet changed us. The fear of losing the club altogether and the helplessness many fans felt combined to undermine the fierce loyalty that was once afforded by the vast majority of fans to anybody connected with the club.

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