Feb 27, 2013, 7:05 PM EDT
This type of rant has come to define Rafa Benítez. The last time we heard one, his Inter Milan side had just beaten Conglese club TP Mazembe in the Club World Cup. It was an occasion when he chose not to celebrate players’ achievements but to deride detractors who had criticized his management of the club. Less than a week later, Benítez was done, Leonardo was brought in, and Inter — the reigning league, cup, and European champions — salvaged a Champions League spot in Italy.
These missives became common in Benítez’s final day at Liverpool. Whether he was hitting out at Manchester United, Chelsea, Alex Ferguson or Liverpool’s owners, Benítez used his limited successes as reason to roll out his resumé and justify his greatness. Now that resumé, a distinguished one that includes a Champions League title, is in danger of becoming an afterthought in the story of a man whose career was undone by a lack of humility.
Today, Chelsea won at Middlesbrough 2-0 in the FA Cup. Boro is a second-tier club in England. The win was more obligatory than triumphant, but in an act of farce, Benítez used the opportunity to make a statement to Chelsea fans. Those banners you make? The dissent you offer? The frustration you have that your club replaced an icon (Roberto Di Matteo) with me, somebody who faded at Liverpool before failing at Inter? All of that is completely unjustifiable, in his eyes.
Welcome to sports, Mr. Benítez. Fans voice their displeasure, especially when the team you inherited is struggling to maintain its Champions League position after showing sights of title contention at the beginning of the season. The team was too flawed to maintain that pursuit, but since being brought in November, it’s unclear Benítez has done anything to improve the team. Having been pulled into a fight for their top four lives, all indications hint they’re worse.
I can only assume Benítez doesn’t realize this; else, he wouldn’t have given this speech. Until Benítez accomplishes something at Stamford Bridge, he has no basis for saying fan criticism is unjustified. And based on the “stupid plastic flags” jab he lobbed at Chelsea fans while managing Liverpool, he can’t expect the benefit of the doubt. If he does, he’s delusional.
But Benítez’s is a strange, self-defined world where none of his failures impact his image. To him, he’s the guy that won titles in Spain. He’s the man who won Champions League at Liverpool. Every opportunity he gets, he reminds us of his greatness, just as he did today. Chelsea fans should have welcomed him as a savior instead of a man of last resort.
In his mind, he’s not the guy that lost Liverpool’s top four spot, something from which the Reds have yet to recover. He’s not the man who ran José Mourinho’s Inter Milan squad into the ground. And he’s not the man who has failed to make any progress with one of the richest squads in the world.
This is a team that still has Petr Cech. They have Ashley Cole and David Luiz. There are players like Juan Mata and Eden Hazard in attack, as well as the slew of complementary pieces you’d expected when you’re coaching one of the most affluent clubs in the world. Do all the pieces fit? Perhaps not, but when you’re a man of Benítez’s self-appointed status, surely you can whip up something. No man worth the resumé he keeps repeating would let this club drift this far off course.
As much as any fans have a right to complain, Chelsea’s do. And as much as any manager in the world should have refrained from using a 2-0 victory over a lower-level side as a platform for outrage, Benítez should have.
Today’s rant is the strangest moment in the now absurd career of Rafa Benítez. Roman Abramovich should reconsider whether he wants this to be the face of his club, even if it’s only for three more months.
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