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.