Chelsea FC: Rafa Benitez Faces Tough Task in Winning over Fans
First, it was Geoff Shreeves. Now, the rest of the English football journalism gang is joining in.
Rafael Benitez, the new manager at Chelsea, isn't well-liked by his club's fans. At the weekend, after Benitez made his debut in a scoreless draw against champions Manchester City, Shreeves made extra sure the Spaniard knew all about it.
On Tuesday, the assembled football press asked pretty much the same questions all over again.
So, Rafa, tell us how it feels to be hated by Chelsea supporters.
Benitez is right to assume that part of fans' dislike of him comes down to his time at Liverpool. He did, after all, manage the Reds from 2004 until 2010, winning the Champions League title in 2005.
But it would be naive to think that's the only reason.
Former manager Roberto Di Matteo was sacked last week, a mere six months after leading Chelsea to the club's greatest ever triumph—the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League title—as interim manager. The Blues also won the FA Cup last spring, and combined, the two trophies earned Di Matteo the full-time job.
Benitez was quickly hired, with speculation abounding that he is only keeping the Chelsea hotseat warm for Pep Guardiola (via London Evening Standard), who is reportedly owner Roman Abramovich's top choice (via The Guardian).
Benitez is Chelsea's ninth manager under Abramovich's ownership, and fans appear to have grown weary of Abramovich's tinkering. At Benitez's first match, supporters flashed signs with slogans like “In Roberto we trusted and loved, in Rafa we will never trust, fact" (via Daily Telegraph).
This isn't just a matter of team allegiances. This has to do with trust—a valuable commodity that is infinitely easier to lose than to regain. Chelsea's fans appear to have lost trust in the way their club is being run, and the bad feelings will not disappear quickly.
Clearly, then, Benitez faces a difficult task to win over the fans. To his credit, he seems to recognize that fact. In his Tuesday press conference, Benitez added:
I want to prove to them that I am here for the right reasons, I am here to win and if I can do it they will be pleased. I concentrate on my coaching and try to improve players, then it will be easier to win games and bring the fans back.
All I can say is that I'm working very hard to do my job. I make sure I talk to all the players and I prepare for everything ahead of the game. The only thing I can do is try to win their trust by doing my job. The best way to change things is by winning games.
Under an owner like Abramovich, winning games is the only way to accomplish anything. Doing so will no doubt win over some supporters as well.
But after yet another quick-fire managerial change, the higher-ups at Chelsea might just be losing their connection with the fans.
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