Today I woke up to the news that Chelsea had fired Roberto Di Matteo. Several hours later I was treated to the disgusting news that we had hired Rafa Benitez. Anybody who has been reading today knows exactly how I feel about this move already, but to sum it up, I don't like it at all. I'm certainly not alone in that regard either, as Chelsea fans everywhere are up in arms over the move. I see many fans arguing that we should back Benitez unconditionally now that he's our manager. I'm not ever going to be one of those fans, and there are several reasons for it.
First and foremost, Rafa Benitez seems to be a thoroughly unlikable human being. I'm sure he's a nice guy when you meet him face to face, but nothing in his past should really endear him to Chelsea fans. He's questioned the "passion" of our fanbase in the past, and that alone puts him in a situation where the fans of this club are already right to dislike him. He wasn't some teenage kid in the spotlight for the first time, he was a seasoned professional who had been dealing with the media for years.
He's also had several incidents with completely nonsensical rants about opposing managers. Where Roberto Di Matteo was all class and composure with the press, we've hired a guy that has gone off before on a five minute rant about the special treatment other managers receive. I dislike the tinfoil hat crowd in general, and we've hired a man who has a history of that type of behavior. Not cool Rafa, not cool at all.
Tactically speaking, I've never been a fan of Benitez either. He's always been a very organized manager, something that the man deserves credit and respect for. He's not very flexible though, and like AVB before him, he tends to try too hard to fit players into roles instead of designing a system to maximize the talent he had available.
This pattern can clearly be seen by looking at his transfer record at Liverpool. He was in charge for six seasons, easily long enough to adapt his system to some of his available players. Still, he averaged 13 signings per year as he attempted to find players that fit his system as opposed to adapting his system to fit the available (and talented) players. He will certainly not be in charge of purchasing at Chelsea, but his inability to adapt his system to the talent he has should still be a worrying problem. After all, he's only under contract for a few months, and we'll certainly not be reshaping the entire squad in January.
This problem was still clearly evident when he was in charge at Inter. He took over a side that Jose Mourinho had looking like the best in the world, and turned them into a midtable side in a very mediocre Serie A. He did this in a matter of months. What was most disturbing about it was his insistence on playing the same 4-2-3-1 he always does, despite the fact that his personnel were seemingly very poorly suited for it. Again with Benitez, the system was put in place without consideration of the players, and his very public insistence on a massive January overhaul was the main reason he was sacked only months into his reign..
There is also the question of his resume, and his qualification for this job. The official Chelsea website has laid out a glowing read about his past, but frankly it's a lot of fluff. He did some fantastic things in Spain around the turn of the century, but there haven't been a lot of notable achievements since landing at Liverpool. Yes, Benitez guided the team to an FA Cup and Champions League in his six seasons in charge. The man he's replacing won Chelsea the same two trophies in about ten weeks at the helm.
Benitez didn't have the spending power that Chelsea's managers had, but he still managed to spend £226 million in his time at the helm. That's enough money that he should have manged more than a single season where they legitimately challenged for a domestic title, especially given that he inherited a squad with several core players already in place. He didn't though, finishing with under 70 points in half of his seasons in charge (and twice finishing outside of the top four).
I don't want to say I can't grow to respect Rafa Benitez, but that is certainly a respect that the Spaniard is going to have to earn. His history shows that he's exactly the wrong type of manager for the problems currently facing Chelsea, and the only thing that will make me believe he's learned from that past is showing me something new. Coupled with his past comments about Chelsea's fanbase and conspiracies, it's certainly something that won't come quickly.
Rafa is sure to get a less than warm and fuzzy welcome on Sunday, and that's perfectly ok with me. He's earned it with his comments in the past, and he hasn't done enough in his past two jobs for his performance to overshadow his personality. Chelsea fans have every right to be upset about the way this situation was handled, and I don't think there is a single one of us who doesn't think Benitez was stumping around for this job behind the scenes while Di Matteo was still in charge.
If he wants my advice, it would be this...Suck it up and take the lumps you've earned when commenting on Chelsea fans, and understand that respect is earned and not given. Adapt your system to the talented players that Chelsea already have, as all but a handful of them are certain to be here far longer than you otherwise. Don't make noise about needing to buy more players in January, because Chelsea have never been shy about spending money anyway. And win. Win a lot. Win more than Guus. I can't stress that part strongly enough, as winning is probably the best way to make Chelsea fans forget your hiring. Do these things, and I might even grow to like you. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened.