Ill timed? Yes. Self defeating? Almost certainly. Naïve? Quite probably. Yet in Rafa Benitez’s extraordinary rant against seemingly all reined against him at Stamford Bridge, there was not a single word that you could objectively disagree with. He was fundamentally correct. In particular, there was one sentence which, perhaps unintentionally, was so stunningly perceptive that Chelsea’s reaction to it should not be to slay the messenger, but to take heed of the Spaniard’s wisdom.
“Now everybody has to take responsibility,” Benitez insisted when discussing his tag as an ‘interim’ coach.
In sacking Benitez instantly, Chelsea may make a step towards the stability they need. Clearly the Spaniard was not the best appointment for this role, and there is no chance of this brief liaison being extended further. But if Chelsea do dispense of Benitez’s services, there is also the danger they would once again be absolving themselves of responsibility.
Responsibility was the theme of Benitez’s rant. He insisted that all at the club must take responsibility for their position, their situation, and he is right. The fans do indeed have to take responsibility. Supporters paying good money to follow their team have the right to take stupid crass banners calling for Benitez to leave to the match, but they must realise that it does not help anything. As Benitez was at pains to point out, he’s going anyway, so what is the point in wasting time on him?
The fans have created a toxic atmosphere which is at least in part to blame for the club’s terrible home form since Benitez’s appointment. The tension, the anger and unhappiness is felt by players on the field, and that is only more pronounced at home of course. And the Chelsea fans never gave Benitez a chance. They will point to the history – the comments made about them when Benitez was at Liverpool, but what do they expect? Liverpool were Chelsea’s rivals, and frankly, Benitez was right – Chelsea fans did wave “stupid plastic flags”. And he had a valid point about the respective clubs’ support – Liverpool’s following are rather admired for the most part for their passion and producing what is indisputably the best atmosphere any team in the country create at their Anfield home. Chelsea’s fans are rather mute by comparison.
So what of the club’s ownership who Benitez lashed out at? He is right to say that the interim tag was a mistake, it underlined the short term thinking of his appointment, and how was anyone meant to get on board with him after that? It is quite possible that Benitez was saying it was a mistake because it has been difficult to rally the team – it was reported earlier this week that he clashed with his squad.
The club’s ownership have to take responsibility for that, for making the wrong appointment, and for the endless hiring and firing policy which has created such instability and alienated genuine top class managers from taking the poisoned chalice of the Stamford Bridge hot seat.
The owner has to take responsibility too for the players he gives to those managers. They have been toxic for a while now, as I wrote earlier this week. Terry in particular seems to invite division, whilst it is reported that after Roman Abramovich fired Andre Villas Boas last season, he went into training the next day, pointed to Didier Drogba, to Terry and to Frank Lampard, and told them that thanks to them, a good man had lost his job. If Abramovich really did say that, then full credit to him for having the balls to put the trio in their place. It is humorously ironic that Villas Boas can now look down on Chelsea from third place in the league, watching his former team going through the longest self implosion in history.
Lampard has made a good case to be kept for his performances on the pitch this season, but if he was really to blame so much for Villas Boas’ departure last year, then he should consider it serves him right if he is to have his services dispensed of this summer as revenge. You reap what you sow in this game, and for many at Chelsea, they have been trying to run away from responsibility for quite some time. At England’s most chaotic club, for too many years only the manager has taken responsibility for his actions. And Benitez is right - it is time someone else did now.