Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Alan Green: Chelsea Fans must know Rafa Benitez is not really the gaffer

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 25: New Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez shouts to his players from the team dug out during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on November 25, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Maybe we should take a poll to try to judge just what proportion of football supporters are either thick or sick. The results might be frightening. Certainly there were far too many of each category in evidence at London games on Sunday.

How vile were the West Ham supporters who sang anti-Semitic chants and “can we stab you every week” at Spurs? It was appalling and shame on Sam Allardyce for claiming he didn’t hear them: must be worried any criticism of his club’s fans just might make them remember the style of football they’re now enduring…

I was at Stamford Bridge and witnessed something I have NEVER heard before in thirty five years covering football. A new manager was ‘welcomed to the touchline’ for the first time with a crescendo of boos: mixed in with the banners of ‘You’re Not Welcome’ and ‘Rafa Out’, the message to Benitez could hardly have been clearer. Yet it was misdirected and, I would argue, cowardly.

The Spaniard hadn’t been plotting behind the back of Roberto Di Matteo. He hadn’t greeted the then Chelsea manager off the plane from Turin with an instruction to go direct to the club’s Cobham training base where he’d be sacked in the early hours of Wednesday morning: six months after he’d taken Chelsea to a Champions League/FA Cup double.

Now I understand the hostility of many Blues’ fans towards Benitez. The rivalry between Liverpool and Chelsea, and particularly between Benitez and Jose Mourinho, wasn’t healthy: it was vicious. Personally, I can’t see any chance of the Spaniard winning them round: any more than if he’d pitched up at Old Trafford to succeed Sir Alex.

But, surely, it’s Roman Abramovich they should direct their anger at? And they won’t do that because the Russian might take offence, might tire of his West London plaything and leave taking his money with him. Where would Chelsea be, other than mid-table and winning only the very occasional trophy, without Roman’s roubles? They’d certainly never have been in Munich to win in Munich!

Yes, I know results can change everything and football fans, too many, are not just thick or sick, they’re fickle. But I don’t see Benitez lasting long at Stamford Bridge, however good a coach he undoubtedly is. What can his motivation be? Is it being ‘off the shelf’ with money in his pocket?

Certainly, he is not the first choice of Abramovich, no more than Villas-Boas was or Di Matteo. The Russian wants Pep Guardiola and approached him before appointing his last three managers.

But this is an area where the owner himself might be thick.

Unless Guardiola has lost his mind during his sabbatical in New York, he’d be crazy to turn up at the Chelsea managerial madhouse. And don’t tell me about the trophies won with Abramovich’s money. How many more might there have been if he hadn’t forced out Mourinho?

For me, Manchester if a far likelier ‘fit’ for Guardiola. Dropping out of the Champions League in such a disappointing manner for the second season in succession tells me Roberto Mancini must retain the Premier League title to stay in situ. And there are ex-Barcelona figures in key positions already at City. And what of United? If Sir Alex goes, who better to turn to than Guardiola?

What, too, if Wenger bade farewell at Arsenal? And AC Milan have made their interest well-known.

Guardiola at Chelsea? I don’t see it happening. Roman, dream on.

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