Nov 21, 2012, 4:00 PM EDT
Hours after they parted ways with the man who won them their first European title, Chelsea’s moved on to a man whose reputation hinges on his UEFA Champions League success.
With the appointment of former Liverpool manager Rafa Benítez today, Chelsea’s replaced Roberto Di Matteo, if only in the short-term. Given the job of seeing out the 2012-13 season, Benítez appears to be doing little more than keeping a seat warm for Roman Abramovich’s true ambition – Pep Guardiola.
Here’s the club’s statement:
Chelsea Football Club can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim first-team manager until the end of the season.
The owner and the Board believe that in Benitez we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives.
The 52-year-old Spaniard is due to meet the players at the training ground in Cobham tomorrow
Those objectives are unlikely to include UEFA Champions League, where Chelsea’s fate now depends on Juventus losing in Donetsk on matchday six. Of course, that could happen, and if it does (while Chelsea beats Nordsjaelland), the Blues will have a man whose reputation has come to rest on his Champions League accumen. If not, there’s always the league, two domestic cups, and Europa League.
It’s a good appointment for everybody except Di Matteo, who likely would be in a job today had Benítez been either unavailable or unwilling to subjugate himself to a temporary position.
Such has been Benítez’s fall. After guiding Liverpool to second in the Premier League in 2008-09, he allowed Liverpool to slip to seventh place, the failure to make Champions League beginning a slide from which the club’s still recovering. Benítez’s subsequent inability to replace José Mourinho at Inter Milan meant the former Valencia boss’s best route to a marquee job was a situation like Chelsea’s.
Let’s also not forget the nature Benítez’s failings in Milan, because they’re particularly relevant to his potential success at Chelsea. We should take managerial hubris and put it aside, because Benítez has likely been dissuaded of notions that had him shrug off his part in Liverpool’s downfall. The state he left Internazionale in was bad enough.
There he inherited an old team coming off a Mourinho-led European title and not only changed how they played but ran his veterans into the ground. There’s more than one similarity to be drawn between that Inter side and Benítez’s new charge. By the time the Nerazzurri took off for 2011’s Club World Cup, they were depleted, mutinous, and out of chances for their ill-fitting coach.
While Benítez is not directly replacing Mourinho in London, he will again be faced with expectations raised by the Special One. Even after Di Matteo delivered the one prize José couldn’t claim, standards at Stamford Bridge reflect the demands of a man five years gone. If Benítez is going to retain his job, he has to claim the league, FA Cup, or Europa League. And as Di Matteo’s travails show, even that might not be enough.
Because if Benítez is to win silverware during his Stamford Bridge residency, it will likely be through the same pragmatism that characterized his most successful times at Anfield. It’s not ugly, it’s not anti-football, but it’s also not Barcelona. And for whatever misguided reasons Roman Abramovich is using to fuel his decisions, Chelsea’s owner won’t be happy until his team is playing the brand of soccer he’s wanted since the day he bought the club.
The lack of style undid Mourinho. It undid Di Matteo. And it will likely undo Benítez, regardless of results.
The one thing that could keep Benítez in London past May 2013 is if Guardiola goes elsewhere, because for everything we’ve heard about Abramovich’s lust of Pep, we’ve heard little of reciprocation from the former Barça boss. We know he prefers England. We know he prefers London. We also know that he’s unlikely to make any decisions until early-2013, if not later.
All of which makes the treatment of Di Matteo more curious. Replacing a club icon with a former rival is precarious enough (though Chelsea fans will likely recognize Benítez’s qualities). To do so when it’s unclear if lack of a striker or thin central midfield are the real problems hints Di Matteo was never going to be embraced by Abramovich. It didn’t matter that Di Matteo’s Champions League troubles came in a group with two of the top eight teams in Europe. That he lost provided Arbamovich an out from a man he never truly wanted, even if it made more sense to keep him until the Guardiola question was resolved.
With no answers in sight, Chelsea fans are best served concentrating on the present. They aren’t the best team in England, but they’re capable of competing for the title. Perhaps Benítez will bring something new out of them. Cup competitions have taken on a special meaning for the Blues. They’re still alive in both. And even if Europe only offers Europa League, the team has enough young, exciting talents to make that congestion-inducing tournament worth a Chelsea-supporters’ time. There’s still plenty of light in this 2012-13 tunnel.
Roberto Di Matteo won’t be driving them through it, but it’s time to move on. All aboard the Rafamobile.
Oct 31, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
The Ivorian striker has been sidelined for more than 12 months with a knee injury.
Oct 31, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
The German international has only made three appearances off the bench for Real Madrid as rumors of a move to the Premier League continue to swirl.
Oct 31, 2014, 8:35 PM EDT
Some good news and some bad news for Gunners fans as Jack Wilshere has injured his knee while Olivier Giroud is “miles ahead of schedule” after ankle surgery.
Oct 31, 2014, 7:40 PM EDT
The Manchester United legend has called out the crosstown rivals, saying City has a “touch of arrogance.”
Oct 31, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
The young striker has seven goals in eleven appearances for Spurs, but is yet to earn a Premier League start this season.
Oct 31, 2014, 5:50 PM EDT
No, this is not a Halloween joke.
Oct 31, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Aston Villa have lost five straight matches and haven’t scored a goal since September 13th.
Oct 31, 2014, 4:05 PM EDT
Watch the Blues host the R’s Saturday at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN or online via Live Extra.
Oct 31, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
Take a look at the rest of the fixtures ahead for Yanks in Europe by heading inside.
Oct 31, 2014, 2:27 PM EDT
New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, New England Revolution, FC Dallas, L.A. Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake or DC United: Who’s been better?
Oct 31, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
“This is the biggest derby that I shall manage,” the Manchester United boss told reporters on Friday.
Oct 31, 2014, 12:59 PM EDT
Onyewu has played at QPR, Malaga, Sporting CP, Twente, AC Milan, Newcastle, Standard Liege, La Louviere and Metz since he left Clemson.
Oct 31, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Where and how to watch every game during Week 10 of the PL.
Oct 31, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
City and United tangle at 8am ET on NBCSN this Sunday, and the absence of Silva will be a bonus for Louis van Gaal’s Red Devils.
Diego Costa will be available to Chelsea this weekend, says Jose Mourinho; QPR and Blues to tangle on NBCSN
Oct 31, 2014, 11:26 AM EDT
Chelsea and QPR kick-off at 11am ET on NBCSN this Saturday.
Oct 31, 2014, 11:10 AM EDT
Here’s how PST’s editor and lead writer sees things panning out this weekend.
Oct 31, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
We are a quarter of the way through the season. Scary, right? Anyway, here’s our latest rankings of power.
Oct 31, 2014, 10:21 AM EDT
“Some weren’t in the European finals, some weren’t even domestic champions,” said Jesus. Others were, and weren’t nominated. We’ll give out some props.
Oct 31, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
Suddenly-hot Newcastle United put their three-match win streak on the line when they host Liverpool on Saturday morning.
Oct 31, 2014, 8:40 AM EDT
Bradley Wright-Phillips netted twice in the final 13 minutes and Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes was left to explain the loss.
- Paul Scholes says arrogance could hurt Manchester City 0
- MLS playoffs weekend preview: Which remaining team has the best form? 0
- Van Gaal: Manchester Derby is “biggest” he’ll manage; Rooney in, Falcao out 1
- WATCH: Premier League TV schedule – Week 10 4
- Diego Costa will be available to Chelsea this weekend, says Jose Mourinho; QPR and Blues to tangle on NBCSN 0
- Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton the standouts 1