Rafa Benitez for manager of the year

Stu Forster

In which Graham attempts to impersonate the general footballing media.

How about Rafa Benitez for manager of the year?

No? Has not Andre Villas-Boas achieved more with an inferior club? Has not Sir Alex Ferguson led Manchester United to extinguish their noisy neighbours after City's shock Premier League win last year? Have not Steve Clark and David Moyes vastly overachieved considering the hugely limited resources at their disposal? Has not Alan Pardew evaded being kidnapped by an obsessive German lady?

Arguably all those feats put Benitez's season in the shade, and one could also cite other managerial successes at Sunderland, Arsenal and Manchester City, Wigan Athletic, Reading, Queens Park Rangers, Stoke City, Aston Villa, Southampton, Liverpool, West Ham United, Norwich City, Swansea City and Fulham that have left supporters happier with their lot than the ones in SW6. Yet supporter unrest has been the backdrop to Benitez's season; no other manager has had the fans baying for his removal from day one. Within Chelsea he was hated by fans refusing to forget insults from bygone years or the slight misfortune that befell his career at Internazionale.

And yet Benitez has made it through 27 matches at the helm of the defending European champions. And when he talks of securing Champions League football next season, he is absolutely right. There have been a couple of inexcusably poor performances from the Blues this season – they are drifting out of top four contention, after all. But at no time have the goals dried up, at no time have the players ever looked uninterested or disrespectful of their manager, and in spite of all the nonsense taking place off the pitch confidence has clearly remained consistently high.

There ought to be some sort of recognition for such triumph in the face of adversity. The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge has remained toxic enough that any normal manager would have lost every single home match they played, and yet Benitez has inspired his side to victories such as the 8-0 win against Aston Villa and battling draws versus superior opposition such as Southampton and Reading. Without his calm head and eye for tactics, the club would have fallen apart, but Benitez's Chelsea remain in contention for both the FA Cup and the Europa League, and his achievements in reaching the Club World Cup final and the Capital One Cup semifinals is not to be sneered it.

If only Chelsea played behind closed doors and barred away fans from travelling, they'd be competing with Manchester United for the Premier League title. Benitez has shown admirable constraint in ignoring these unfair, vociferous protests, and the fans' pernicious agenda hasn't been allowed to compromise team spirit. While supporters are painting the former Liverpool man's time at the club as a dismal failure, the truth of the matter is that if not for their influence, Shakhtar Donetsk would have beaten Juventus and Chelsea would be on their way to repeating their famous Champions League victory.

Rafa Benitez is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the greatest manager to ever put his mind to the sport. Perhaps Mr. Abramovich should consider sacking the evil fans rather than his studly, sexy diamond of an Interim First Team Coach.

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