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Comment: In Praise of Rafa Benitez

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THERE has only really been one winner from Rafa Benitez’s stint as ‘interim manager’ at Chelsea: Rafa himself.

Rafa Benitez

When Roberto di Matteo was sacked as Chelsea manager in November of last year, fans of the West London club were clamouring for Pep Guardiola or the return of José ‘The Special One’ Mourinho. The reality was, however, that Mourinho was never likely to leave Spanish giants Real Madrid midway through the season and Guardiola was not going to break from his sabbatical. The Chelsea fans therefore got Rafa Benitez as an interim manager for the rest of the season instead.

Most fans would not complain at their club appointing a manager who has won two La Liga titles, the UEFA cup, and the Champions League. However, within minutes of the decision to appoint Beintez being announced, #RafaOut was trending on Twitter. The reason for this seemed to be that at Liverpool, the Spaniard had outsmarted Chelsea too many times, by Chelsea logic he was therefore the enemy and preparing to corrupt Chelsea from the inside.

Benitez’s first home game as Chelsea manager therefore resulted in applause for applause for Benitez’s predecessor, Roberto di Matteo, and the Stamford Bridge faithful calling Benitez “a fat Spanish waiter.” For the months that followed Benitez’s appointment, this continued, as the Chelsea fans seemed to care more about abusing the Spaniard than supporting their team on the pitch. The result of this was a downturn in results and a season that seemed to be petering out.

That was until late February when Benitez hit out at Chelsea Football Club, its ownership, and its fans. Benitez angrily stated that the whole situation in West London was farcical: he could not do an adequate job with the title ‘interim manager’ and the fans constant protests at his management. This action seemed to galvanize Benitez and his Chelsea team for the remainder of the season and in recent weeks they have confirmed qualification for next season’s Champions League (Europe’s premier club competition); and won the Europa League (Europe’s second most prestigious club competition). This is entirely down to Benitez’s professionalism at the club and his willingness to deliver the best results he can, in spite of the constant abuse. Several managers with greater egos, when faced with Benitez’s situation, would become uncaring mercenaries, but Benitez will have done the job of an interim manager perfectly – he will have steadied the ship and bought success to it.

If we analyse the Rafa Benitez situation then, who has come out on top? The Chelsea owners who never backed this ‘interim manager’ and left him for dead? The Chelsea fans who are still singing, “We don’t care about Rafa, he don’t care about us”? Or Rafa Benitez, who has quietly got on with the job, in spite of this lack of support and has bought success to the West London club?

I doubt that Rafa even regrets going to Chelsea. The professional manner in which he has conducted himself has made his stock soar, gained him several admirers and demonstrated how much of a credit to the game he is. This ‘fat Spanish waiter’ can now leave Chelsea in the knowledge that several of Europe’s leading clubs and their fans would now welcome this consummate professional as their manager.

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