Rafa Benitez’s time at Chelsea has been eventful to say the least.
‘Welcomed’ with boos and cries of ‘you’re not wanted here’, the Spaniard has had to endure the very worst of modern football fans. The jeering, personal insults. The lack of appreciation for the job he was doing. And then after a cup win against Middlesbrough he snapped.
Unlike his anti-Alex Ferguson rant, this one worked. Having attacked the club for calling him an interim coach and the fans for their counter productive booing, many assumed he would be sent packing immediately. Not so though. Instead he has managed to rebuild his reputation with class and dignity, when all around him were losing theirs.
It is hard at the best of times at Chelsea, a club frought with internal politics. John Terry and Frank Lampard among the playing staff are big enough characters to have to deal with, without having to worry about whether or not you’ll be in the job next season. Benitez knew he wouldn’t be though, and so when he snapped, he ended that discussion. He made clear he was off anyway, so that it was pointless the fans booing him anymore. He would be out of their hair soon.
And so he is now gone, but they do owe him a debt. Benitez took over a team which were dysfunctional. Chelsea’s attack and defence were disjointed, and the team was struggling. They lost to QPR at home, drew at Reading, gave up a lead at home to Southampton as Benitez struggled to turn things around. But using a clever rotation policy he managed to get the best from the players. David Luiz was pitched further forward, a useful change that Jose Mourinho if he is the next manager will undoubtedly benefit from. He also dropped John Terry, used Frank Lampard sparingly and did not have internal revolt to worry him.
It was important that Abramovich stood by Benitez back in February. In doing so, he showed for once that he would not be forced to make a rash decision because of players or fans. It meant everyone had to co-operate with Benitez. It was a well calculate bluff in many ways. In doing so, he cemented his authority – a look what I can get away with. No manager has done more to curb the influence of rebellious players than Benitez in his short spell at Chelsea.
He has also started to get the best from the dynamic combinations between Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata which will come to define Chelsea in the years to come. Benitez has clearly done a good job. Chelsea did not dominate games well before, now they are controlling games far better under Benitez’s tactical instruction. His has been a short legacy but an important one, which Chelsea will come to thank him for in years to come.