Rafa Benitez has had his chance

Michael Steele

Three long months ago, Chelsea were atop the Premier League, had Champions League Group E under unsteady control, and were sitting pretty in the League Cup, with most major competition vanquished and the path open for an easy route to Wembley. The squad was looking forward to a nice winter break in Japan where if all went well they'd be given an irrelevant but shiny trophy. And they were under the guidance of a Blues legend who'd already managed to steer them to the most important win win club history. All was, more or less, well.

How quickly that changed. Roberto di Matteo was given the axe for a run of form that now looks downright reasonable. Chelsea sagged to third in the league and now stare upwards at an insurmountable gap between themselves and Manchester United. The Champions League is a lost dream, replaced by its uglier and possibly malodourous sibling Europa. The Blues were embarrassed in the Club World Cup final and have just been knocked out of the League Cup by Swansea. The winter has been ugly.

When Rafa Benitez was appointed to replace di Matteo, I, like many Chelsea fans, was dismayed. Not only did I have grave doubts about his managerial acumen thanks to his calamity at Inter Milan, I was also personally annoyed that, while as Liverpool manager, Benitez chose to publicly denigrate Chelsea supporters and waved the resulting brouhaha away as 'defending his club'. But I was told, not unreasonably, to give him a chance. So I tried my best to stow away the emotions and judge Benitez on his own merits.

In return, we got a manager who has failed us on every single level.

Benitez has overseen some of Chelsea's biggest wins of the season, to be sure, but he's also presided over some absolutely catastrophic defeats. He's been tactically outfoxed by Sam Allardyce, Harry Redknapp, Martin Jol and Nigel Adkins as his have dropped point after point to inferior opposition. He's lost two of the trophies he was supposedly brought in to win. His rotation policy looks more like crass favouritism and his failure to adequately rest his favourites combined with a nonsensical substitution in a nonsensical League Cup semifinal has seen David Luiz injured.

His record is poor enough to warrant a sacking. There's nothing promising in his methods. He seems clueless mid-game. There are essentially zero redeeming qualities about him. The antipathy to his appointment from large swathes of the fanbase is now being used as a shield to protect him from the simple, brutal truth: His time as manager at Chelsea has been an unmitigated disaster.

Instead of pointing out the obvious failings of the Rafa regime, the media is happily focusing on this supposedly irrational reaction from the support. Chelsea's home form has been poor under Benitez? Let's not blame the manager, whose shown himself to be singularly incapable of figuring out how to get his side to break down a packed defence (or, as the Arsenal and Southampton games have shown us, how to properly defend a lead). Instead, the story goes, it's clearly the fans' fault for failing to get behind him.

The fans are hurting the club by not supporting Rafa? Even if that's true -- and I have serious doubts about the impact of the Rafa out crowd on the actual performances we're seeing -- it's nothing, nothing compared to the damage that Benitez is doing to the club by managing it.

But rather than focusing on the very real things that Benitez is doing wrong, the blame's being shifted to the man's detractors. We're getting sold an absolute dud of a story and in the process are being patronised by the likes of Guillem Balague, who is claiming that the anger of the fans is the expression of some sort of weirdly deep-seated psychological angst.

Rafa Benitez doesn't deserved to be sacked because the fans don't like him (although that would have been a pretty good reason not to appoint him, in my mind). How I feel about him personally has zero bearing on whether or not he's an effective manager. He deserves to be sacked because he's been an abject failure at Chelsea.

Rafa out.


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