Benitez just latest caretaker of Chelsea's 'impossible dream'
Abramovich has turned Chelsea into a 'random' club - why would Pep Guardiola even consider joining?
THE APPOINTMENT of Rafa Benitez as interim Chelsea manager until the end of the season has sparked a feeding frenzy among sports writers anxious to have their say on the latest blood-letting at Stamford Bridge and the ruthless reign of Blues owner Roman Abramovich.
Benitez, a former Liverpool boss, was unveiled on Wednesday night, hours after his predecessor, Roberto Di Matteo, who led Chelsea to the Champions League title last season, was sacked.
However, it is generally accepted that Abramovich really wants former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola to take over, and that Benitez, like Di Matteo before him, is a short-term alternative, until Guardiola becomes available next summer after his season-long sabbatical.
Chelsea's managerial politics are now so complex that "as the story becomes more and more absurd, the voice of Little Britain's Vicky Pollard takes over in your head," muses Oliver Kay of The Times. "Chelsea, the champions of Europe, are running their affairs with all the dignity of Katie Price."
The statistics tell their own story. "Only one of Chelsea's last five managers has ended a season that he started," marvels Richard Williams in The Guardian. "That is a truly astonishing fact, and it is one that would serve to condemn Abramovich as a destructive dilettante and a footballing ignoramus had his stewardship of the club not brought so much success."
So what are we to make of Benitez?
"It appears an odd and uncomfortable liaison because Chelsea's fans have no time for Benítez," says Ian Chadband in The Daily Telegraph. Not only do the supporters hate him because of the old rivalry with Liverpool, but he also peddles a style of football the Russian apparently has no time for.
"It seems odd that he should plump for a coach whose teams can be just as pragmatic as Jose Mourinho's and rather less flamboyant than not just Luiz Felipe Scolari's but even Carlo Ancelotti's," he adds, referring to three coaches Abramovich dispensed with. "Rafa is only another caretaker of an impossible dream."
But Benitez could have one significant trick up his sleeve. At Liverpool he made Fernando Torres the most feared striker in England. "Make no mistake, Fernando Torres, El Niño, stands front and centre of this drama," says Rory Smith in The Times. "This is his last chance of redemption, the final attempt from Abramovich to give the object of his greatest affection precisely what he wants."
Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail agrees. "Torres has now seen off three bosses and one cannot help but think that the emergence of Benitez as Abramovich’s latest fancy is a final attempt to justify his investment, and his judgment."
However, he says, it is almost impossible to understand what is going on at the club. "Chelsea are a random club and for that reason random things happen. Abramovich's actions defy convention and therefore conventional analysis."
None of this bodes well for Abramovich's chances of tempting the manager he really wants. "Far from drawing Pep Guardiola closer to Stamford Bridge, Roberto Di Matteo's sacking may have pushed him further away," believes The Guardian's Spanish football expert, Sid Lowe.
"Why would Guardiola go anywhere near Stamford Bridge?" asks Kay of the Times. The Blues may be European champions "but they are a basket-case, run on the whims, impulses and fantasies of their billionaire owner. Guardiola craves a 'project' based on football intellect, football philosophy and long-term strategy. Good luck finding those at Chelsea."