It's easy to hate Rafa Benitez, especially if you're a Chelsea fan. He was manager during the last period of good years for Liverpool, he was, and is, kind of a dick, and has shown himself to be somewhat-less than totally-competent over the past few years. Occasionally, though, he manages to seem agreeable, sane, and lucid. I suspect his Death Eater son has him under the Imperius Curse, and the real Rafa breaks through sometimes, but that's neither here nor there.
Today, in his pre-FA Cup-semifinal press conference, he was asked a question about the effect of Chelsea's fixture list this season. As it stands, we're booked to play 68 competitive matches this season, with the possibility -- should we advance to both available finals -- of an even 70. To any sensible person, that's just too many games. Fortunately, Rafa Benitez appears to be a sensible person. Well, at least on this issue. He also expressed doubts about allowing the relentless march of technology to completely over-run football.
As reported here by ESPN UK, today's quotes are refreshingly-sensible:
"There are too many games in a season," Benitez said. "I will not say international or which games but they are playing too many games a season, yes."
It would be bad enough if our players were only playing for Chelsea, but they've also been playing International fixtures in the few breaks. There's definitely a way to help Chelsea get started on reducing the bloated fixture list, though. Not adding two random friendlies against City in the week after the season would be a great start. Rafa, on the other hand, had other ideas:
"Reducing the number of games, simple. You have too many games, so you have to check the competitions and maybe reduce some of them."
Again, that does make sense. Reducing the number of games is easiest done by reducing the number of fronts on which you're fighting. While that makes sense, that runs into two problems. First, how many teams are going to elect to simply not put any effort into a potentially-winnable competition, and, since the clubs with the worst fixture congestion problems are generally the biggest teams, you run the risk of making a competition irrelevant and unattractive to sponsors.
With reducing club football fixtures a seeming impossibility, the obvious target is international football. Rafa touches on that as well, having been asked about it specifically:
"I think, to see a game when you win 8-0 at international level is not an amazing experience for anyone. I think you have to have a Group A, the top sides in Europe, and Group B, if they do well, they can go to Group A, and have less games.
"I feel for the teams that are not at the top level and it's an opportunity but at the same time it's a lot of groups. When I was younger, a long time ago, you had less games, less teams and normally we were playing Spain, Italy, Germany, France or England. You want to play against the other teams. If you were good enough, you cope, so they have the divisions. In England, in Spain, in Germany, you have first division."
This is a really good point. I know there's a romance to the idea of San Marino or Andorra sneaking out a win against the big boys, but, almost always, they're just depressing lambs being led to slaughter at the hands of the top teams. It's not a fun experience for anyone but the most sadistic of football fans. Separating European football into two tiers would help to solve several big problems with international football; namely increased fixture congestion for players, an increasing number of injuries, and the reduced quality of international matches.
I doubt it ever happens, though. Nobody does the status quo like the game of football. This is a game where even the biggest causes célèbres take years to find even a moderately-workable solution. For example, Chelsea got away with nearly a decade of financial decadence before UEFA stepped in to stop Chelsea and other clubs doing such a thing again. As well as financial controls, the much-demanded goal-line technology is finally making its way into the game. Rafa also had words on that subject today:
"I think you need to give some help to the referees. That is part of the game," Benitez added. "I don't see a control, advantage to every single thing and to stop the game all the time to analyse things. We have to carry on and do things quicker. Give the referee more options to do their job well but mistakes are part of the game."
This is a very sensible approach to the idea, and one shared by a lot people, including me. Technology should probably be used to help referees by giving them clearer and better views of incidents, but it shouldn't become so intrusive that it becomes a substitute for the judgement of referees. Mistakes are part of the game. You're never going to manage to eliminate every mistake from the game, so being highly-intrusive in the name of eliminating every mistake would ultimately harm the game more than the mistakes are now.
Did Rafa say anything controversial today? No. Did he say anything nobody else was saying? No. He was surprisingly-sensible, though, and that's refreshing. With the rise of Roman's Fernando Torres clone "Zorres," I have to wonder whether he's cloned Rafa too. It would certainly explain the sudden outbreak of sanity from the Interim Manager.
Also, ESPN made a hilarious mistake in their article:
Is it related? Barely. Is it hilarious? yes.