Over the Christmas period I came across an unfinished article I began last April (2011) – Where Next for Rafa Benitez?
After being unceremoniously sacked by Inter Milan in the Autumn of 2010 after just six months in charge, Rafa Benitez made it publicly known he had returned to live in his family house in the North West of England. He appeared on BBC’s Football focus, stating he would be very interested in returning to the Premier League after losing his managerial position at Liverpool in May 2010.
I wrote that considering his previous employment, I believed Benitez would ideally be looking for a top club with the groundwork and hub of a good squad already in place, plus a reasonably high budget spend available to buy good quality European players.
I went on to say “I cannot see any of the current top six clubs in the Premier League (Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool) being interested in Rafa Benitez though come the end of the season there may be two or three teams that would consider approaching Rafa Benitez. Aston Villa and Sunderland, if the offer came with a transfer budget, would be of interest to Benitez; though there is one team that, if they avoid relegation, would be ideal, Blackburn Rovers.” How things have changed!
It was recently confirmed that on sacking Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea offered Rafa Benitez the position of Caretaker Manager until the end of the season before Roberto Di Matteo. In March 2011 Benitez declined the offer of a part-time role with Chelsea, supposedly keeping the position warm for former Barcelona Manager Pep Guardiola. But eight months later, following the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo, tail firmly between his legs, it appeared there were no other options on the table and Rafa Benitez succumbed to the position of Interim Chelsea Manager with a short-term contract until the end of the season.
It was always going to be a difficult job for Benitez to win over the Chelsea fans by replacing the very popular Roberto Di Matteo & following the remarks he made while manager of Liverpool. He was greeted to a chorus of booing and chants of “there’s only one Di Matteo” on his home debut against Manchester City, which ended 0-0. Three days later and another 0-0 draw, this time at home to Fulham, was followed by a shock 3-1 defeat at West Ham. But then following a string of good results including a 5-1 thrashing of Leeds to reach the Capital One League Cup semi-finals and an 8-0 drubbing of Aston Villa in the Premier League, the Chelsea fans began to turn; and it was poignant that at last Sunday’s match at Goodison Park there was no vocal support for Roberto Di Matteo as Chelsea beat an inform Everton team 2-1.
Furthermore, with Fernando Torres beginning to find some form, Rafael Benitez looked like cementing Chelsea’s grip on third position in the Premier League with a home game against bottom placed QPR. But just as Chelsea appeared to be playing gelling, Benitez took it upon himself to make four unforced changes leaving Ashley Cole and midfielders Edin Hazard, Juan Mata & Ramires on the bench. The ‘tinker man’ who managed Liverpool for 99 games before picking the same team in two consecutive matches got it wrong and ex-Chelsea player Shaun Wright-Phillips scored a late winner to give Harry Redknapp’s QPR a surprise 1-0 win and the shock result of the season.
Chelsea’s next match in the Premier League isn’t until Saturday 12th January when they will be away to Stoke. Before then, they are away to Southampton in the FA Cup 3rd Round followed by the first leg of the League Cup at home to Swansea. It’s not overstating the issue to say Rafa Benitez seriously needs Chelsea to play some attractive football & convincingly win all three if he wants to keep his job until the end of the season.