Is criticism of Rafael Benitez justified?
Chelsea interim boss Rafael Benitez has had a difficult relationship with the Chelsea faithful from day one
On a wall of the training ground at Melwood, there hangs a plaque displaying immortal words by one of Liverpool's Champions League winning managers. Against a red backdrop in white writing, it says: "We do not need to give away flags for our fans to wave - our supporters are always there with their hearts and that is all we need. It's the passion of the fans that helps to win matches - not flags."
As the verbal and visual pummelling of Rafa Benitez continues, there is a football lesson, and a life lesson for that matter, to be learned from with this plaque. The lesson is that a manager should never burn bridges with any fans. Unless you have a knighthood, a statue, and a stand with your name on it, there's always the chance that you could regret rash words spoken against a rival.
In a manner befitting to the man, let's first establish the facts. Rafa Benitez deserves to receive some retribution for his previous comments on Chelsea supporters. Questioning how a set of fans chooses to support their club is uncalled and just plain unnecessary.
There is a very sound reason why it is often recommended that managers stay an arms length away from fan provocation.
Second, no matter what happens at the end of this season, the Interim One will leave. And third, Benitez that he has no chance of gaining any favour from the Chelsea fans. It is a hatred acknowledged, understood, and accepted.
Knowing those facts, it has to be wondered whether the Rafa chants that have been continued through the FA Cup tie with league leaders Manchester United are worth the time and effort of the Chelsea supporters.
Surely, anything that comes out of Benitez's mouth will be ill-received by Chelsea fans, no less his speech a week ago where he stated: "I will leave at the end of the season. Chelsea gave me the title of interim manager which is a massive mistake. I'm the manager and I will manage this club.
The fans are not helping us. They have to support the team. I am a little bit disappointed with some of the fans. They have to support the team instead of wasting time singing songs. If they continue singing and talking, they are not doing any favours. I will do my best until the last day."
There are different interpretations of this speech. For major media outlets as well as the majority of Chelsea supporters, Rafa was essentially blaming the supporters' vocal negativity against him to be the reason for the team's poor results. But it has to be considered that maybe what Benitez meant is exactly as it sounds. He is aware that the fans dislike him.
He understands that he is not wanted, and so he will leave at the end of the season. But in the mean time, he believes their [Chelsea supporters] energy might be better spent cheering the team rather than reminding him of hatred he is already well aware of.
He may have a point after all. In his mind, and to virtually every other observer of Chelsea except Chelsea supporters themselves, it’s clearly obvious that he knows he is hated, and will leave. Months of brutal, cringe-worthy chanting displayed on television every game has proved that to every watcher of the Premier League.
Yet, it is as though Chelsea supports are actually unsure that he is disliked, and so they continue to go at him with all of their creativity and seemingly endless malice. By his own declaration, he is finished in two months. His is absolutely correct in that the brass at Chelsea have effectively hung him out to dry by telling the fans - 'this man is an interim manager and will be gone soon.' What that kind of statement gives the supporters is the peace of mind to treat him in the worst manner possible, as there are no risks, consequences, or chances of him staying for an extended period of time.
It is also curious why all the hatred and chanting is directed solely at Rafa. The person that is responsible for Rafa being at the helm of Chelsea is Roman Abramovich. He signed him; he pays his wages, knowing full well the Spaniard's relationship with Chelsea supporters. Thus, it is interesting how none of the songs and clever banners are aimed at the person actually responsible from bring Benitez to the club in the first place. Chelsea supporters are understandably bitter at having Di Matteo be the person replaced, and in that regard, again there is only one person to blame.
As an employee simply doing his job, poorly or not, why is the sole subject of abuse? No individual in their right minds would turn down a fantastic job opportunity for fear of irritating those who've shared a quarrel with him/her in the past. Given that, who is really to blame and criticise for the hiring of said contentious employee? While Rafa has become a punching bag for the fans, Roman sits in his box free of neither burden nor blame. The situation looks somewhat ironic.
Perhaps it is the time of the season where Chelsea fans indeed would be better served to use their voices in encouragement of the team. Through the excellent work they have done since Rafa's arrival, he now knows, and confirmed publically, that he is not welcome at Stamford Bridge.
That mission's objective is complete. Benitez has further guaranteed that he will leave at the end of the season. So now, given that the next couple months have in store a brutal fight for a top 4 finish, as well as a massive tie against Manchester United for Chelsea beloved FA Cup, maybe, just maybe, Benitez has a point about using those strong voices to buoy a team bereft of the requisite morale.
The evidence of what could be is perhaps in the second half of the FA Cup tie against Manchester United. Boosted by the substitutions of John Obi Mikel and Eden Hazard, as well as thunderous cheering for their side, the Blues turned a two-goal deficit around and tortured United for the rest of the game. It has to be considered that positive noise for the team might be the medicine that Chelsea players need for the end of the season run-in.
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