Everyone with the exception of Rafael Benitez expects Chelsea to appoint a new manager in the summer of 2013. Interim manager Benitez was given an 18 month contract, but it’s believed that if Chelsea want to cut it short next summer, it should be easy enough to do so. Chelsea chairman Roman Abramovich yearns for ex-Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola and hopes he will end his sabbatical from football next summer. In short, no-one gives Benitez a chance. Chelsea fans don’t want him and the last time he was highly-rated as a manager was in 2007.
The question is though, is there any way Benitez can defy expectations and actually achieve something at Chelsea? For him to retain his job beyond next summer, it would seem that he would have to win either the Premier League or the Champions League. The Champions League seems even more of a folorn hope than last season, but as it stands – there are no sides that are running away with the EPL. Man Utd have a weak squad and Man City seem full of self-doubt. Chelsea certainly has the quality to challenge.
It is though that one of the reasons Benitez was called in because he can get something out of £50m flop Fernando Torres. Torres was a goal-machine for him at Liverpool, but no amount of coaching or tactics can fix Torres’ hamstrings, something that many think is the real issue. Certainly his priority in the January transfer window should be to equip the team with a couple of strikers – though I’m not certain he’ll be allowed to make any transfer decisions.
Benitez’s defenders will say that he won titles in Spain with Valencia – he was the last manager outside of the big two to win La Liga, and every football fan in the world remembers that famous Liverpool victory in the Champions League final vs AC Milan. He has big ambitions and can manage big names. However, it’s interesting to note that Benitez’s form has been closely linked to the presence of his former friend and assistant Pako Ayestaran. Benitez was going nowhere in management until he and Ayestaran arrived together at Extremadura. They succeeded together there, at Valencia and Liverpool. When they fell out and Ayestaran left, Liverpool finished 7th the following season – leading to Benitez’s dismissal. In his next job, he lasted less than 6 months at Inter Milan. They haven’t made up, and Ayestaran isnt joining him at Stamford Bridge.
The thing Rafa has in his favour is that no-one expects anything from him. Probably the best thing he can hope for is to be seen to do a competent job, and maybe he’ll get a gig at a middling Spanish (Bilbao?) or English (Sunderland?) side. You would feel more sorry for him if didn’t know exactly what he’s let himself in for. He should do – he’s had long enough to think about it.
Mark Cruise is a soccer writer for Rantsports.com – you can follow him on Twitter: @chiefhairyman