independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Alan Hansen: Rafa must not take the blame for deep-rooted problems at the Bridge

Rafael Benitez took on the hardest job in football when he walked into Chelsea. Not even he will think he will still be at Stamford Bridge beyond this season.

There has never been a manager who has faced so many insurmountable obstacles preventing him from succeeding. At just about every level, he has had no chance of getting rid of the description 'interim'.

It began on day one, the reception he received from his own supporters ahead of the 0-0 draw with Manchester City which was replicated in the away end at Manchester during yesterday's defeat.

Such resistance from the Chelsea fans could not be brushed aside as it would not even matter if Benitez excelled in the job, they would never accept him.

But to suggest his difficulties are related solely to his unpopularity with the Chelsea fans is simplistic, overlooking deeper problems he has inherited in west London.

There is a certain irony in the fact that whoever takes over at Chelsea in the summer will have to start by adopting a similar tactical approach to Benitez.

Any coach taking over from Roberto Di Matteo would have identified the major flaw in the side. Earlier this season Chelsea were playing some wonderfully exciting, fluid football, but it was unsustainable. It is no good having a team who look good with the ball, but are too vulnerable without it.

They were too open, lacked solidity and were easily picked off by quality teams. Supporters may want to see the likes of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard in the same team, but not as much as opposing managers. You cannot have so many of the same type in your starting XI and expect to challenge for trophies.

Benitez tried to do the right thing, but also the most difficult. Turning what is perceived to be a group of flair players into a more organised, solid unit needs time and a significant change of personnel.

Doing it the other way around is far easier. If you have a reliable defence and a robust midfield, you identify a couple of more skilful, attacking players to polish your style in the final third. It can take you a few months to do that because you are working with a secure base.

When what you lack are those firm foundations, it can take years. It does not matter whether it is Benitez or Jose Mourinho in charge of this Chelsea team, there is a lack of the right type of player.

They need a centre half, a holding midfielder and a right back. The jury is also still out on whether Demba Ba is good enough for the level Chelsea aspire to.

Whoever Roman Abramovich turns to next will simply find himself addressing the same tactical and technical problems Benitez has been faced with.

Benitez was brought in to bring the best out of Fernando Torres. If the last few months have not shown that it may have more to do with the player than the manager, then nothing will.

Again, if Benitez is being judged on Torres' form, that is pretty harsh. There has been a series of managers who have been unable to get Torres to repeat the form of four years ago. Chelsea will need a new striker, too.

After Benitez's spell ends, Abramovich has to abandon the idea of hiring and firing managers after so little time in the job.

There has been too much talk at Chelsea about philosophies, playing styles and an obsession with creating a more attractive way. If the owner has learnt anything from the departures of coaches such as Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, it is surely to do everything you can to cherish stability when you have it because winning is all that matters.

Painful

His next manager needs to feel he will have four or five years to thoroughly rebuild. That process is painful, and the problem for Chelsea now is they do not seem to be patient enough to endure that pain.

It helps, of course, when you have an owner who is prepared to sign massive cheques every few years. That is why, despite the unrest since Benitez arrived, Abramovich has never been the target of criticism from Chelsea fans. Without him, those supporters would never have enjoyed all those triumphs.

They will quickly forgive him for giving Benitez the opportunity but, if they think the Spanish coach's departure will swiftly lead to the reappearance of a team emerging to compete for the title next season, they should prepare for more disappointment.

Chelsea fans will never accept Rafa, but under a new manager they need to be prepared to accept those changes he has been trying to impose.

When Benitez took the job, he must have felt he had nothing to lose. He may be right, but unfortunately for him there was no way he could ever win. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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