Sport Soccer

Sunday 25 March 2018

Rafa Benitez is latest caretaker of Roman's impossible dream

Ian Chadband

The first question that gnaws away at you about Chelsea's impending marriage with Rafa Benitez is: 'Why would Roman Abramovich feel the need to get rid of a man whose Champions League win was a glorious fluke with a man whose Champions League win was a glorious fluke?'

This may be a mischievous interpretation of Benitez's skills because, even though there are those who portray him as over-rated, there really ought to be no question that his remains one of the best tactical brains in football.

Obsessive, cerebral and occasionally downright brilliant, his successes at Valencia, where he broke the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga and guided them to UEFA Cup glory, and then Liverpool, where the Champions League miracle of Istanbul and a second appearance in the final earned him endless love from Anfield, effectively brook no argument.

Indeed, you can pile together all the evidence against him, including his final unravelling years at Liverpool where he became as consumed with all the swirling politics as with the football, the later transfer calamities and the subsequent short, calamitous spell at Inter Milan, and he still comes out deep in credit.

Even in Milan, supposedly an unmitigated disaster, he won a world championship.

Yet considering that Abramovich is eternally craving – and never seemingly able to find – a manager who will create not just a team capable of winning the European Cup, but one capable of winning the Cup while playing football from the gods, it seems odd that he should plump for a coach whose teams can be just as pragmatic as Jose Mourinho's and rather less flamboyant than not just Luiz Felipe Scolari's, but even Carlo Ancelotti's.

Benítez will bring organisation, discipline and a defensive rigour which increasingly eluded Roberto Di Matteo but fantasy football? Doubtful, Roman.

Perhaps Abramovich's admiration for the 52-year-old stems from the fact that it was Benítez who once stood as an infuriating roadblock to his European ambitions, defeating Chelsea in two Champions League semi-finals.

If he has not blanked the horror from his memory, though, maybe Abramovich would like to recall that Liverpool's tactics in those games were no more adventurous than Chelsea's in Munich last year, as they eked out victories over superior outfits.

Mostly, it appears an odd and uncomfortable liaison because Chelsea's fans have no time for Benitez.

Twitter was busy yesterday with fans angry at the prospect of the Spaniard's arrival.

In March at a Cup tie in Birmingham, when he was being tipped to take over from Andre Villas-Boas, 3,000 travelling supporters gave hostile voice to the idea of his having anything to do with Stamford Bridge.

One of the reasons, doubtless, was the way Benítez once taunted those same fans.

Even now at Liverpool's Melwood training ground where quotes from the Reds' managers line the walls, one from Benitez catches the eye.

"Our fans don't need plastic flags," it reads, a barbed reference to the items laid out on the Stamford Bridge seats before that first semi-final.

These fans will also remember how Benitez would always be suggesting it was only Abramovich's roubles which were responsible for Chelsea's pre-eminence, as if Mourinho had nothing to do with it.

Indeed, no one could get under Mourinho's skin like Benitez. Now it is the other way round.

Sooner or later – probably sooner – Benitez will doubtless discover that he could never satisfy his master. Because nobody ever will.

Following the temporary guardian who happened upon a cup with big ears, Rafa would only be another caretaker of an impossible dream. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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