Ian Herbert: Rafael Benitez is not flawed because he grew tired of being abused at Chelsea

Interim-manager hit out amid banners and chants from sections of the Chelsea fans

It's going to get worse before it gets better and Rafael Benitez is aware of that fact. Chelsea are to allow all manner of banners into Stamford Bridge on Saturday. It is an invitation to open season on the manager and he knows it.

What an utterly wretched place he is in. The abuse has been so bad that opposition supporters have even used it as a stick to beat Chelsea. The Reading fans' chant of a few months ago – "Rafa Benitez, he thinks you're all scum" – was not lost on the manager. There will be plenty who take gratuitous pleasure in the way Benitez lost control on Wednesday night, just as they did when Arsène Wenger exploded, and attach it to the Spaniard's legendary "facts" speech – which has always been mistakenly characterised as a "rant" – as evidence of a character flaw.

But are we so accustomed to football descending into a pantomime and Punch and Judy show that we have lost sight of the effects of denying someone the most basic level of civility? Is an individual flawed when the abuse which he has attempted to grin and bear has gradually worn him down?

It is certainly the supporters who drove him to speak out at the Riverside, even though the most significant aspect of his declaration related to his title as "interim" manager – which "someone made a mistake" by bestowing on him, he said. Make no mistake: Benitez has never been happy with that title. He does not feel it formed part of his initial conversations about the Chelsea job, with technical director, Michael Emenalo, and others. Yet it was there in black and white when he arrived to sign the contract. There were attempts to make it seem acceptable to him – "we just want to get you started," he was told – leaving him with a decision to make, there and then, about whether to accept the title or walk away. Benitez, who wanted this opportunity, decided he would live with it and signed.

Little did he imagine when doing so just how many ways to discredit him there would be. The first materialised barely a day into his tenure, when a 2007 quote ascribed to him was raked up. "Chelsea is a big club with fantastic players. Every manager wants to coach a big team. But I would never take that job, in respect for my former team at Liverpool. No matter what," he was quoted as saying. Benitez was Liverpool manager in 2007, so how could he have called them his "former club" back then?

The quote, it turned out, was fabricated – disseminated by a 15-year-old tweeter from the Czech Republic who was a fan of Benitez, felt betrayed by his appointment at Chelsea and decided to cause him some trouble. The boy's Twitter avatar photo was a cartoon of his hero Benitez. But the lie was half way around the world before the truth could pull its trousers on. The "quote" was widely published and became a part of the "Benitez hates Chelsea" myth.

There were limitations, too. Fernando Torres, diminished by a lack of weight training, had a different mindset. He was overcomplicating things; thinking too much about movements into goalscoring positions which had once been second nature. He was too quick to blame others.

That much could be dealt with – a word here, a conversation there – but the abuse has been less easy.

There then followed a team meeting on Monday during which John Terry took on the role of challenger to the manager, familiar to him from England's 2010 World Cup campaign. Benitez felt it has been wrongly construed as an insurrection.

This unpleasantness is finite. Benitez's aim is to complete his last three months, get out with his pride and reputation intact and perhaps deliver a couple of trophies to have the last word.

Of course, humanity's capacity to destroy is infinite. Chelsea's fans can drive him out before the summer, if they really can't wait. Banner day beckons. We await to discover football's depths of inhumanity.

How Benitez was misquoted

"Chelsea is a big club with fantastic players. Every manager wants to coach a big team. But I could never take that job, in respect for my former team at Liverpool." This quote has been used to beat Benitez since he arrived at Stamford Bridge but he never actually said it. It came from a 15-year-old Tweeter from the Czech Republic who had a Benitez photo on his account and became part of the myth.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent