Rafa's stay of execution is madness
So the anticipated 'bear pit' didn't quite develop at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon – so what?
With club permission now, the anti-Benitez placards and flags returned to West London and the taunts aimed at him were as evident as ever. The Spaniard, as we've always known, has a skin akin to that of a rhinoceros.
But that Chelsea is indeed a madhouse was surely confirmed when Benitez wasn't sacked last Thursday morning. If Abramovich was happy to pay off Andre Villas Boas with £8 million – more than he was due – he would hardly have baulked at paying up the remainder owed on the current 'interim' manager's contract which is far less.
Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying that Benitez said anything on Teesside that wasn't correct. It was indeed a "massive mistake" to call him 'Interim Manager'. How disrespectful is that to someone of his experience with his record of acquiring trophies? It undermined his status from the beginning. Yet, it does beg the question as to why he accepted such a title in the first place?
And, of course, as I've argued all along, the attitude of many Chelsea supporters towards their manager has been a disgrace. It's wholly counter-productive and cowardly – far easier, isn't it, to slag off Benitez for largely 'past misdemeanours' than to directly confront the source of all this chronic instability, the Russian owner. After all, he might pack up his money and run.
The fans have a point though in decrying much of the football they're currently watching. The first half at Middlesbrough was dire and I couldn't help but wonder whether it was the same group of players that had me gushing with praise when I saw them demolish Spurs at White Hart Lane in October under Roberto Di Matteo. What if West Brom had equalised on Saturday? But I digress.
Benitez' words at the Riverside, so publicly delivered, measured rather than a 'rant', were a direct assault on Abramovich, the board, however many of them are worth laughing at, and the club's supporters. I immediately felt his position was untenable.
He dismisses the suggestion that there are players manoeuvring against him when everyone knows that IS the case. Did you hear how John Terry went out of his way in the captain's column to praise the Chelsea fans that'd made the long trek to Middlesbrough? I can't imagine the skipper would ever have thought of plunging a metaphorical knife into Benitez' back sitting behind him against the Baggies: left out again.
And there's talk Fabio Capello might be lured on a temporary basis from his role as coach of Russia. Abramovich has considerable influence within the Russian FA and he managed that 'move' before with Guus Hiddinck.
Benitez survived the weekend but, no matter how much I rate him as a man and as a coach, he can't surely survive the season.