Two weeks removed from the controversial signing of Benitez, the anti-Rafa chanting and baying still continues from Chelsea supporters. ‘One Di Matteo’ still rang out at the 16th minute in today’s match against Sunderland, and after Chelsea went up 3-0, the travelling fans reassured Rafa that it didn’t matter what he did. They do not want him.
Like any good despot, enlightened or not, Roman will not back down from his decision. Rafa ain’t goin’ nowhere. There are rumors that a group of supporters met with Abramovich to discuss their disappointment with the hiring of Rafa Benitez. As lovely as this gesture was, it was really just lip service to a manic public that wanted answers. After the firing of Di Matteo, interviews of Chelsea players and people close to Chelsea’s management kept creeping in nuggets about how shy Roman was and how great he was to work with. He has an image to reconstruct, and in this modern society, keeping that image maintained is as important as the work you do. Also, as a semi-autonomous sovereign, Roman, the benevolent dictator, needs to ensure that his axe falls hard on the necks of those that fail him and his people. He really is gentle until it comes to the well-being of his estate.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve struggled with this Rafa situation. I’ve wanted to just give up on Chelsea and this league. Everything was spinning and changing. Constantly, I asked myself, “Can anything or anyone be trusted?” It’s a dumb question to ask, since it’s just a sport. It’s not that important! Yet, I asked it, and many Chelsea fans asked themselves the same question.
Change is nothing new to Chelsea fans, and it’s become part of supporting that club. The changes, however drastic they have been, seemed to always ride the wave of discontent among the club’s support. Meaning, things got bad, Chelsea fans turned on the manager (almost NEVER the players, mind), and Roman would fire them. It was almost like professional wrestling when the evil, awful guy that would ruin everything would get beaten down by everyone’s favorite character. Order restored!
With every extinguishing of a manager’s flame, Chelsea’s list of possible top drawer managers shrunk, but the Chelsea supporters felt they had a man that would be by their side regardless of who would or would not come. Together in tandem, the two, public and owner, would rule English football and Europe. This whole “We want our club back!” backlash comes down to the destruction of an illusion of shared power. The maintenance of this illusion if how many dictatorships can guarantee impunity for whatever they do.
Over his first five games, the new company man has given supporters a sampler of the highs and lows of life under Benitez. The draws against Manchester City and Fulham felt avoidable. Benitez came in criticizing the players’ fitness, and perhaps because of the inability to finish matches, Benitez refused to let the Chelsea attack loose. They were instructed to defend first and make sure to not let the game get out of control. Then, the loss against West Ham happened.
Chelsea folded under the weight of a determined West Ham team in the second half of last weekend’s game. It was an embarrassing loss for a team whose payroll could pay for West Ham’s wage bill about 5 times over. Granted, it was against a decent West Ham team, away, and against the utilitarian and, if nothing else, effective Allardyce. Chelsea fans lost their goddamn minds.
People were giving up their tickets to upcoming games. They were refusing to go to any more matches. There have been calls to get behind the team, but nothing seems to be able to quench the bloodthirsty Chelsea fans.
Certainly out of necessity, Benitez has let loose the Chelsea team. Against Nordsjaelland, Chelsea opened up, got scored on once, but put up 6 against the weakest defensive team in all of the UEFA Champions League. Of course, there was nothing really to celebrate, as Juve’s win in the Ukraine secured Chelsea’s exit. However, Rafa encouraged Chelsea to play higher up the pitch. As the play moved up, chances were created, and Chelsea ran away with the match. Torres even scored! TWICE! We saw much of the same against Sunderland this morning. Pushing up left Chelsea vulnerable to a committed Sunderland team, but adjustments and defensive-minded substitutions by Rafa made sure Chelsea got their first win in the Prem since mid-October.
What we’ve seen so far is a manager that can make the right in-game decisions to secure points or a result that we’d like. As much shit as I may get for this, RDM wasn’t able to do that. Rafa’s rotated the squad a bit because of either necessity or suspension, and he will continue to do so. The return of Lampard to the side will do a lot of the strength and leadership on the field. Terry’s automatically back in the side once he’s fit. Looking to the future, under Benitez, Chelsea may be able to turn things around. They may get fitter. They may start clicking defensively and in attack. All is not dark in Chelsea land, it’s just sometimes, you don’t always get what you want when you live in a dictatorship.
This was never a democracy.
I know many won’t, but maybe it’s time to bite your lip, get behind the team, and watch what happens instead of jumping to early conclusions about the ability of a decent manager that said some negative things about a club he wasn’t managing — this being possibly the biggest charge against Rafa by Chelsea fans.
Steve McManaman said something interesting on ESPN’s coverage of today’s Chelsea match against Sunderland. He said something to the effect of talking negatively about other clubs is something a manager is SUPPOSED to do when he’s managing a side. He has to back his team. At the time, as Liverpool’s manager, he did just that. Just hearing that from someone took the edge off a little bit.
I’ve been guilty of calling for his job — getting swept up by the fury in the Chelsea camp. Ultimately, we are better than this. Give the guy a shot. If anything, he’s gone by the end of the season, and Chelsea are one step closer to getting either Pep or Mourinho.
Send your threats to @tehdago on Twitter.