Is this the worst managerial change ever?
Rafa Benitez, is this a sick joke?
I attended my first Chelsea game 45 years ago and never missed a game during the dark years when it was far more interesting to watch the fighting on the terraces, rather than the drivel we served up year after year in the old 2nd division, but for the first time in my life I am refusing to watch Chelsea.
The reason is our new manager and the disgraceful treatment of the old one. The present day Chelsea manager needs two qualities, good man management skills and the ability to get his team to play "Sexy" football, Benitez is truly lacking in both departments, but then again we have a long history of treating our best managers badly.
After winning in the FA cup and Cup Winners cup I was convinced that Dave Sexton was the best manager in the world. However he sold the King of Stamford Bridge and the heir apparent, Alan Hudson and I wasn’t sad to see him go in 1974.
Eddie Mc McCreadie got promoted from within and the kids did an amazing job getting us back to the first division but then Eddie, who had been with the club for almost twenty years had the audacity to ask the club for a Ford Grenada as recognition of his achievement and they told him that he was getting above his station and sacked him. We had sacked a young and successful manager as a reward for getting us straight back up to the top table with a young and exuberant side that played exciting football and in the years that followed a series of mediocre managers saw us struggling to be competitive in the old 2nd division.
I felt that we got what we deserved in the darkest period of our history for our negligence in sacking the best young manager around.This was the first experience I had of my team not holding a manager in the same high regard as I did. The distinctly mediocre Ken Shellito, Danny Blanchflower, Geoff Hurst and Bobby Gould followed in the next four years; They were grim times but I never missed a match and never considered not following the Blues.
Then after four years of truly dire football a miracle occurred; Ken Bates acquired the club and brought in John Neal from lowly Wrexham, Neal performed wonders and a last day win saw us retain our position in the old 2nd division. Neal went to town in the pre season and signed unknown players Pat Nevin, Kerry Dixon, Joe Mc Laughlin, David Speedie, Eddie Nedzwieski, Nigel Spackman and his old favourites Joey Jones and Micky Thomas for the price of Jordan Henderson’s Left foot. Every single one of them an inspired signing and Henderson wouldn’t hold a candle to any of them. We took the league by storm and back in our rightful place at the top table next season, we were the equal to anyone on our day with a transformed team.
Then the unimaginable happened, John Neal had a heart scare and rather than giving him time to recover as he requested Uncle Ken, retired Chelsea’s greatest manager and replaced him with crowd favourite John Hollins.
Hollins talked a great game and implemented a “W” formation, and before you ask, no one else had heard of it either and it hasn’t been heard of since. We went from looking like world beaters to relegation fodder in the space of eighteen months. Bobby Campbell and Ian Porterfield struggled, but David Webb did a great job as caretaker manager and kept us up, so what did we do, said thanks very much Dave, it’s been nice knowing you.
Glen Hoddle in particular, tells you that he transformed the club, we were 11th when he took over, we finished 11th the next season and were in 11th when he left, we played some decent football but only won 34% of our games under his watch and you always got the impression that it was the manner of the football rather that the business of winning that was important to Glen, but I was hardly devastated when he left us for the England job.
Ruud was promoted from within and when he could find time away from the golf course and shopping at Harrods, he turned us into title contenders; although you have to feel that the work done by Colin Hutchinson in signing up great deals under the new Bosman rule was far more instrumental in our success.
Luca Vialli added steel to the side and but for a cruel run of injuries in the final months of the season to our most influential players we could have won the title in 1999. Luca was building a really formidable team, we looked the real deal, the signings were astute and all was going well, so there was only one thing to do …….sack Luca.
Enter the tinkerman, tasked with overhauling a successful, but aging team (sound familiar?), The money had run out but Ranieri still performed miracles by qualifying for the champions league with a dramatic last day win over Liverpool, despite not having spent a penny on transfer fees that season.
Enter Roman Abromovich and only the magnificent Arsenal invincibles side were able to deny us a first title since 1955. The players loved Ranieri, the fans loved Ranieri, he had just signed two superb players in Cech and Robben, so what did we do, we sacked him. Once again I felt we had sacked a manager at just the wrong time.
Jose could hardly fail to succeed in the next few years, considering the squad that Ranieri had left him and a bottomless owner’s wallet. The football was hardly scintillating most of the time, and an unqualified period of success followed, but attracted few outside admirers; we were even despised more than United during the Mourinho years and that takes some doing. With Chelsea sitting 6th in the premiership and in danger of not qualifying from the group stages,Jose left after a disappointing draw against Rosenberg at the Bridge amid rumours of dressing room unrest.
One of the most salient points about Jose’s stewardship was the omnipotent rivalry against Liverpool; whenever there was a cup draw there was an almost certain feeling that Chelsea and Liverpool would be drawn against each other. Mourinho and Benitez made it personal; Benitez came out with several insulting and disparaging comments about Chelsea and Blues fans hated him even more than Fergie and Wenger. We took great joy when he made a complete prat of himself with his famous rant against Fergie, got his stats all wrong and blew the title. This was one manager that Chelsea fans had no respect for. He stupidly slagged off Drogba and his celebration in the Champion’s league are an abiding memory to all Blues fans following one of the biggest managerial gaffes of all time.
Avram grant did a fine job; Scolari was always going to be a disaster, as was AVB. Carlo did well in his first season, but disappointed in the holy grail of the Champion League.
Then came Robbie. We loved him as a player, he brought harmony to the dressing room and ground out results. It may not have been pretty, but the fixture list was relentless and the injuries piled up. The cup draws were unkind, but no matter what happened we climbed every Everest, Napoli, Barcelona, against all the odds and of course Munich at the Allianz. We loved Robbie and Eddie and whereas a few months ago AVB had left us looking like Blackpool donkies Robbie had turned the team into Winston Churchill’s.
The results haven’t been great of late, but the crowd have never once got on Robbie’s back. If he made one mistake it was persevering with Torres for too long, but it was hardly his fault that the club failed to sign another forward, or maybe didn't try as hard to do so as they could have. He still had our full support; the 9 man performance against United showed great spirit and made us proud, and only late goals denied wins against Swansea and Liverpool. A bad spell is inevitabler for any team and we were having our usual November blip.
The team needed to be juggled against WBA and although I’ve supported Nando all the way, the fact is that he has been our poorest player by far during the bad run. We only looked threatening on Saturday once Torres was subbed and Sturridge went central on Saturday; for the first time this season defenders were being turned and finally we looks a threat upfront.Two cruel deflections cost us dearly against Juve and I was disgusted to see Robbie sacked. This registers alongside McCreadie and Neal, but the difference this time, is that whereas they were replaced by poor managers, this time we have replaced a manager that no one wanted to see sacked replaced by a poor manger that just about every Chelsea fan hates.
I love what RA has done for our club, but at the moment I’m finding it difficult to forgive him for this. Is it any coincidence that the one manager who has managed to get the best out of Torres was Benitez? I have staunchly defended Torres for two years, but I have conceded in the past month that I don’t think he will ever be the player that he once was, we have tried every conceivable system to accommodate Torres, got rid of Didier and brought in Mata, Hazard and Oscar to facilitate him, yet his confidence is still shot. He is the weak link in the team and yet we will now persevere with him and again the team will suffer. Once again is it any coincidence that Robbie’s sacking came after he dropped Torres for the first time this season?
I’ve never said this before, but as long as Benitez is manager at Chelsea I will refuse to watch them. He may only be keeping the seat warm for Guardiola but you should be careful what you wish for. Strange as it may seem to say Pep still has to prove himself, he inherited a great team that knew how to play to a certain style and is unproven outside of Spain.
You are a gentleman Robbie, you have always given your best for the club and conducted yourself with dignity and were a credit to the club, something that not all recent Chelsea managers can lay claim to.
You have been treated disgracefully and I wish you all the best for the future.
Rafa or De Matteo
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