Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas’ hot seat just got a little warmer. According to ESPNsoccernet, former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is ready to take over the reins at Stamford Bridge and attempt to salvage something out of what has been an abysmal first year in charge for Villas-Boas.
Benitez was last in Italy, where he failed to meet the demands of Inter Milan and got sacked after only six months in charge last December. He is now looking to return to the Premier League, where he established himself in the top tier of managers after winning the Champions League in 2006 with Liverpool.
Previously he won La Liga twice in three seasons with Valencia, making him the last manager to win the Spanish title not in charge of Real Madrid or Barcelona.
He has the pedigree that surely suggests he can serve as an interim manager the same way Guus Hiddink did when Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked. Here are five other reasons he would be a better fit than Villas-Boas.
I have often made a point in my criticism of Villas-Boas that the main detraction against him is something that he indeed cannot help—a general lack of experience. He has managed only two seasons at a professional club and both were in the Portuguese league, a far cry from the rigors and demands of the EPL.
His inexperience was trumpeted by the excellent spin the Chelsea PR staff put on it, suggesting that his youth was not something to be criticized, but rather welcomed. They saw it as a fresh new outlook on a game that had been dominated by the classical philosophy of antiquated tactics.
However, they did not account for experience through failure.
Villas-Boas’ incredible first season in charge at Porto actually served him poorly in the jump to Chelsea. Never having to see his team through tough times, as Porto went undefeated in all competitions under his reign, he was unaware of how to handle the string of poor form that Chelsea and every other Premier League team is sure to run into.
Benitez, on the other hand, has made a career out of facing adversity.
In his time in charge at Anfield, he was never once able to muster a Premier League title. Always a step behind Manchester United and Chelsea, Liverpool approached every game with an urgency. He also had a strained relationship with management that eventually led to his departure in 2010.
Through it all, he managed to keep his position and keep Liverpool competitive with the top four.
His final season was his most difficult, but in reality it was as much management’s problem that failed to listen to him on signings and an ill-conceived perception by the public that the defense had let them down. In truth only Chelsea and Manchester United, who finished first and second respectively, had better defensive records.
Benitez’s career percentages do not hold up to Villas-Boas’, but there is more to the game than wins and losses. The ability to handle your teams through the tough times is something that would take Villas-Boas another decade to acquire.
Chelsea do not have a decade to salvage their season. Benitez has proven that he can turn a team around and has the potential to save the Chelsea season.
Let’s be honest. What owner Roman Abramovich wants to replicate is what he sees happening in Spain: the quick-passing, indirect methodical movement of the ball that can lull the opponent into a trance, then strike with a moment of synchronized brilliance that brings the fans to their feet.
Now I may not agree with the idea that to beat the best, you mimic them, but it seems to be the way the manager wants to go.
But if that is the case, then why would you not go out and hire a Spanish manager?!
It almost seems a bit ignorant, but for some reason an assumption has gathered momentum that Spain and Portugal are the same in terms of football. Whether it be a Portuguese player dominating the game (Ronaldo) or the fact they share a border in the Iberian region, they have been lumped into a similar category.
But this could not be further from the truth as you need to look no further than this past week for evidence. Spain beat Venezuela 5-0 in their friendly and a fully stacked Portugal could only manage a 0-0 draw to Poland.
So why, when Abramovich wanted to mimic the Spanish game, did he bring in someone that has zero experience in it?
Villas-Boas was kind of introduced as the Spanish-minded manager of England, but as Lisa Simpson once said in an episode of The Simpsons: “The something of something is not really anything at all.”
Chelsea currently have three Spanish players who feature consistently, more than any other nationality other than English. They are expected to seek more in the summer and at the very least trend toward a style that is more consistent with the Spanish brand.
It would be much better suited to have an actual Spaniard who was raised and promoted the philosophical system Abramovich wants than someone who was jumping up and down to get a peak over the fence at how it is done.
Chelsea bought Fernando Torres for an English transfer record £50 million pounds in the winter of 2010. Though that price is astronomical for any player, Abramovich felt it was justified as Torres had proven himself to be a star, and guess who made him one—Benitez.
Benitez bought Torres, just as he was beginning to become a hot commodity with La Liga side Atletico Madrid. The fee was roughly half of what he was essentially sold for, but it was money well spent on the striker.
In three-and-a-half seasons at Anfield, the Spanish striker enjoyed the best years of his career, amounting 81 goals in 142 games.
He was an electric and dynamic player, arguably the best striker in the league with a pure ability to find the net that was almost innate in his nature.
Twice named to the PFA Team of the Year (2007-08 and 2008-09), he was among an elite group of strikers that made the Premier League exciting and high scoring.
However, as we all know now, his move to Chelsea would doom him to seemingly ever-lasting struggle.
I don’t think it is any far stretch of the imagination to think that Villas-Boas was specifically brought in to help return Torres to form. He is the club’s largest investment and a failure to recoup anything out of him would not only be catastrophic to the club's finances, but an embarrassment to Abramovich himself.
But eight months into Villas-Boas' reign, his improvement is minute and he has gone 20-plus games without a goal with career lows in all statistical categories.
Every Chelsea fan wants to see Torres become what he once was. They are sick of being the butt end of jokes that center on the stunning decline from greatness of the player.
If anyone can make this happen, it was the man who made him great to begin with.
Villas-Boas was originally an opposition scout and, by all accounts, very good at it. Fans have seemed to make the leap that if he can scout opposition, then he can clearly scout talent as well. This cannot be further from the truth.
Villas-Boas’ transfers in the two windows he has had at Chelsea have not been as great as I think we initially saw them.
Yes, Juan Mata has been excellent, but it is not hard to question going after a World Cup winner and the best player on a third-place team in La Liga. At £23 million he was hardly a bargain.
But his £18 million move for Romelu Lukaku should raise some eyebrows. It is too early to judge whether it was fair or not, but this itself is the problem. Villas-Boas has let a good chunk of money rot away on the bench, with the only justification being he is not ready. If that’s the case, then it was an awfully big sum to pay for a teenager.
Then of course there is Raul Meireles. At £17 million he was a bust not quite on the scale of Torres, but easily money that could have been spent much wiser.
Now compare that to Benitez’s first season in charge at Liverpool, where he brought in Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia and Djibril Cisse for a total of £30 million.
In the subsequent years, Benitez brought in the likes of Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel, Lucas, Javier Mascherano and Alberto Aquilani. Each one was bought for a reasonable price, with most exceeding their value and all becoming staples of the Liverpool squad.
What is even more impressive is that when he busts on a player, it is always downplayed because he rarely overpays.
The worst move that happened under his reign was in 2008, when management insisted in the signing of Robbie Keane over Gareth Barry, whom Benitez preferred. In hindsight, Benitez had made the right call.
With Chelsea already being threatened with FFP sanctions before the rules take effect, teams can no longer afford to bust on big signings. Every player must be scouted accurately and purchased economically.
Benitez has proven that he can do this.
At this point of the campaign, Chelsea is in survival mode where every game is important. A loss in either cup competition means they are out, and dropped points in the league severely hinders their Champions League aspirations for next season.
The 2011-12 campaign is not one game long. At this point, results are all that matter and they need to do whatever it takes to get them.
Villas-Boas has lost this team.
Whether you want to believe the reports of training ground rows, senior players calling out the coach and novices going after the seniors, that does not really matter. What does matter are the seeds of the stories have been planted and the performance of the team has provided them with dirt to do so.
There is no good that can come out of such gossip. It is only going to create an atmosphere of accusations and tense moments off the pitch.
What Chelsea really needs is break from all of this. They need a moment where the spotlight is taken off that which can unravel them and have it placed on some sense of optimism for the team.
If Benitez were to replace Villas-Boas, it would give them that distraction. All of the negativity would fall away as Benitez would be presented as some kind of savior to rescue the team from certain peril.
Hiddink did it back when he took over for Scolari. By all accounts the players loved the Dutchman, but whether they did or not, nearly all of them can say “it’s better than what we had."
Benitez may not be a long-term solution and the optimism may wear off after only a month or two in charge, but those three or four games where the future is at its brightest may be enough to will the side to good month of performances and get them past the hurdles of their cup contests and a fourth-place finish in the league.
But most importantly it will unite and restore a sense of pride in the fans.
I firmly believe that Chelsea would greatly improve if Benitez were to take over today. This does not mean I want him to be the manager long term, but right now Chelsea cannot afford to think past this Saturday.
Do you share similar sentiments to me? Is Benitez the answer or should they look elsewhere? Should they stick it out with Villas-Boas?
As always, make you comments known below.
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