European champions, again.
The story of that one hell of a season, an absolute roller-coaster. When we lost to Juventus, I remember I tweeted ” a loss to Manchester City and RDM’s out”. A couple of hours later, Robbie got sacked because “the Board felt that a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction”, I was inconsolable. It was a harsh decision for me, but you know, Roman… And then came the tremendous shock: ”Chelsea Football Club can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim first-team manager until the end of the season.”
When we appointed Rafa, the guy who insulted our club and fans while he was at Liverpool, I felt betrayed. Yes betrayed, and I mean it. He got an awful reception throughout most of his time at Chelsea and of course he was nowhere near to be accepted by the fans, and I belive, the old guard too. Anyway, now as Benitez is closing on a departure, I must admit that he’s done a good job. Yes, this is an appreciation article for Rafa. He’s done a good job, maybe in a dramatic fashion, but he’s got his mission done. And to be fair, he’s a man of steel. This is how I analyse what he’s done for our club during that period.
1) Huge pressure, insane.
When Rafa signed that contract, he knew exactly what he was going for. While at Liverpool, his famous rant towards the Chelsea fans has been always stuck in the back of our heads.“We don’t need to give away stupid plastic flags to our fans to wave, our supporters are always there with their hearts and that is all we need. Its the passion of the fans that helps us to win matches, not flags. Chelsea fans lack passion.”
Before even taking charge of his first game, the ‘Rafa Out’ banners were hanged everywhere and the fans didn’t stop abusing him (Middlesbrough as an example). First of all, he has handled himself with dignity, was respectful towards the players and the fans throughout his interim reign at Stamford Bridge. Everybody was abusing him, but he was smiling all the time. Simply, he was trying to do his job. This is a point that we can’t deny, the pressure was huge. Just imagine yourself working under all that pressure, put yourself in his place. I wasn’t simply a fan of the Rafa out campaign because we had no other option, we had to stick with him till the end of the season. The biased English media as usual has made him the victim, the Chelsea supporters’ image was a bit deteriorated. But no matter what the media was saying at that time, we get emotionally attached to our club. When someone insults Chelsea, he’s simply insulting us. This is exactly why we reacted that way, but that was clearly not the smartest option as it’s started to affect the players, and the results.
2) The complete turning point
This is where it all began, the Middlesbrough rant, which was the best thing that he’s done during his time here. Let’s skip the part where he showed that he was unhappy with the interim manager title. The most important part of his rant was this: “A group of fans, they are not doing any favours for the team when they are signing and wasting time preparing banners. “… “They have to concentrate on supporting the team, that’s what they have to do. If we cannot achieve what we expect to achieve, that is to be in the top four and be in the Champions League for next year, I will leave; they will stay in the Europa League. They have to take responsibility too. If they put players under pressure, they don’t create a good atmosphere at Stamford Bridge, they have to realise they are making a big mistake because the rest of the fans would like to see the team in the Champions League next year. It would be much better for everyone to have a good atmosphere and supporting the team, backing the players, and that’s it.”. I don’t know if we got scared when he sayed that we’ll stay in the Europa league if we don’t support the team and forget about him, but the atmosphere at the Bridge has clearly changed since then. And on my behalf, I agree with him when he moaned about the interim manager title, maybe the players don’t respect him because of this, maybe they don’t care about the way they perform because they know that we’ll only blame him in the end. But in my opinion, that rant was really smart. To be fair, I raped my H5 button the next day because I thought that he was going to be dismissed by Roman and co. Even when we played WBA next, I thought he was going to get shot in the head by the fans, but it was the complete opposite. We sang our heart out for the team. But credit where it’s due, that was smart.
But then later on, things started to move in a positive way and Rafa was actually getting the respect and appreciation that he deserves.
3) Rafa and the skills.
This is exactly why I’ll spend the rest of my life thanking Rafa: David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta.
David Luiz, Sideshow bob : Rafa, from day one, believed in Luiz’s abilities“I’m aware David Luiz is one of the best players in the Premier League by miles. Miles away from a lot of players, one of the best no doubt.” . He has transformed him from a player who’s “controlled by a 10-year-old in the crowd on a Playstation.” (Thanks to our beloved Gary Neville) to a key figure in both defense and midfield, a match winner, a game changer and a future Chelsea captain. He believes that he’s one of the best in the premier league (and he is actually), he has developed immensely under him and will only become better in the future. I’ll forever thank Rafa for having the guts to introduce Luiz in midfield, as it has worked brilliantly. And we also have to mention that he doesn’t always score, but when he does, he makes sure that it’s a STUNNER! ( Basel and Fulham, both goals nominated for the Goal of season award). Even with free-kicks, at the beginning of the season we didn’t usually like him to take them because we knew that it’s gonna end up catching with Ramos’ penalty. Now, it’s known as the Geezer’s territory.
Cesar Azpilicueta, DAVE: Dave has been one of the most consistent RBs in the premier league this season, his performance against Tottenham was his best in a Chelsea shirt (I guess Bale’s still in his back pocket, we should check though). He nearly got game time with RDM, but with Rafa, he was challenging for Ivanovic’s place and started ahead of him in a bunch of games. He became one of the key figures in our starting lineups this season. Even Del Bosque gave him his first debut vs Uruguay in February, playing the full 90 minutes. At the age of 23, Dave has his whole career in front of him and he’ll only keep getting better and better. And this season, he’s definitely been one of the best RBs in the BPL. That’s what Del Bosque thinks about him “Azpilicueta is playing many games for Chelsea. He has a lot of energy, defends well and is always willing to attack. We have a lot of hope for him.”
These, in my opinion, are the positives of Rafa Benitez’s Stamfrod Bridge reign. Let’s not mention the negatives anyway.
One last point, when Rafa came his job was to win the maximum of games to be able to get to our targets. He’s done a very tough job given the circumstances that surrounded him and also that he was working with a terribly thin squad that he barely knows anything about it.. He didn’t have enough time to make them adapt to his strategies. That’s why by the end of the season, things started to look a bit better, the rotation seemed to work and he came up with a couple of good lineups for the different games. He just needed time to make things work out, and we didn’t give him that. But with time, things got a lot better. And on the other hand, he’s been extremely professional, which made us respect him more by the end of the season and actually appreciate what he’s done. He put emotions aside.
– Well I think we can now say goodbye and thank you to Rafa. For me, he’s done a good job in a pretty dramatic fashion. We won the Europa league and on course to finish third. Although he didn’t apologize to the Chelsea fans about what he’s said about us while he was with Liverpool, but the abuse was a bit exaggerated from our part in my opinion. Anyway, our targets have been met and we’ll bid him farewell soon. And hopefully the best is yet to come (Yes, Jose Mourinho).
PS: Rafa I guess you’re allergic to subs, you should definitely be fixing that to be successful anywhere in the world. And if you want, you can take Yossi with you. We’d all be happy.
If you have any comments, leave them below! 🙂