The word ‘interim’ is one that many of us have not really been too familiar with, until this past year or so, where this word has become the bane of our lives as Chelsea supporters.
It started when Roberto Di Matteo was employed to succeed Andre Villas-Boas as Interim Manager mid-way through the season, and this particular decision seemed a genius one. As we all know Robbie went on to win the Champions League with his Chelsea side and we were all over the moon.
When Roman Abramovich and his advisors chose to appoint Di Matteo, it was on an interim contract, but it was emphasised then that there would be a view to extending his contract to permanent if he was successful, which he clearly was. So Robbie was rewarded with an extension and we were all happy.
Here is where the curse of the interim begins, Robbie’s Chelsea side continued to struggle at the beginning of this season and apparently Roman’s patience grew too thin after a loss of form and some questionable tactical decisions, so Robbie was out on his ear much to our dismay.
The next equation happened so fast that Robbie must have passed his successor whilst leaving the Stamford Bridge car park. Up steps former Liverpool Manager Rafael Benitez, thus sparking anger and disbelief from the Chelsea faithful. These supporters seemed to have longer serving memories than particular Board members.
First of all, Benitez was remembered as claiming in an interview that Chelsea supporters had no passion, amongst other claims. He had previously made his feelings clear about Chelsea football club, but now he was managing them.
The second major memory loss our board suffered, was the curse of the interim. They decided to appoint Benitez as an Interim Manager and made it clear it would indefinitely be until the end of the season and no longer. After the roller-coaster ride of appointing the last Interim Manager, hadn’t they learnt their lesson? Di Matteo had a chance to stay on and showed the passion on desire, how is a former Liverpool Manager who had criticised Chelsea before hand, ever going to have his heart and soul in it?
An Interim Manager is a bad idea full stop. What made the Benitez hiring much worse than the Di Matteo saga, was the fact we all knew it was only until the end of this season. How on earth can players, staff, coaches and supporters bond with and get behind a coach who they know is leaving, not even taking into consideration the history of that Coach? It’s a desperate decision for any board to make.
Players become attached to managers as they clearly did with Di Matteo and then they leave, it immensely decreases players and supporters morale, which is a really bad and dangerous situation. Many players won’t admit it but as well as playing for the love of your club, you are also playing for the honour of your Manager.
I’m not debating Benitez as a Coach, yes he has won some trophies in his career and I know many people out there do rate his ability. My issue is the fact that he, the board and supporters, all knew that he was going at the end of the season and now when it seems there are only two real trophies to play for, our Interim Manager is clearly aiming for these trophies and ignoring Champions League football, which is a selfish and lame move.
Benitez knows he is leaving; he has a chance to add two more trophies to his CV before he leaves and he is pushing for that. For me, you must play your strongest team at this stage of the season when you are fighting for fourth in the league AKA a vital place in the Champions League. This decision should be irrelevant of other fixtures or busy schedules.
Today in our 2-1 loss at Southampton, we all witnessed Benitez pick more of the fringe players, a somewhat un-balanced midfield, a weak left side and a defensive partnership that has been solid in the past, but lacklustre recently. Not only that, when he had a chance to change the game at half time and take it to Southampton, he decided to wait to ring the changes and when they did come, on the whole they were confusing and the by far the wrong decisions.
We had an instant game changer sat on the bench in the shape of David Luiz and Juan Mata not even in the squad. Along with that we had Eden Hazard on the bench for the majority of the game whilst a very poor Victor Moses somehow managing to play a whole match. The John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard combination in midfield was not working, yet he waited over 65 minutes to change that.
We face Manchester United on Monday in the FA Cup Quarter Final Replay and we all know that will be Benitez’s first defence when explaining our loss at St Mary’s. Although winning the FA Cup once again would be a great achievement and a good success, we all know that our priority should lie with nailing that final automatic Champions League spot. OK, so this loss does not mean we miss out yet, but it was absolutely vital that we got three points here; on paper it was one of our easier remaining fixtures with all due respect to Southampton.
Many people who read my articles will know that usually I am not a sceptic, I am normally the more positive of Chelsea supporters, I always back the players and the manager no matter what. But I am afraid this latest interim saga has forced me to admit that our current interim has made some very selfish decisions recently, especially against Southampton. Don’t get me wrong, our players were very poor, we had a bad game and Southampton played well and deserved the victory; let’s take nothing away from them. But in order to give us a chance of winning, we simply had to start our most prolific creators, Hazard and Mata. These guys are too dangerous and essential to rest at this stage of the season, as is David Luiz. Rotating at this stage is simply not an option, strongest side possible, period.
Champions League qualification means a financial injection, more appeal for possible new targets (essentially a prolific target man) and of course more appeal for a new Manager to come in. The last thing we need is another rushed and desperate appointment of the dreaded curse that is ‘The Interim Manager’.
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Simon Phillips – News Editor