Tuesday 22 October 2019

Cup win means Rafa will end brief Chelsea career on a high

Chelsea's manager Rafael Benitez holds the trophy
Chelsea's manager Rafael Benitez holds the trophy

Simon Stone

RAFAEL BENITEZ will walk out of Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Lambasted, ridiculed, attacked, humiliated. Benitez has stopped trying to win the Chelsea support round. He has stopped asking for their backing.

But maybe, just maybe, as they celebrate the unique achievement of holding both European competitions at the same time, for 10 days anyway, and becoming the first English team to win all three European trophies, those fans who have spent so long condemning Benitez should offer some words of gratitude.

For, despite all the provocation, Benitez has done what Roman Abramovich wanted.

He has secured a place in next season's Champions League. He has won more silverware. He has even got Fernando Torres scoring.

But like the men who failed to win the European Cup, and like the one who did, once Sunday's encounter with Everton is over, Benitez will be out of the door to make way for the Special One.

The 53-year-old could never hope to receive the affection Chelsea have for Jose Mourinho. That is impossible for anyone.

But just a word of thanks for the man who controlled the team who won the Europa League through Branislav Ivanovic's injury-time header is not much to ask.

In the adjoining technical area to Benitez in the Amsterdam ArenA was Jorge Jesus, whose 200 games in charge of Benfica deserves recognition if not on the Sir Alex Ferguson scale, then maybe David Moyes given he is only the sixth man to reach that figure.

Easily identifiable due to his flowing locks, the only coiffure in this stadium to challenge his old vice-captain David Luiz, Jesus had not had a good weekend.

What was once an advantage over Porto in the Portuguese League so large it was impossible to envisage it being bridged disappeared with a demoralising defeat to their long-standing rivals from the north who, once again, seem set to assert domestic superiority.

Jesus then had the misfortune to watch his team rip Chelsea apart, only to start viewing the goal Petr Cech was guarding as some kind of force field.

When one pass was required, three were taken, when none were needed his players tried a few anyway.

The frustration on the sideline was obvious. Jesus shook and twirled and waved in a manner reminiscent of Portuguese managers at Chelsea tend to do.

He wasn't pulling his hair out. Good grief no. That remained in place, bewilderingly so given the mass of it. Neat and tidy, yet shaggy at the same time. A bit like his team.

Benfica were fighting history.

European Cup winners in 1961 and 62, a legendary club, yet cursed by the loss of six successive European finals, giving credence to the bitter words of former coach Bela Guttmann, who brought that European glory to the Stadium of Light but, seized by rage at Benfica's refusal to pay him what he was worth, left with the parting shot that the club would never win in international combat again.

Compared to that, Benitez has had it easy.

After all, he has only been fighting the Chelsea supporters. And due to UEFA's baffling ticketing policy, there were only officially 9,800 of them in this superb 52,000-seater venue, which was not actually full.

There were many more than that of course. Yet for once, the English team did not swap a neutral stadium as plenty flew in from Lisbon believing this was the night Guttman's curse would be lifted.

Benitez likes to gesticulate himself. But, compared to Jesus, his was a sober presence, at least until Benfica avoided some kind of card with another debatable tackle at the start of the second half, when the fourth official got both barrels.

It had been a strange opening period all told. So much possession for Benfica in dangerous areas, so easy to get through their opponents' defence but nothing to show for it.

Chelsea in contrast nearly got their noses in front when Frank Lampard's long-range effort deceived Artur, who ended up producing a marvellous one-handed save.

The scoring didn't start until Cech's long throw found Torres, who zipped round Luisao and Artur before tucking home from an acute angle.

It was his 20th goal of the season, and on this stage, proof that Benitez had got more out of his fellow countryman than Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas or Roberto di Matteo had been able to do.

Oscar Cardozo scored a deserved equaliser from the penalty spot.

But the problem with curses is you just can't get rid of them.

Unlike Benitez.

PA Media

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