No titles yet for Rafa Benitez, but at least he made it out of the huge minefield that was trying to keep Chelsea in the top 4 club and qualify into the Champions League. His rough start meant there will be no Premier League title, but despite the lack of ownership support (as always at Stamford Bridge) and quite a lot of fans making their displeasure with him filling the position being heard, the “Spanish waiter” did quite a good job in keeping the ship on the right course, with a chance to add a European trophy to the cabinet.
It’s never wise to degrade the competition you’re playing in. Manchester United did it last year, and didn’t add too many points in terms of respect for Alex Ferguson and his club, acting like they’re too good for the secondary competition in Europe. Chelsea have had their problems this season – a short squad and a lack of depth at certain positions, before we even discuss the managerial changes and turmoil among the fans, but they went for everything. Benitez had his little rotations to tinker with, like he loves to do so much, and despite playing more than 60 matches already, it seems his team is near its best at exactly the right time.
For us to go to the final having qualified for the Champions League means we can give the best now. A lot of fans appreciate that. I receive a lot of messages from people in the street saying ‘good job!’ A lot of fans appreciate it but you can’t convince everyone. You can see how the players work and what we’re trying to do. I am really proud because it was not a perfect environment.
Chelsea looked like title contenders early on. Not just because of certain additions, especially Eden Hazard, but they also won their first 8 matches of the season. But Roberto Di Matteo didn’t use his squad the right way, and the landslide that was underway made it impossible for him to avoid. He got the axe, just like everyone does at Chelsea at some point or another, making way for Benitez, welcomed harshly by too many fans just for his Liverpool connection and not being Jose Mourinho (and don’t believe anything else they’ll say).
There weren’t too many memorable moments along the way, or inspiring football except for certain moments delivered by his creative trio. But Benitez did turn David Luiz into a much better and influential player, making the most of his passing and shooting skills, turning him into a defensive midfielder on more than one occasion. He gave Victor Moses substantial playing time which worked until he left for the African Championship. He did have slip ups along the way, but Chelsea won their big matches, including against Arsenal and twice against Manchester United to make sure the man who takes the job from him isn’t facing an uncomfortable situation.
I remember some managers; with that hostility in the stands, they couldn’t carry on. But we have had semi-finals, another final and qualified for the Champions League. It’s an achievement.
Now it’s about working for the next contract, hopefully in England. Rafa Benitez deserves a big team to take him, but there’s something about his reputation that makes him seem a bit sub par to some. Hard to understand why. A Champions League trophy with Liverpool and a second place finish, tied for the club’s best since the inaugural Premier League season. Two league titles with Valencia and a UEFA Cup. Forget about the Inter stint, which seemed like a trap right from the start.
Benitez is smarter now, a little less arrogant. He wants to stay in the Premier League, but only with a club that will give him the funds to either compete right away or do some sort of building project. He deserves more shots, because he’s a very good manager. Now it’s only left to see who picks up the phone and calls him.