James Lawton: Rafael Benitez's case for some easy-won credibility at Chelsea falls flat
The Club World Cup title promised only the brief assistance of a smokescreen
Six thousand miles is a long way to go for a little sushi and a major serving of reality but Chelsea may just benefit from the experience. They simply can't get enough reality these days.
Their defeat by Corinthians may have deprived them of the Club World Cup title that interim manager Rafa Benitez, perhaps understandably, would have endeavoured to feast upon, but it was maybe the most powerful reminder so far that they need a lot more rehabilitation than a title that was born in financial opportunism and will almost certainly die of indifference.
As 20,000 Brazilians proved again, beating the world on any football stage, and especially against one of the two or three richest clubs in the history of the game, will always be a matter for celebration but in Europe, and especially at a Stamford Bridge so currently eager to justify itself, success in Yokohama promised only the brief assistance of a smokescreen.
It didn't work for Benitez when he won two years ago with the Internazionale side guided to the Champions League title by Jose Mourinho. He was sacked five days later and the hard view must be that beating Corinthians was unlikely to be any better an insurance policy.
Roberto Di Matteo is just one witness to the fact that the Chelsea hierarchy do not operate on the basis of prolonged gratitude for any particular set of winning results and Benitez seemed to be investing far too much hope in the meaning and the value of any swift acquisition of silverware.
If his position is unenviable, it is one he has surely accepted with open eyes, and never more so than when they are drawn to the details of his contract. Officially an interim manager, the addition in Japan of a little more circumstantial evidence to the fanciful argument that he had already conjured some near miraculous resurrection of Fernando Torres would have taken him only to Torres's next poor game.
Unfortunately, it arrived yesterday along with body language which expressed again some of the worst of his frustration during his descent from his old status as one of the game's natural-born strikers.
There was a moment that might just have augmented the optimism created by his burst of goals against a much less than adequate Danish opposition in the Champions League – and two more strikes against struggling Sunderland. It came late and it might have rescued Chelsea but Torres shot straight at the admirably resilient and acrobatic Brazilian goalkeeper Cassio. Torres smouldered on in his running battle with the Turkish referee but there never looked much chance that he would revive, for the moment at least, the idea that Benitez knew the secrets of his football soul.
This was being painted as a serious proposition despite the negligible evidence and so was the idea that somehow Benitez was already re-shaping Chelsea as repaired runners in the upper echelon of the Premier League.
That was too much to be expected of the man parachuted into Stamford Bridge and a welcome quite unprecedented in its sustained hostility. It was also rather too much for the Spaniard to claim for himself but then in such matters Benitez has never been easily described as retiring.
Yesterday he was reminded of the immensity of his various challenges. With Frank Lampard, who has already been consigned to the club's past, however reluctantly, by his new manager, the team's most consistently coherent player, the pressure to underpin the creative talents of such as Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata had rarely seemed so pressing.
It was strange that Oscar came into the game long after a threatening pattern had been established. He would surely have shared the passion of his compatriots David Luiz and Ramires to make a significant impact against the champions of his homeland but by the time he arrived the poise of Corinthians on the break had been firmly established.
Chelsea's late aggression held some promise of redemption, most brightly when Torres had only the goalkeeper to beat, but there was no doubt that it was the Brazilian team who had played most of the composed football and were well worth the winning goal by Peruvian Paolo Guerrero. They had plenty of native rhythm in their passing and generally looked like a well organised team aware of their strengths and their weaknesses.
This remains the basic goal of Benitez. It has already been said that in his brief time he has tightened the defence and given the side, which was crowned champions of Europe last spring and was just four points off the top of the Premier League when he was appointed, some new certainties. It was a proposition he was not likely to dispute. However, there is unlikely to be such talk for a little while. Corinthians won the Club World Cup title – and Chelsea lost the battle for a little, if somewhat dubious, credibility.
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