x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Premier League: Days are numbered for Cheslea's Rafa Benitez

Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez probably sealed his fate after post-match criticisms of the club and fans last week so an even more ravenous crowd should be waiting for him at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, writes Richard Jolly.

Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez, left, went on a critical rant about his club and the fans after last Wednesday's FA Cup win and now those same fans will welcome back their doomed manager on Saturday at Samford Bridge. Stu Forster/ Getty Images
Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez, left, went on a critical rant about his club and the fans after last Wednesday's FA Cup win and now those same fans will welcome back their doomed manager on Saturday at Samford Bridge. Stu Forster/ Getty Images

They are the unlikely assassins.

West Bromwich Albion arrive at Stamford Bridge on Saturday with a claim to have finished off Chelsea's last two managers.

The final league games of the brief reigns of Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo were both against West Brom.

Yet if an unlikely hat-trick beckons, Albion are not the ones pulling the trigger. Instead, they are innocent, unfortunate spectators at a personal tragedy.

Rafa Benitez's post-match criticisms of the club and the fans after Wednesday's FA Cup win at Middlesbrough were part suicide note, part recognition of reality.

The Spaniard was doomed from Day 1 at Stamford Bridge, undermined, as he said, by the club who granted him the title of "interim manager" and the supporters who never accepted him even before a rift with players.

The nickname given to one of his predecessors, Claudio Ranieri, who was called "Dead Man Walking" is equally applicable to Benitez.

It was even before a manager who did his utmost to avoid the unpleasant environment accepted his time was numbered. Surprising at it was, his outburst at the Riverside equated in many respects to a statement of the obvious.

There is only one element where he may be proved wrong. Benitez said he would leave in the summer. Even if the club insist otherwise, that departure could be accelerated.

Roman Abramovich rarely delays in dismissing managers – Villas-Boas was a rare exception – and they may be looking for a deputy interim manager.

Benitez hopes that all factions could put their disputes to one side to concentrate on achieving Chelsea's objectives, and by laying bare the divisions at Stamford Bridge, he may have positioned himself to get the sympathy vote.

It is not what he wanted: his aim at Chelsea was to restore a reputation for delivering silverware. Benitez believes he deserves the status of a Uefa Champions League winner and that he merits top jobs: for almost two years after he left Inter Milan, none materialised until Chelsea came calling.

He could not say no, yet he should not have said yes. Should he go soon, without even the Europa League or the FA Cup as a consolation prize, he will be dismissed as a failure.

The context has made success impossible. Yet, having managed the unmanageable club, his task is to persuade future employers that, after four fallow years, he remains the manager who accomplished much between 2000 and 2009.

His analysis of his future was the headline news, but Benitez's words carried a warning for the warring fans. They run a grave risk of dropping out of the top four. Europa League football could become a staple at Stamford Bridge and much as some dream of the fans' king across the water, Jose Mourinho, the Portuguese will not be lured by the reality of life outside the Champions League.

With Mourinho's former assistant, Steve Clarke, in charge of West Brom, one coach will be cheered today. Typically, it will not be Benitez.

While it may be open season on him, it is shaping up to be a wasted year for Chelsea. The Spaniard has made a convenient punchbag for many – the strange reality is that large numbers of people enjoy disliking Benitez – but the attacks on him have obscured the underlying problems at Stamford Bridge.

Yet they will continue to fade into the background.

With Chelsea lifting their ban on banners, opposition to Benitez should be all too evident today. Those who were vocal in their complaints beforehand will not be silenced now the manager has responded in kind by criticising them; instead, his reception will be still more hostile.

The fault lines in the club that account for Chelsea's decaying season are, besides the appointment of a manager who was bound to be unpopular, issues that predated the interim choice and will outlast him.

But this may be less about context than a crucifixion, with a mob baying for blood as Benitez's brief spell at Stamford Bridge nears its gory end.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE