Business as usual say Chelsea as the world awaits news of Rafa’s departure from Stamford Bridge. That could still mean he is gone by close of play today, as many predict, notwithstanding the fact he took training this morning. The unravelling of Benitez is a ridiculous commentary not on Chelsea’s Spanish coach, as capable as the next guru if his record is any guide, but on the owner Roman Abramovich.
Omnipotence is a feature that requires responsible management if the benefits of absolute power are to be harnessed effectively. But that is a bit like asking Caligula not to throw a party in ancient Rome. Since Abramovich is accountable to none but his own conscience he can do as he pleases. The results can be seen in the carcasses of coaches dismissed on a whim, some appointed at the height of fashion, others ushered in by fire engine.
Those he coveted, Mourinho, Scolari, Ancelotti, Vilas-Boas, fared no better than those holding the fort, the inherited Claudio Ranieri, Avram Grant, who missed out on the Champions League by the width of a post, and Roberto Di Matteo, who enjoyed the flip side of outrageous fortune to claim it. Only Gus Hiddink walked on his own terms, but then he was always going in May 2009 after being appointed in February.
Like all those fallen heroes before him Benitez believed it would be different this time. That was his mistake. The relationship between fans with their teams is a curious thing. It is an emotional attachment the kind of which is ordinarily set aside by grown men. Yet the tie between scarf and boot never really matures, remaining stuck in recurring adolescence.
In this puerile state do the majority supporters vent their spleen when things go wrong. Rafa’s crime? To beat Chelsea in three semi-finals, two in the Champions League, when in charge of Liverpool. Didums doos. Oh, and he also praised the ‘passion’ of the Kop citizenry, allowing the inference to be drawn that they were is some way more authentic, more valuable, superior to the those on The Shed.
If being the manager of Liverpool were not bad enough, Benitez took it upon himself to disagree with John Terry. Were you to weigh the sins of Terry against those of Benitez no fair minded bloke could come down in favour of the captain, leader, legend. No matter how many moral misdemeanours Terry racked up, he was wearing a blue shirt at the time, so that’s all right. So Rafa offends on principle and in practice.
It is a wonder he has lasted this long in the madhouse of Abramovich, where principles are a matter of mood upstairs and colour-coded downstairs. Yet on he goes blowing his whistle on the training ground, preparing his team for the next match while Grant, or AN Other awaits a call to step in until the next Special One is beckoned.
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- Avram Grant
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