Smiles better: but Benitez has had precious little to smile about during his ill-fated spell at the Bridge
So, "interim" Chelsea head coach Rafael Benitez has been at it again, ranting and raving in a press conference like it was 2009 all over again (via the Guardian), although on this occasion it was his own club’s supporters and owner that he was launching his verbal tirade at, as opposed to an opposition manager.
However, unlike four years ago when the Spaniard produced a pre-prepared statement from his pocket and proceeded to attack Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson over his supposed control over the Premier League fixture list by reading out his list of so-called “facts,” this time around the super-tense Benitez appeared to have just had enough and exploded during an on-air post-match interview with BBC Radio 5 Live. (Via BBC Sport)
The West Londoners may have just made it through to a mouth-watering FA Cup quarter-final clash at Manchester United following a routine 2-0 win at Championship outfit Middlesbrough (via the Guardian), but the former Valencia, Liverpool and Inter Milan head coach appeared to have a lot to get off his chest, and this despite having only been in the Stamford Bridge hot seat for a little over three months.
First to get it in the neck were the club’s supporters, who Benitez implored to “support the team instead of wasting time doing banners or singing songs. What they have to do is support the team and create a good atmosphere in Stamford Bridge.
“If they continue singing and talking and talking then I think they are not making any favours. They have to support the players, they have to support the team,” he continued. Ouch. Very ouch.
Next to be struck by the Spaniard was Chelsea’s billionaire Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, who according to Benitez had “made a massive mistake” giving him the job title of “interim manager” when he was first appointed. Talk about issuing one’s own P45.
Benitez may have had a point here, as anyone who understands anything about the modern-day footballer knows that the moment you give a professional player any sort of excuse not to give absolute commitment to the cause then you are doomed to failure.
Letting players know from the very outset that a manager will not be in charge come the end of the season is tantamount to footballing suicide, as Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson demonstrated in 2001/02 when he announced his intention to quit Old Trafford at the end of that season, with disastrous consequences ensuing for the Red Devils’ campaign that year.
Now, this is even before we take into account Benitez’s past baggage that he brought with him to Stamford Bridge from his time as Liverpool coach, a factor that always made this appointment a curious one in the first place.
Benitez of course knew about his "interim" title when he agreed to take on the role, even answering questions on the subject in the press conference to unveil him as the new Chelsea manager, so really he can have few complaints now having agreed to the moniker when he signed his contract.
The Spaniard must have thought though that if he could work his once famous tactical magic on the Cobham training pitches with the Chelsea players with subsequent results following on the field of play, then it would not matter what the club wrote in front of his name in the match-day programmes.
However, even that has seemingly not gone to plan for Benitez, with stories leaking out of the club (via the Daily Express) that his training sessions are just too complex and confusing for the squad to understand, although again, if players are simply unwilling to take instructions on board then it makes the manager’s job all but impossible.
And yet all of these factors, the fans’ hatred due to his erstwhile Liverpool connections, the title of "interim" manager, the lethargy of the players, would have immediately been deemed null and void had Benitez achieved just one simple thing during his spell in charge of the club, and that is results.
While the game has changed unrecognisably in so many different ways over the years, one thing has always remained constant and always will do, and that is football management is all about results, results and results.
Wins keep you in a job, while defeats hasten you towards the exit door. It is not exactly rocket science and in this regard, Benitez has failed badly, so badly in fact that at present he has the second-worst win percentage (52) of any Chelsea manager in the 10 years that Abramovich has been in West London.
Had the Spaniard managed to galvanise this highly-talented group of players right from the very off to play the type of football we have only seen sparingly at the Bridge since he took over and put together a series of results that, say, had Chelsea now sitting second in the table, with both the Club World Cup and the Capital One Cup in the trophy cabinet and with realistic hopes of claiming the FA Cup and the Europa League to follow, then absolutely none of this would have blown up in the first place.
The dissenting voices at the Bridge would been drowned out by the cheers of the fans supporting a winning team, just as when "temporary" manager Guus Hiddink took over from Luiz Felipe Scolari (via BBC Sport) in the Spring of 2009.
The Dutchman, like Benitez, was also only operating on a short-term contract until the end of that season and yet he had few problems in immediately turning the club’s fortunes around with a series of eye-catching results.
True, he was not an already hated figure in West London when he replaced Scolari, while he also did not have the unfortunate title of "interim" head coach given to him, but he managed to ably demonstrate in a very short space of time just what a powerful combination results and managerial personality can be.
Hiddink, aka the "Golden Goose," is the exact opposite of the cold, pragmatic, methodical Benitez in almost every aspect as a coach, more akin to a Jose Mourinho or a Ferguson in this regard, with Benitez in the Andre Villas-Boas school of management, and we all know how the young Portuguese fared at Chelsea.
Should Chelsea sack Benitez now?
And so while there can be no doubting that Benitez did receive a hospital pass of sorts when agreeing to take on this tricky-looking assignment, it is wrong to characterise the Chelsea job as “mission impossible,” as some have referred to it this week.
Indeed, had Benitez done what he had been hired to do in the first place and shown why he has been considered one of world football’s most astute and shrewd tacticians in the past, then we could very well be sitting here discussing his possible contract extension with the Blues next season, as opposed to the Spaniard singing the blues this campaign.