Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

At least Benitez delivered the goods for Chelsea

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - MAY 15:  Chelsea Interim Manager Rafael Benitez poses with the trophy during the UEFA Europa League Final between SL Benfica and Chelsea FC at Amsterdam Arena on May 15, 2013 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - MAY 15: Chelsea Interim Manager Rafael Benitez poses with the trophy during the UEFA Europa League Final between SL Benfica and Chelsea FC at Amsterdam Arena on May 15, 2013 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

in the tidal wave of eulogies that have followed the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson – just when will we have had 'enough'? – one constant factor cited as reason for his success is 'stability'. Twenty three years at the same club? It's undoubtedly remarkable.

However, I was reminded last week that there's more than just one way to succeed in football. How else can we explain why trophies still end up in the madhouse that is Stamford Bridge?

Now I really fancied them to beat Benfica beforehand but I haven't the foggiest notion how they managed it. Cech, Ivanovic and Cahill all had 'okay' games but, looking around those dressed in blue, I couldn't single out anyone who actually impressed in Amsterdam: not even Torres who's showing much better form these days.

Though the Portuguese had only themselves to blame for not turning possession into goal chances, they were, by a distance, the better side: just as Bayern Munich were in the Champions League Final a year ago.

So what is it about Chelsea? Well, undoubtedly, there is a grit and determination within their ranks that, armed with talent as well, can overturn the most depressing of scenarios.

Remember how they were two goals down within the first few minutes of that FA Cup tie at Old Trafford, came back – actually should have WON the first game – and beat United in the replay?

Yet none of this should be possible given the managerial merry-go-round overseen by dear Roman.

How have they won 11 trophies – unlike Sir Alex, I don't count Community Shields – under nine different managers in the decade the Russian's been in control? Jose will be the '10th' when he returns.

I'll go further. How many MORE trophies might they have won if they'd had any of the stability customarily seen at United? If a Mourinho or an Ancelotti had been allowed to stay on?

Now, I've said before that, given the ruthless hostility shamefully displayed by the majority of the Chelsea fans towards him, I always thought Rafa Benitez was an odd choice, particularly with that ridiculous 'interim' tag. And however much I like and admire him, I thought the club should have dismissed Benitez the morning after that rant at Middlesbrough. However justified, there should have been no way back after that.

But can ANY Chelsea supporter properly deny that he's done an outstanding job in his six months at Stamford Bridge?

He made sure they qualified for the Champions League. He led them to a trophy, albeit not the European one they'd have wished to win.

If the fans could change their minds – they can't: there were only a couple of desultory 'thank you' banners on Sunday – if Abramovich could show any gumption, Benitez could stay on and be really successful there.

So let no one begrudge him another tick on that CV of his. He may have to leave England but he'll find a club of stature elsewhere.

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