Football

Rafael Benitez's Chelsea reign: A surprise success

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Rafa Benitez has enjoyed a successful period as Chelsea boss (©GettyImages)
Rafa Benitez has enjoyed a successful period as Chelsea boss (©GettyImages).

Life can be tough when the world seems against you- ask Rafa Benitez. It's one thing having the opposition dislike you, that's expected. But when your own fans hate you, what hope do you have?

Although the more stubborn Chelsea fans have stayed firm on their stance, Rafa has at least gained some Chelsea fans' acceptance, if not complete redemption.

Succeeding Roberto Di Matteo in late November, Benitez got off to a slow start at Chelsea. Drawing 0-0 at home to both Man City and Fulham, before then losing 3-1 away to West Ham, the pressure began to build on the already under-fire Chelsea boss.

In December, Chelsea flew out to Japan and Benitez had a seemingly glorious chance to win over the Chelsea fans by bringing home the FIFA Club World Cup. Instead Chelsea became the first European club to fail to win the competition in six years. Things looked bleak for Rafa. 

The turning point for me came on 27th of February, after Chelsea's FA Cup away tie at Middlesborough. Chelsea won the game unconvincingly, yet it was the post-match press conference that stole the headlines. Rafa ferociously hit back at the Chelsea fans, saying that: "every game they continue singing and they continue preparing banners, they are wasting time. What they have to do is support the team."

He also hit out at the Chelsea hierarchy for putting 'interim' in his job title, suggesting it made his job infinitely more difficult. A risky move, however it seemed to pay off. Perhaps surprisingly, the Chelsea fans took on board what he said, and the vast majority, at least, refrained from the anti-Rafa chants.

Chelsea faced Man Utd in the FA Cup the following month, and were 2-0 down inside 10 minutes. The Chelsea fans grew impatient once more. Standing alone in the technical area, hate raining in from both groups of supporters, Rafa seemed like the loneliest man in football. However, refraining from self-pity, Benitez made an inspired substitution (brining Hazard on for Moses), and completely changed the game, with Chelsea salvaging a seemingly impossible 2-2 draw, forcing a replay, in which they won 1-0.

Meanwhile in the league Chelsea were going from strength to strength, with Rafa even picking up Manager of The Month for April. A feat that seemed unlikely to ever happen when he first took charge.

A 2-1 away win at Aston Villa secured Champions League qualification for next season, which was not achieved last campaign by the combination of Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo, and the following Wednesday Chelsea had the chance to win back-to-back European trophies as they faced Benfica in the Europa League final. Perhaps fortunately, Chelsea saw victory in a 2-1 win. 

Against all odds, Rafa managed to turn things around, even helping Chelsea completed the European full-house. Improving on their league finish last year, winning another European trophy, and even getting Fernando Torres firing again, given the circumstances, Rafa Benitez' reign at Chelsea has been a success.

Whilst I acknowledge it's unlikely we'll be seeing a Rafa Benitez statue placed outside of Stamford Bridge any time soon, I'm sure on his next visit, he'll be getting the warm and thanking ovation he deserves.

 

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Topics:
Chelsea
Football
Premier League
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