Rafa Benitez: Could the Spaniard Be the Answer to Chelsea's Long-Term Problems?
"At the end of the season I will leave. They don't have to worry about me."
It was the statement many Chelsea fans were hoping to hear from Rafa Benitez since the moment he took the manager's job at Stamford Bridge on an interim basis in November.
But let's forget about derogatory comments, post-game rants and offensive banners for a moment. While he has made it clear he is departing come the end of the season when his contract expires (via BBC Sport), should Chelsea be pulling out all the stops to drop the interim from Benitez's job title instead?
For some Blues supporters, the mere thought alone is enough to make their stomach churn although, as the man currently in the Stamford Bridge hot seat, why shouldn't Benitez be considered to take the club forward next season?
Close your eyes at Stamford Bridge during Saturday's 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion and it could have been 2004 all over again. Chelsea were winning and chants of "Jose Mourinho" were ringing out from the terraces.
There's no question as to who Chelsea fans desire to lead them next year, but while Mourinho has undoubted affection for the club, he will only return if the moment is right. And will it be?
Rumours suggest the Portuguese could be on his way out of current club Real Madrid, but after back-to-back victories over Barcelona, it seems the Real-Mourinho love affair is taking another twist with the Benrabeu crowd firmly back on side.
He could very well remain in the Spanish capital, but then he has also been linked with Paris St. Germain (via Daily Mail) and some experts have questioned whether Roberto Mancini will remain at Manchester City next season (via BBC Sport).
All three would present interesting challenges were they to arise, and while Chelsea fans can publicly court Mourinho all they like for the remainder of the season, much like Pep Guardiola's snub to join Bayern Munich, the club could very easily be left in the cold once more.
Chelsea's biggest problem right now is continuity. For too long managers have been allowed to come and go, but while the Mourinho blueprint has allowed some to make a success of their brief spell in charge, Benitez hasn't been afforded such luxuries.
The Spaniard has joined Chelsea at a time when the former powers at the club are in decline. John Terry and Frank Lampard remain fine players, but they're not the same stars who helped Guus Hiddink bring the FA Cup back to West London in 2009. Didier Drogba is long gone and Benitez has inherited a team in transition, a team trying to find its identity.
His task when he arrived in November was plain and simple: secure Champions League football for next season. With Chelsea sitting in fourth, five points above Arsenal, he is on his way to achieving that.
But look at the circumstances in which he has worked. With no preseason and having to play games twice a week for long stretches, Benitez has been unable to work on systems and the team's overall ethos has come at a premium when recovery and preparing for the upcoming opposition is taken into account.
In fact, the one time Benitez has enjoyed relative success with Chelsea came in the aftermath of the Club World Cup.
The Blues' trip to Japan gave him time to gel with the team and when they returned Chelsea thrashed Leeds United 5-1 and Aston Villa 8-0, while recording good away victories over Norwich City and Everton.
Sure, it has been far from plain sailing since that time, but if Chelsea fans were willing to afford Roberto di Matteo time in building this team, they should be doing the same with Benitez or any other manager.
Football is littered with tales of players who were villains while playing for a rival before joining another club and becoming a hero to its fans. Take Luis Figo at Barcelona before he joined Real Madrid or Chelsea's very own Ashley Cole even, who is rightly adored at Stamford Bridge.
What do you think, should Benitez be given a chance at Chelsea if they reach the Champions League?
Why can it not be the same for a manager? Benitez's rap sheet where Chelsea are concerned is unfortunate, but as he outlined last week, his concern is now that very club, not Liverpool. If he succeeds, Chelsea succeeds and that should be the concern for all involved.
The Spaniard will be more knowledgeable of his team after seven months in charge come the end of the season. He'll probably be a better manager for it, too.
And what if he achieves his goal of reaching the Champions League? Should he deliver, doesn't he deserve a shot at leading the club there next season?
Join the debate below or on Twitter: @garryhayes
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