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Sentiment doesn't come into it when trophies are involved

Every other football manager wins trophies, Rafael Benitez merely enhances his CV. Round about the time Chelsea lost to Southampton in the league, the idea took hold that Benitez was a fifth columnist. The club needed to be back in the Champions League but he had gone rogue. Benitez was thinking of himself. He wanted to win the Europa League and he would sacrifice anything to do it. He wanted to enhance his CV.

Two days after the Southampton defeat, Chelsea played Manchester United in an FA Cup replay. Chelsea won this game and the conspiracy theorists speculated wildly. Benitez was searching for trophies. He was ignoring the central plank of his mission which was to ensure that Chelsea returned to the Champions League.

As always when Benitez is involved, flat-earthism flourished. Ray Wilkins claimed Ashley Cole picked up an injury in the United game because Benitez hadn't picked him two days earlier. "He has to play all the time, Ashley," Wilkins explained. "He is one of these machines," he said of a man. "You have to keep it well oiled and it will fly. Had he played on Saturday, he wouldn't have done that."

Nobody has ever let go of an idea about Benitez because it didn't correspond with the facts or, in this case, the science. Benitez believed he could achieve everything but he felt he could only do it his way. It involved a rotation of players which at times looked obsessively controlling, as if he was working off a roster, but by the time his exhausted squad walked away with a trophy in Amsterdam, he had made sense of Chelsea's exhausting season.

He also returned a club that finished sixth last season into the top four and demonstrated that he is a manager who can work in any conditions. Benitez withstood the mob at Chelsea whose failure to articulate the reasons they disliked him strangely added to their ferocity, allowing them to howl at the moon without the inconveniences of accountability and reason.

Benitez did as much as he could to maintain the fiction that he was working in normal conditions, even if by removing the customary armour that protects a manager, Chelsea provided an example of how football really works. The club rarely bothers to conceal its ruthlessness. It was every man for himself and this season every man appeared to hate Benitez.

Benitez came to represent the reality of football. He couldn't indulge in the conceit that this was a club that was made for him or talk sentimentally about a long-term future, so he concentrated on doing what he does best, coaching players and winning things.

It was possible to glimpse Benitez's style in the final months, echoes of the Valencia 'Crushing Machine' or his Liverpool team of '08/'09 as Chelsea developed a relentlessness which would have developed further if Benitez had stayed.

Today Chelsea will play their 69th game of the season, the most by an English team since Arsenal played 70 matches in 1979/'80. Benitez couldn't have played Ashley Cole every two days as Wilkins wanted but he displayed his greatest gift and his greatest weakness as a manager: his detachment from something as inconvenient as sentiment.

In doing so, he has prepared Chelsea for a post-John Terry world, something others have been unable to do. Of course, this saw him portrayed as a cold and loveless man fleshing out his CV, a term that was used to signify his detachment from the fine traditions of Chelsea football club and football in general.

In this world, Benitez was sometimes portrayed as the materialistic one, concerned only with advancing his own cause. It was unclear what cause he was supposed to be advancing. Chelsea made him interim manager and the supporters didn't want him but it was Benitez who lacked feeling. Some would argue that he works best in those conditions, with the desire to control everything removed from the agenda. The problem is that all managers, good and bad, should want to control everything.

This summer, Chelsea will welcome back a manager who shares that core belief with Benitez. Jose Mourinho will return to a country he says loves him, even if the love can be sometimes slavish, like David Brent engaging in badinage with Finchy.

Mourinho provided a trailer for the coming season as Real Madrid lost the Copa del Rey final on Friday night. He will win things at Chelsea but when he doesn't, it will be ugly.

Roman Abramovich must wonder if he needs Mourinho, especially with many finally acknowledging Benitez's achievements and others realising that when a manager has a good CV, it means the clubs he coaches win trophies.

Along with Manchester City, Chelsea are pushing to the limit the modish theories that a manager's power should be limited. They are protected by the knowledge that they have the money to overcome every problem and find any solution, knowing the solution in football is always money. Roberto Mancini was sacked for making things worse and for not being a company man. In his case, they had a point. City won the title, but in the end, they were helped immeasurably by Mario Balotelli's sending off against Arsenal and Carlos Tevez's recall from exile.

The picture of Mancini collecting his medal at Wembley last weekend and shaking hands with the City executive body told its own story. He has made terrible mistakes as manager but he must wonder what Brian Marwood has achieved as he becomes the Tony Book of the modern Manchester City.

City are intent on creating a bureaucracy, limiting the damage any man can do, buttressed by the statistic that only one in 10 managers makes a team significantly better. This is football's version of Sturgeon's Law which states that "90 per cent of everything is total crud".

Theodore Sturgeon was a science fiction writer, defending his genre from attacks that it was trash. Most of every art form is rubbish, he insisted. Searching for the ten per cent would appear to be the thing to do. Instead football clubs, like Hollywood studios, are committed to embracing the 90 per cent and taking the marginal gains.

When the one in ten comes along, he is unlikely to be a bureaucrat. He will be difficult and demanding and he'll want it all. If he gets his way, he'll win things and end up with a very fine CV.


Irish Independent