It is 1. 01pm on Thursday, February 28th, and Rafael Benitez is Chelsea manager.
I’ve just checked my watch, and at 1.02pm on Thursday, February 28th, Rafael Benitez is still Chelsea manager.
It is now 1.03pm on Thursday, February 28th, and Rafael Benitez is still Chelsea manager.
To be honest, I have the feeling that if I carry on like this, it won’t actually be too long until Rafael Benitez is not Chelsea manager anymore after an inflammatory press conference following the Blues’ 2-0 FA Cup victory over Middlesbrough at the Riverside.
I can’t see how he can be for very much longer given last night’s outburst, which, if not exactly a rant (you can’t be as measured as Rafa was if you are going off on one), was an extraordinary attack on the Chelsea fans, Roman Abramovich, the Blues board and basically anyone else he could think of.
Short of saying that Peter Osgood was overrated and Luis Garcia’s ‘ghost goal’ was definitely over the line so ‘get over it’, it is difficult to think of what else Rafa could have said to make a fanbase who already hate him think any worse of him.
By attacking fans who have ‘an agenda’ against him, claiming that supporters who sing and make banners (ironically, the very thing that Rafa said the Stamford Bridge crowd were no good at during his time at Liverpool) are having a detrimental effect on the team and saying that his ‘interim’ title undermined him from the start, Benitez seems to have got everything that has been bugging him off his chest in one go, and it makes his position untenable.
Of course, results have hardly been as good as he or the fans wanted, but it is a bit chicken and egg, with Benitez clearly thinking the poisonous atmosphere is making his job far more difficult, with the Shed End saying he’s a rubbish manager anyway.
The truth is probably somewhere in between. Abramovich took a huge chance appointing a man his fans despised with such passion, but it has gone even worse than anybody could have imagined.
The level of vitriol that not only greeted Benitez’s appointment but has continued with a vengeance ever since he replaced the universally popular club legend Roberto Di Matteo shocked many in the game, and Benitez is only human – he will be feeling the abuse, just like anybody else would in his position.
But he hasn’t helped himself, not with his public utterances and not with results. Losing out to Swansea City in the Capital One Cup semi-final and to Monterrey in the World Club Cup are forgivable, but just three wins in eight Premier League games leaves the Blues’ top-four hopes in peril, with just two points and one place separating them from fifth-placed Arsenal.
The fans have let him know, and Benitez has reached snapping point. Rafa is not daft, as he has been involved in enough power struggles over the years – the owners at Valencia, Liverpool and Inter Milan will testify to that – to know exactly what he was doing, and I can only presume he was asking for the sack.
He did a similar thing when he was in charge at the San Siro, criticising Massimo Moratti over transfer funds just weeks before he was dismissed, and he must know the toxic effect his words will have.
At the time of writing (1.26pm) he is still in charge, and looks set to be in the dug-out when West Bromwich Albion head to west London on Saturday, which is going to make for one hostile Stamford Bridge atmosphere.
Rafa probably thought he’d be gone by then, but with Chelsea claiming it is ‘business as usual’, he will need to wear his tin hat on the touchline.
But even if he is there on Saturday, he won’t be there when Chelsea finish their season at home to Everton, so the 11/25 he doesn’t last until the end of the campaign is like buying money.
He is 9/5 to stay until the last kick, but there is no chance of that happening.
But maybe a smarter move would be to either back West Brom to beat Chelsea on Saturday at a suddenly huge-looking 7/1, or even take a punt on the Baggies to avoid defeat at an equally big 9/5.
Anything less than a win will surely see Benitez clearing the Dirk Kuyt photo from his desk and getting on his way, but the reaction to last night will be so aggressive that the team will not be able to function properly.
So in effect, it might be a cleverer way to get some value out of the inevitable.
Because no matter what happens now, the bizarre Benitez/Chelsea experiment is coming to an end, and all parties will probably be delighted when it does.