At Stamford Bridge on Sunday, the booing and protest signs aimed at new Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez were misdirected. In Rafa’s first game in charge for the Blues, the man was simply trying to do his job. The anger and abuse should have been directed at Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich instead.
The decision by Abramovich to sack Roberto Di Matteo last week was a cold and hasty decision by the Russian owner. Di Matteo had stepped in last season during Chelsea’s time of need and had completely mended all of the issues that the team had. With Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea was heading to an early Champions League exit. But with Di Matteo, he turned the team around and got them playing to their best abilities, and then surprising everyone — including Chelsea supporters — by taking the team all the way, even past Barcelona, to win the ultimate club tournament trophy, the UEFA Champions League title.
Di Matteo’s Chelsea team stumbled in November against West Bromwich Albion (losing 2-1) and against Juventus (getting knocked out of the tournament by losing 3-0 in Turin). The team performed poorly in both matches, but I wouldn’t necessarily blame Di Matteo for the defeats. In the end, Di Matteo became the fall guy.
I totally understand the anger of Chelsea fans in Sunday’s game against Manchester City. They were upset that former Chelsea player Di Matteo had gotten the sack in a calendar year when the manager had helped the club win the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup. I get that. But to aim the abuse at Benitez who, in his first game in charge is trying to rescue Chelsea’s season, is misguided and irresponsible. If Chelsea fans should be angry at anyone, that anger should be directed at Roman Abramovich.
It was Abramovich who pulled the trigger. It was Abramovich who decided to bring in Rafa Benitez. It was Abramovich who has left a trail of destruction in his wake. The list sounds like a who’s who of the best managers in the business: Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti and Andre Villas-Boas.
And now we can add Roberto Di Matteo to the list, a young and up-and-coming manager who fell victim to unreasonable expectations from his owner. Yes, it would have been lovely for Chelsea fans (and the owner) if the Blues could win the Champions League every season. But that’s the nature of sports. Sh*t happens. And in the case of Juventus versus Chelsea, deflections happen (two goals were a cause of it in Turin even though Juventus was, by far, the better team on the night).
Chelsea fans would do better if they stood up to Abramovich and raised some banners and signs that sent messages to the owner that they’re upset at his hasty decisions. That would send a stronger message than the ones we saw on Sunday that proclaimed “Rafa Out.”
While I can understand the outrage of the Chelsea fans, are the “Rafa Out” banners going to help the club or the team at all? What do Chelsea supporters really want? It’s not as if Abramovich is going to sack Benitez. Well, not at least yet. Not until the end of the season. So if Chelsea supporters want to see their team slide down the table, perhaps they should continue raising the “Rafa Out” banners? Or, instead, if they want to see better long-term decisions by the Chelsea owner, maybe they should think first and aim their fury at Abramovich instead.