The so-called ‘Fat Spanish Waiter’ has served out his fair dish of controversy at Stamford Bridge since taking over Roberto Di Matteo in November 2012 as interim boss. On the 27th May, it was announced via Twitter that Rafa Benitez would take charge of Italian club, Napoli, whose manager had recently resigned. After a crazy six months in charge, the Spaniard is finally #RafaOut.
After Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea dreadfully crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage, Benitez had the task of winning the Europa League, which he achieved successfully. Benitez also secured Chelsea third place in the league, an improvement on the previous season’s sixth place, as well as reaching the semi-final’s of the FA Cup. That’s all well and good, but despite what the Spaniard claims – the Chelsea faithful didn’t grow to like him.
Benitez had a controversial history with Chelsea. During his time at Liverpool, Benitez had confrontations with Jose Mourinho, suggesting that during Mourinho’s reign at the Bridge, it was Abramovich’s money purely that brought the club from SW6 success. The pair also refused to shake hands after some matches. When questioned on Mourinho’s departure from London, Benitez replied spitefully with “You know my relationship with him. It is better that I do not say anything”.
Benitez also slated the Chelsea fan’s infamous white and blue flags after a clash in 2007. The then-Liverpool manager claimed that Liverpool didn’t need little flags at Anfield to spur the team on. He said, “We don’t need to give away flags for our fans to wave – our supporters are always there with their hearts, and that is all we need. It’s the passion of the fans that helps to win matches – not flags”. The quote was so beloved on Merseyside, that Liverpool even printed it on a sign at Anfield.
Benitez received a fierce reception at his first home game against Manchester City, which resulted in a 0-0 draw. Deafening boo’s and ‘You’re not welcome here’ chants weren’t enough to distract Rafa, as on the 5th December, Benitez recorded his first home victory, an impressive 6-1 thrashing of Nordsjaelland. However, despite this win, Chelsea were unable to progress due to the result of the Juventus vs Shakhtar match.
Benitez qualified for his first final as interim boss on the 13th December, after his Chelsea side defeated Monterrey 3-1 to reach the FIFA Club World Cup final. Chelsea, however, went on to lose 1-0 in a disappointing performance against Brazilian side Corinthians. However, he did manage to bring great smiles to the Chelsea fans as his side thrashed bitter rivals Leeds 5-1 at Elland Road.
Under-par home performances from Benitez’s Chelsea caused a stir, as Chelsea suffered losses against Queens Park Rangers in the league, and Swansea in the Capital One Cup. Mourinho made Stamford Bridge a fortress, and Benitez made it a laughing stock.
Benitez finally cracked on 27th February, following Chelsea’s 2-0 victory at Middlesborough. Benitez heavily criticised the board for giving him the title of ‘interim manager’, as well as criticising the Chelsea fans for their protests against him. At the press conference, he also confirmed that he would be leaving come the end of the season.
In Rafa’s penultimate league game, he managed Chelsea to a 2-1 win against Aston Villa, a team who Chelsea usually struggle against, in which a Frank Lampard brace resulted in him over-taking Bobby Tambling and becoming Chelsea’s all time top scorer. The win secured Chelsea Champions League football next season, Benitez’s main objective after taking over.
On the 15th May, Benitez guided Chelsea to Europa League success against Benfica after a 2-1 win in Amsterdam, making him the only manager after Giovanni Trapattoni to have won both the Europa League with two different clubs. Benitez’s last competitive game came as Chelsea beat Everton 2-1 on the last day of the Premier League season, ensuring a third place finish in the league.
I must admit, I am relieved. Not just that Rafa is out, but that the season is over. Under Benitez, I wasn’t looking forward to games as much as I did under other managers, such as Mourinho and Ancelotti. A third place finish and winning the Europa League is yes, a good end to a horrible season, and the team have looked impressive in recent weeks. However, from a supporter’s point of view, it’s been a mixture of emotions. I miss the days in which Stamford Bridge was a fortress, where Chelsea were a feared team to anyone. Hopefully things can turn around next season.
I still don’t agree with the board’s decision to sack Di Matteo however, and not many Chelsea fan’s do. Don’t get me wrong, I never thought that Roberto would be the man to take charge in the long-term, but the way they sacked him was just wrong. Di Matteo, a legend as a player, fresh from guiding the Blues to their first Champions League at-least deserved to stay for the rest of the season in my opinion. Especially if they only employed Benitez until May. I guess the decision paid off, but I still believe the way they treated Roberto was wrong.
The future looks bright for Chelsea however. If reports are to believed, the special one is preparing for his second coming at the Bridge, and has £100million to spend on freshening up the side. Who knows? We could be celebrating the Premier League title this time next year – we just never know what’s around the corner in football.