There's been much hang-wringing about the appointment of Rafa Benitez to the post of Chelsea manager -- and much hand-wringing over the hand wringing. As we've gone over many times, most supporters who were around for the battles between Benitez and Jose Mourinho while the former was in charge of Liverpool have a certain disdain for the man, which is fair enough. He did directly insult us, after all. I certainly don't have any great fondness for him.
But we are, in general, pretty reasonable people, and Benitez is our manager whether we like it or not. I'd rather not spend the rest of the year wincing about that. I don't pretend to speak for all Chelsea supporters when I say this. Some are determined to despise you no matter what, and that's entirely their prerogative. As for me, I'm willing to ease up on the animosity a little bit. But, well... this is a two-way relationship, Rafa. You need to work on it too.
Here's how, in five steps.
- Recognise and apologise for anything untoward you may have said about Chelsea fans. I know that plenty of the supposed slights are fictions of the internet, but the plastic flag quote was definitely real, and you gave a pathetic defence of it in your press conference as somehow pumping up your team. That might have been good enough then, but it isn't now.
This is what to say:
I'm sorry for my remarks. They were inappropriate and said in the heat of the moment on the eve of a difficult, contentious game against a very tough opponent. I shouldn't have made those comments, and I wholeheartedly apologise to any Chelsea fan who was or still is offended by them.Easy enough, right? Address it head-on, like an actual grownup. This is the first step in repairing your relationship with the supporters.
- Fix the tactical issues on the team. I've gone over them at length and don't see an obvious solution with these players and their styles. It's your job to be a lot better at this whole tactics business than I am though. Turn this Chelsea team into a coherent unit that can attack and defend. It's not easy, but they're paying you £3 million a year to fix it, whereas I am a dude with a computer whose only notable skill is making jokes about the 30 Years War. Fix it.
- Win. Improving the team performance is good, but not enough. Chelsea are the defending champions of Europe, and although it won't be your fault if the Blues fail to make it out of Group E, supporters are expecting at least a top three finish and a domestic cup win on top of that. Challenge for the title. Win one of the cups. You said in the press conference that you wanted to win every game, so put your money where your mouth is and do it.
- One of the trophies that you mentioned in the introductory presser was the Club World Cup, which comes up next month. Now, personally, I consider this one something of a bizarre joke, but if Chelsea take their holiday to Japan seriously and actually bring home the trophy, please don't play it as though it was your accomplishment. If you win the CWC, it was with Roberto di Matteo's Champions League-winning team, on the back of his day in Munich.
By all means, claim the credit for anything else you win here. But the Club World Cup won't ever belong to you.
- Leave at the end of the season. That sounds harsh, but the only way you can be anything like palatable is if you really are an interim manager, here to get us back on our feet before the next dynasty builder (yes, that was a joke) arrives. There's too much bad blood between us to treat this as anything more than a marriage of convenience, but it's one we will be able to remember semi-fondly so long as it's successful and, above all, brief.
I have an open mind. I'm willing to be accommodating, despite my knee-jerk dislike. But it's not going to be an easy road, and some supporters will never accept you, no matter what. Tough luck, I suppose. But, Rafa, in the hopeful assumption that you'll follow my advice... good luck. You'll probably need it. And if you don't follow that advice, there's not enough luck in the world to make the next few months pleasant for you.
Ceterum censeo Torrentem delendam esse.