I grew up in the southern United States, mostly on Alabama Crimson Tide football. I came to Chelsea later than most of you, so I didn't have the ingrained hatred of Rafa Benitez that many of you appear to have.
I suspect, in many ways, I'm like a lot of U.S. fans of English football. I picked a favorite team later in life. For me, it was Chelsea and it all happened in a bar in on West 47th Street in Midtown Manhattan during an amazing Champions League match and the place was hopping in the scotch was single-malt and things just felt right.
When Chelsea sacked Roberto Di Matteo, it turned my stomach. The truth is, he had a bad run of form. But I felt he was treated like something on the bottom of Bruce Buck's shoe, and I still feel that way. It still disgusts me when I think about it.
Still, after I got over that and the season pressed on, I was struck by the treatment CFC fans showed Benitez. I don't think it represented the club in a good light.
That's just an opinion. Here are the facts:
1. DiMatteo outperformed Benitez in the Premier League.
2. He earned 2.0 points per game vs. Rafa's 1.7 to 1.8, depending on how the Everton game winds up. If you project an extra 0.2 points per game over 26 games, that's an additional 5.2 points. With that, we are sitting in contention for second place going into the final game of the season and not worrying about 3rd vs. 4th.
3. DiMatteo's team, on average, scored 2 goals per game and conceded 1. Going into the final game, Rafa's squad is exactly the same.
4. Going into the final match against Everton, DiMatteo performed the same as Rafa at home (earning 2.2 points per game) but better away (1.8 to 1.5).
So, in short, if you PROJECT RDM's final 26 games based on his first 12, we finish a certain 3rd and perhaps second. He outperformed Rafa in the league, pure and simple.
Now, you might argue that 12 is too small a sample. I say we'll never know. I think it's likely he would have benefitted from more cohesion among the new players as the season progressed, much in the same way Rafa did. But then we're straying back into opinion.
Premier League: RDM beats Rafa.
Onto competitions outside the Premier League:
DiMatteo 0-3 in cup competitions: lost to Man City in the Community Shield, lost to Atletico in the UEFA Super Cup; eliminated in the group stages of the Champions League after giving up a 2-goal lead at home vs. a very good Juventus and having been thoroughly outplayed at Shaktar. Winning percentage: 0
Rafa 1-4 in cup competitions: Won Europa, lost Carling Cup, FA Cup, Club World Cup. (Am I missing something?) Still, one trophy. Winning percentage: 25.
So, Rafa's got a higher winning percentage on non Premiere League competition.
Back to opinions:
1. Rafa's trophy is good, but the path was fairly easy.
2. I think there's a good chance RDM could have replicated that feat.
Conclusions: Rafa is a decent manager, but he did no better than DiMatteo in the league. His cup performance was so-so. His mid-season striker signing did nothing to fundamentally alter the team's league performance.
The board was moronic and short-sighted for the mid-season change. And utterly tone-deaf in picking a manager the fan base can't stand.
I think there's a decent chance we could be standing here with a 2nd place position in the Premiere League, and one or two trophies, if DiMatteo had been given a chance to work through the rough spots. Also, we'd have a club hero, and a good man, as our manager. And we wouldn't have had to suffer through all the drama.
Good luck, Rafa. Thanks for keeping the ship fairly steady.
RDM: I'm hoping you land a great job, develop into a top manager, and come back someday. It seems Chelsea FC believes in second acts.