For each of us, there’s that point we get to. The straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s the tipping point that sends us over the edge. Well, if history’s anything to go by the noise that Rafa Benitez can hear as he sits in his ‘interim’ office at Stamford Bridge, could just be the sound of fate knocking on his door. The last two managers dismissed by Chelsea, have lost their jobs in the wake of a league defeat to West Bromwich Albion. So, no pressure Rafa, but look who you’re facing at the weekend.
Last season, AVB was invited to pack his ‘project’ into his bag and clear out his desk after a lamentable performance at the Hawthorns. Abramovich had seen the team look listless and devoid of ideas and organization for months, but had remained steadfast. Even the seemingly unredeemable defeat at Napoli – which to quote Gary Cahill was “so bad,” was borne with fortitude, but defeat at The Hawthorns? Well, there is a line. Even AVB’s crouching on the touchline couldn’t avoid Roman’s bullet. Baggies 1 Chelsea Managers 0
Now, fast forward to a few months ago. In eight short months Robbie di Matteo had not only secured the FA Cup, but also the Holy Grail of the Champions League. On top of this, he had started the league programme playing flamboyant football, and in the early months Chelsea led the table by four points. Now it has been said that the club only ever saw di Matteo as a stop-gap until Guardiola could be persuaded to pep a little Catalan knowhow into the club and deliver Abramovich’s dream of Barcelona in blue shirts, but Robbie was testing the wisdom of that. The club had been placed in a ‘group of death’ Champions League defence. Alongside a Danish makeweight club, they faced both a resurgent Juventus who, under the prompting of Conti were tearing up Serie A, and Shaktar, who had only failed to win in two of their last thirty odd games when Chelsea arrived in the Ukraine. It’s true to say that it was actually after the last group game in Italy that the fatal blow was dealt to Robbie’s reign, but the Saturday before had seen another defeat to guess who? Yep, the curse of the el Sackico had struck again. Baggies 2 Chelsea Managers 0!
And now to the present. If the Spaniard is pointed in the direction of the door marked “Salida” would this be another example of the famed Abrabovich itchy trigger finger, or has Rafa simply not been good enough? Well let’s examine his record. When di Matteo left, Chelsea were four points astray of leaders Manchester United. That’s now an enormous nineteen points, and Spurs have just usurped third place – plus, apparently ‘struggling’ Arsenal are threatening to kick the club out of the top four, trailing them by only one point.
There was the hope that with his old mentor at the helm, £50 million misfit Torres could be induced to rediscover the form he displayed when wearing the red of Benitez’s Liverpool, which persuaded Abramovich to part with what now appears to be a vastly inflated wad of dough. Unfortunately, despite a false dawn or two, El Nino retains the look of a ‘legs gone’ player in full decline.
It’s not too controversial to say that the Spaniard hasn’t enjoyed the best or happiest moments of his career over the past few months in west London. Unloved by many of the fans – the sixteenth minute ‘There’s only one di Matteo’ chant shows no sign of dwindling away – and apparently by the players, if recent newspaper reports are anywhere near accurate. Benitez doesn’t even have the luxury of a long-term contract to comfort him. Managers have had the sack for much less than this.
So with the Baggies games due on Saturday, is it significant that we’re only a few days from the ‘Ides of March,’ the name of the 15th day of March - ironically perhaps - in the ‘Roman’ calendar? It wouldn’t be the biggest surprise in the world if a defeat to the Midlands club meant that another victim fell to the curse of el Sackico. ‘Et tu, Baggies?”