Should Rafa Benitez Keep His Job If Chelsea Win the Europa League?
Imagine you're a journalist in Munich back in May 2012. You're absolutely desperate to catch a fan who is dying to spill their emotions outside the Allianz Arena after Chelsea's stunning penalty shootout victory over Bayern Munich and eventually find yourself swamped with excited Blues fans.
Now, fast forward a year to the Amsterdam Arena, where Chelsea have just won the Europa League after beating Anzhi Makhachkala 2-1 in the final, with goals from Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres handing Rafa Benitez his first trophy as Chelsea manager.
The team played well, the players looked delighted and Benitez looked his usual cautious self. But if you're expecting the fans to be happy, you're either a fool or Ron Gourlay—or both.
Perhaps what Roman Abramovich didn't understand about appointing Benitez was that, in the Spaniard's case, winning every trophy could not make the fans like him.
That's probably correct when you consider that despite calls to explain his decisions and criticisms of his handling of the club, Abramovich still believes his wealth can attract the big stars to the club.
However, money cannot buy success, love or happiness. At times, it can buy popularity but not Benitez; that ship sailed when he criticized Chelsea while in charge of Liverpool.
Slightly naive from a coach as intelligent as Benitez, especially when you can never really say never in football, but maybe now it could have been time for them to give the former Valencia coach a fresh start.
The impact he has had on the Spaniards at the club is one that would not surprise many; Torres has scored a total of 15 goals so far this season, Juan Mata is in scintillating form and Cesar Azpilicueta picked up his first senior cap for his country.
Oscar is starting to show his true form again, with a late goal against Sparta Prague, while Frank Lampard is arguably in the form of his life, scoring 10 goals in his last 13 Premier League games.
Still, this is a far cry from the Chelsea side who won back-to-back titles under Jose Mourinho seven years ago; Benitez's negative style of play frustrates the fans, and even when Roberto Di Matteo opted for a similar playing stance, the fans approved because he was popular and it worked.
Unfortunately for Benitez, it has not quite worked for him so far.
He's currently on a rolling contract which expires at the end of the season and has hinted about staying at Stamford Bridge, while speculation has linked him to the Real Madrid hot seat, if Jose Mourinho leaves this summer.
Even with the club currently sitting in third position in the Premier League, the club's fans are becoming disillusioned at the chop-and-change mentality at Chelsea. With players and managers coming and going, should Abramovich settle for Benitez if they win the Europa League?
The reason he was brought in was to save them from Champions League humiliation, but they went out anyway. That wasn't Benitez's fault; Chelsea smashed Nordsjaelland 6-1 but the result was irrelevant as Shakhtar Donetsk were beaten, 1-0, by Juventus, who went through at Chelsea's expense.
The Club World Cup saw the West London club reach the final only to be beaten, 1-0, by a strong Corinthians side. They were then beaten, 2-0, by Swansea and could only draw, 0-0, in the return leg as the Welsh side took a place in the final.
They were almost knocked out of the FA Cup by League One minnows Brentford, who led Chelsea 2-1 although a late Torres leveller forced a replay, before brushing them aside at Stamford Bridge with a 4-0 win.
And the Premier League challenge? The club were only four points behind leaders Manchester United when Di Matteo left; they are now a massive 16 points behind with 12 games remaining.
Either way, the fans and pundits will be disappointed to see Chelsea's season almost over with a third of the way to go. With just the FA Cup and Europa League to really focus on, what is there to be happy about as a Blues fan? What can Benitez do to make Chelsea fans like him?
Nothing—not even a Europa League triumph can save him now. And when he goes, I'll be the first one booking him a one-way ticket to Madrid.
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