We all saw and heard plenty of evidence for the unpopularity of Rafa Benitez at Chelsea. It's not just unpopularity. There are many, many people who want him sacked, less than a week into his reign as interim first-team manager. This idea is idiotic, and here's why.
Rafa Benitez was always going to be an unpopular appointment at Chelsea, but the not-tiny segment of Chelsea supporters who want him out are taking it a bit too far. He's replacing a legend in Roberto di Matteo; one who brought Chelsea the Champions League win -- which we sought for nine torturous seasons -- after taking charge following the end of AVB. The ordeals faced year on year raised the status of the trophy to near-mythical status in our eyes, and the man who delivered it was always going to gain Chelsea fans' ovation and fame forever. That's why it hurts so much to have Robbie removed from his position. He was a legend in the true sense of the word. He was the Saviour. Except he wasn't.
As his debut season as permanent manager progressed, it became clear that he wasn't that saviour. No. That title has to fall to Didier Drogba, The Man Who Lives For Finals (tm). Yes, RDM did wonderful things to elicit such a magnificent response from the Ivorian, -- and will always deserve our thanks and gratitude -- but he could never live up to the mythical version of himself we created. The Chelsea board saw it in the summer, since it's clear they never wanted him on a permanent basis. The only problem was that there were no obvious candidates for the job who were both a better option and unlikely to irk the fans.
That, in my opinion, is why we didn't end up with Benitez in the summer. Can you imagine the reaction then? Rafa's not really that much better a manager than di Matteo, and, as we've seen, is widely-hated at Chelsea.What would have happened had he come in after the board snubbed the manager who finally delivered the Orejona without so much as a chance to prove himself? That's why Robbie was given the job. Unfortunately, though, his own predecessor had laid the foundations for his own downfall.
You see, we're all sick of the managerial carousel. Because of that, Andre Villas-Boas was given too many chances to right the ship. We wanted that. I remember the calls for Roman and the board to be different and give him second- through eighth- chances. They listened, and it nearly ended in disaster. The squad was left in such a dysfunctional state that Robbie could only coax enough of the old Mourinho magic to cover the FA Cup and Champions League. I think we can be sure that course of action will have steeled Roman against the idea of leniency.
As such, the next man was always going to be on an extremely short leash. Unfortunately for us, it was a man we loved, and it's hurt us dearly. I personally have no doubt Robbie's dismissal would have proved the correct decision in time, but it's not really stretch to say it was too early. As I said, though, we should have expected any downturn in form or morale to be dealt with a swiftness last seen hounding the Liverpool physiotherapy department as it left Fernando Torres.
Sadly, when the club looked at the manager market, they realised it was still as empty as it had been months earlier, with Pep Guardiola doing his merry tap-dance of a sabbatical on the rim of the barrel. As such, Chelsea scraped its bottom and dragged up Benitez, the loathsome creature they'd thrown back the last time they'd dipped. Desperately in need of a manager, having made the decision to dispense with di Matteo, they accepted him, at least until the end of the season, when it's to be hoped the barrel will have something better floating in it.
So here we are. Stuck with Rafa. We don't like it. We don't have to like it. Hell, we probably shouldn't like it. He is, after all, the same man with whom we had a mutual dislike during his tenure at Liverpool. That's never going to not be awkward. As a result of that awkwardness and lingering dislike, Rafa has been the subject of our collective wrath. He faced boos and negative chants so thick that they nearly broke through membrane between metaphor and reality and killed us all under their elephantine weight.
Accompanying the boos, chants, and all around ill-will were calls for Benitez to be axed already, and even some who'd prefer to kick out the man who saved the club from literal oblivion and ploughed £1bn of his own money into it to make us what we know we are. Champions of Europe. As neat an idea as standing up to the "despots" in the boardroom and demanding a new manager is, it's not going to be productive, and it sure as hell won't help things at all. In my opinion, this campaign to unsettle our new Interim First-Team Manager has to stop, and here's why.
Firstly, what sort of atmosphere are we creating for our players to pick up on? A negative mood in every match is unlikely to get them feeling confident about the club and firing on all cylinders. It's something of a cliche that when a manager has lost the fans, he's a dead man walking, but it's a cliche for a reason. It's true. What motivation do the players have to play out of their skins for a man who's set to be relieved of his duties? Even if it doesn't lead to Rafa's exit, the boos and chants are still creating a poisonous atmosphere at the Bridge. Let's not rob our players of the boost they get from positive fans just to prove a point about a guy we don't like.
On that note, I have to talk about one of the biggest accusations levied against the management over this episode. That we're now an embarrassment, and the laughing stock of the Premier League and world football. Even if you accept that, what help is sacking ANOTHER manager within a week going to be? We're just going to be the club who made a terrible decision and didn't have the balls to stick with it, and Rafa will be just another victim of "Vengeful Roman."
Rather than gifting the media free negative column inches about Chelsea, isn't it better to just deal with the man until he reaches his sell-by date? The football media are sharks. If we stop making Chelsea the easy story to write, they'll give up and find a new cause célèbre next month. Dragging things out is like picking at a scab. It's tempting, but will only delay the healing process, and increase the likelihood of this become an issue which causes severe issues with the club, fans, and players. Let's not do that.
That brings me to my final point. Who are we going to get to replace him? Remember my barrel metaphor from earlier? It's not inaccurate. It's not a situation where the board actively-preferred Benitez as manager. If they had, we'd have got him in the summer. We took a chance on Robbie rising to the occasion or there being a suitable alternative if and when he wasn't. It came up snake-eyes, and we got Rafa. Given half-a-chance at someone better, we would have gone for him. I'll ask again. Who better is available right now? As far as I can see, there isn't anyone who wouldn't be yet another lateral move.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying it's stupid to dislike the man, or even to wish we hadn't hired him. I don't much like him myself. Shooting ourselves in the foot again by trying to put pressure on the man's job, which probably won't be effective, by the way, is not going to fix the problem. It's not going to bring Robbie back, even if he were the solution to our problems. Having Rafa at the helm isn't a good situation, for legitimate personal and footballing reasons, but wanting him gone is like actively-preferring to sleep on the floor because you have to sleep on an air mattress rather than a proper bed.
Basically, yes, it sucks, but it's the hand we were dealt. We don't have be happy with it, but we also can't flip the table because of it. We don't even have to be positive. Hell, we don't even have to stop hating him. We do, however, have to stop trying to destabilise him. There's literally no way it ends well. We have to remember that he's just a temporary manager. He will be gone in a few months. We'll survive until the end of the season. Let's do ourselves a favour, though, and help make his reign something besides a fiasco. Let's not punish the squad and ourselves because of a poor hiring decision. Let's put aside our negative feelings and try to make something from what we've been left with. To make Robbie's sacking not be totally in vain.
Please. For the club. For the players. For ourselves. For Robbie.
Update: I just want to apologise for any offence caused by my poor choice of words in the heat of the moment. I shouldn't have made my argument personal, and I wasn't consciously intending to do so, but I did. I simply didn't think about how my words would be perceived by others without access to the full context of my thoughts. I was trying to express my exasperation with certain minority arguments I had been seeing, and I failed to do so in a way that reflected my true feeling on the subject. I'm sorry, guys. I'm the idiot.