For those unaware, John Obi Mikel made a few headlines yesterday. First, he praised Rafa Benitez for his halftime team talk and substitutions, both of which served to swing the momentum of the match in Chelsea's favor. Then, John did something that no one else in Blue has done since November 22nd. He called out the fans. Yes, he dared to cross that threshold of sanctity and actually spoke out in favor of Rafa Benitez, by urging the Chelsea supporters to resist the temptation to hurl vile and obnoxious taunts, jeers, and lord knows what else they're saying in his direction.
Many might look past this moment as a blip on the proverbial radar that has been this season, but I'm not so quick to do the same. In all sincerity, I feel for Rafa. Much like Aidan conveyed yesterday, there's a part of me that can't help but feel that this type of abuse is unwarranted. I can understand that he's not the ideal choice for interim manager, or even permanent manager in the eyes of the vast majority of Chelsea supporters. His Liverpool connections, the things he's said in the past, and his actions over the course of his career have ruffled plenty of feathers. I understand it, I do.
But I'm also a pragmatist by trade. Rafa was appointed by Roman, so that's that. There's no sense in continuing to sing loud and jeer him from a distance, it's not doing anything in terms of motivating Roman to sack him. Clearly, Rafa's been given his mandate for how to finish the campaign and his seat is secure until the final kick in May. After that, he'll be on his merry way and Chelsea will once again be on the search for another manager to take the task of running the show. Why then, if we know there's an exit down the road, do fans continue to push on with their disgust for Rafa?
Many might find my thoughts absurd, and a few of the more overzealous folks out there might turn their ire toward Obi. But I'd argue that John's decision to stand behind his manager might well be a turning point in this season. Up until now, the dressing room which has been documented as being a playpen for egos and personal agendas by every media outlet for the past four years, has been silent. There was a minor altercation some ten days ago in which the players (namely John Terry) and Rafa shared a few heated words during training. Beyond that, this cauldron of characters have stayed silent, refusing to offer support or acknowledge Rafa's existence as anything more than a general distraction from their everyday lives.
Which is why Obi's words mean so much at this stage of the season. With a fixture list longer than a summer day, and a run-in of three different competitions, Chelsea are poised to play more games in a short span than I can remember any club enduring. No one would know better the impact a generally positive supporting contingent can have than a player. When Rafa had his meltdown post-Boroug, we all thought he was going insane and on the verge of getting sacked. In reality, he was simply attempting to say the very same thing that Mikel put forward yesterday. In short, dial down the angst and get behind the squad. It might get lost in the shuffle but I do believe that John's statement could have the potential to catalyze the squad and fan base.
It's all very simple and plain to understand, yet the vitriol persists. I don't want to repeat the chants I heard watching the match, but suffice to say they were loud, obnoxious, and generally disrespectful. Rafa didn't murder anyone, hasn't taken your life savings, and probably will never meet any of us in person. Why then, do we reserve such special hatred for him? He needs this gig to succeed more than Chelsea need it to work out. His career is presently hanging by the thinnest of strings- were he able to steer us to some semblance of success, there will be offers rolling in for his services. He knows this, he's not a complete fool. That's why he's doing whatever is within his means to make it work. That doesn't mean he is everyone's cup of tea, will deploy the tactics we want, and will stop rotating the squad. That's an unrealistic expectation frankly. But it does mean that he's not willingly conspiring to throw away points, matches, or results. That's assinine.
Mikel might not be the most vocal of players on the roster, but he did exhibit some courage in standing behind Rafa. The only question is whether or not the supporters will get in line and begin to rally behind the squad instead of continuing their incessant haranguing of Rafa. My guess is it won't come to pass, but at least I can hold out hope that somewhere amongst us there are those with enough sensibility to resist the temptation to jeer.