Rafa earns fans' respect - but not love

Friday 17th May 2013 12:39

Rafa Benitez: Delivered silverware for Chelsea

Rafa Benitez: Delivered silverware for Chelsea

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Chelsea FanZoner Dylan Clive is grateful for the job Rafa Benitez has done in his time at the club but admits he'll never be a fan favourite.

Managers come and go without being given enough time, a star player will be bought if the owner likes him or his son plays well with him on FIFA, and there are some egos in the dressing room that 'Money' Mayweather would be proud of.

This is Chelsea Football Club; it's not perfect but it is effective.

If football was decided on popularity then Jimmy Bullard would be England's most capped player, Ian Holloway would have got the Manchester United job and Gianfranco Zola would be Prime Minister.

But it isn't. It's about results and winning trophies, and Chelsea remain pretty good at that.

Much to the annoyance of the Footballing Wise Men and their obsession with stability, the Chelsea tradition of board brutality and the ruthless removal of managers has led to an unprecedented decade of success at the club.

As a lifelong Chelsea fan I have often disagreed with the actions of the owner but that has certainly not stopped me from celebrating the 14 trophies won during the Roman Abramovich era.

It is difficult to argue with a formula that has seen the Blues enter into the most successful period in their history, but the appointment of Rafa Benitez did feel like a step in the wrong direction and a horrendous injustice to Roberto Di Matteo.

Aside from his links to Liverpool and the ferocious rivalry shared between the two clubs, my reluctance to accept Mr Benitez at the helm of Chelsea came from the fact that he was as likely to impress the Shed End with attractive, free-flowing football as he was to serve me paella in my local Tapas restaurant.

Consequently, Benitez took control of the club amidst a wave of disapproval and resentment and was left with a massive undertaking; how could he possibly compete with the success of the previous season?

Well, Champions League qualification and a Europa League win certainly helps.

As we approach the 69th game of our season at home to Everton, there is a tremendous feeling of relief amongst Chelsea fans - relief at the knowledge of a guaranteed top-four finish, relief that an injury-time Branislav Ivanovic header meant the avoidance of another European penalty shoot-out and relief that Benitez will depart with both parties in a better position.

Rafa has now been in charge for more games than Phil Scolari, Andre Villas-Boas and Di Matteo, and has added another trophy to his CV, while Chelsea are now holders of both European trophies (for a week) and are in a strong position to build for next season - but let's not get too carried away.

We were favourites for the Europa League and we were favourites for Champions League qualification so, contrary to reports from opposition fans, Benitez has not masterminded some sort of miraculous transformation but rather lived up to expectations.

Likewise, it was no secret that his appointment had something to do with the troubles of our number nine, over which question marks remain.

The opening goal in the Europa League final was like watching a highlight of Fernando Torres from 2008, and no-one would dare question his recent record against Eastern European sides.

However, Torres has still only netted seven in the Premier League this season, with none since Christmas.

Tactically, I am not a believer that Benitez's refusal to make any substitutions in the Benfica game was a stroke of genius.

The fact remains that Ramires was pretty hopeless all evening and had we lost there would have been uproar that Victor Moses was not introduced.

Yes, Ramires won the corner from which we ultimately won the game, but fresh legs may have put the result beyond doubt with minutes instead of seconds to spare.

Saying that, a win is a win and I could not care less how it happens. Plus, if the post-match press conference is to be believed then back-post corners had been our strategy all along - cunning.

After losing the Community Shield and Super Cup, reaching the final of the Club World Cup and not to mention the semis of the Capital One and FA Cup, Chelsea should arguably have come away from the season with more silverware but now where are my manners?

It was sporting of us to allow the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham to win something this year...oh wait.

Benitez's name will not be sung around Stamford Bridge on Sunday and there will be no banners pleading for the Spaniard to stay, but respect must be shown from the Chelsea fans.

It would have been easy to give in to the often detrimental mistreatment from the Stamford Bridge crowd but the players have openly praised Benitez's abilities and the contribution he has made to their game.

At the end of the day, if David Luiz thinks he's alright then I sure do too.

For me, Benitez is like that kid at school who you never got on with but, once when no-one was looking, he let you copy his homework.

A mutual respect has been built and we thank him for his work.

He still looks like a Spanish waiter, though.

You can follow Dylan on Twitter @DylClive - and don't forget to follow @FanZone, too.



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