Chelsea: Why Rafa Benitez Doesn't Fit the Mould at Stamford Bridge

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 14:  Chelsea Interim Manager Rafael Benitez gives instructions from the touchline during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 Second leg match between Chelsea and FC Steaua Bucuresti at Stamford Bridge on March 14, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

To meet Rafa Benitez is to like Rafa Benitez.

Chelsea's Spanish interim manager is one of the more affable coaches on the circuit, often greeting journalists and football folk with a smile and a warm welcome. Where Blues fans are concerned, however, that counts for very little.

His six-year spell as Liverpool boss—where he rarely shied away from conflict with Chelsea managers and players—did much to damage any potential love affair with the club. If there was any doubt as to the regard with which he is held in West London, his five months in charge at Stamford Bridge has certainly confirmed that.

Yet, where some managers may have been able to overcome such ill-feeling with victories and success, Benitez has been on a hiding to none the moment he stepped foot into the Chelsea dugout.

Why? Well, what the Spaniard represents is the opposite to everything Chelsea fans have grown to know and love throughout their history.

This is not a criticism of Benitez, far from it, but his brand of management is somewhat at odds to that of the very man Blues fans dream will return to his "spiritual home" this summer—one Jose Mourinho.

Where Mourinho injects an element of glamor and fun to proceedings, Benitez is somewhat more grounded, preferring to talk about football issues than cross-reference fears of bird flu, for instance (as Mourinho once did in 2006 ahead of an away trip to Bolton, via The Guardian).

Contrary to belief, Chelsea does indeed have a fine history, and it's one filled with characters both on the pitch and off it. Where Peter Osgood and Ron Harris were lovable rogues as players in the 60s and 70s, the man who brought them through at Chelsea—Tommy Docherty—was just as characteristic off it.

Fast forward to the 90s and Ruud Gullit was talking "sexy football," Gianluca Vialli adding his Italian panache and Claudio Ranieri becoming the "tinkerman."

All this was just the opening act, however, before the main event rolled into town. Mourinho's "Special One" press conference changed things for good at Stamford Bridge.

With his character and calculated approach, the Portuguese was the perfect fit.

Chelsea fans want success, but they want to enjoy it along the way. Whether that enjoyment comes with the angst of believing the world is against you or by watching your team crush the opponent, it all adds to the thrill of the ride.

Docherty brought it, as did Gullit, Vialli, Ranieri and to some degree, Carlo Ancelotti. Mourinho raised the stakes and put it on another level, though. Benitez never will. It's simply not his style.

And for that, the Spaniard must be applauded. He is not so much a no-nonsense character, but one gets the impression he would prefer to avoid the media glare and concentrate on the job at hand which is delivering on his romantic vision of the game.

That's not going to cut it with Chelsea fans, though. With the ability to coach the team and deliver success, they want that little bit more. They want an edge that Benitez doesn't bring.

It's a shame. Where John F. Kennedy changed politics forever with one flash of a smile down a camera lens, so too has Mourinho for managers at Chelsea.

Forget he-said-she-said squabbles, Benitez and Chelsea was always doomed regardless.