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Ian Herbert: Rafa Benitez is not flawed because he grew tired of being abused
IAN HERBERT THURSDAY 28 FEBRUARY 2013
It´s going to get worse before it gets better and Rafael Benitez is aware of that fact. Chelsea are to allow all manner of banners into Stamford Bridge on Saturday. It is an invitation to open season on the manager and he knows it.
What an utterly wretched place he is in. The abuse has been so bad that opposition supporters have even used it as a stick to beat Chelsea. The Reading fans´ chant of a few months ago – "Rafa Benitez, he thinks you´re all scum" – was not lost on the manager. There will be plenty who take gratuitous pleasure in the way Benitez lost control on Wednesday night, just as they did when Arsène Wenger exploded, and attach it to the Spaniard´s legendary "facts" speech – which has always been mistakenly characterised as a "rant" – as evidence of a character flaw.
But are we so accustomed to football descending into a pantomime and Punch and Judy show that we have lost sight of the effects of denying someone the most basic level of civility? Is an individual flawed when the abuse which he has attempted to grin and bear has gradually worn him down?
It is certainly the supporters who drove him to speak out at the Riverside, even though the most significant aspect of his declaration related to his title as "interim" manager – which "someone made a mistake" by bestowing on him, he said. Make no mistake: Benitez has never been happy with that title. He does not feel it formed part of his initial conversations about the Chelsea job, with technical director, Michael Emenalo, and others. Yet it was there in black and white when he arrived to sign the contract. There were attempts to make it seem acceptable to him – "we just want to get you started," he was told – leaving him with a decision to make, there and then, about whether to accept the title or walk away. Benitez, who wanted this opportunity, decided he would live with it and signed.
Little did he imagine when doing so just how many ways to discredit him there would be. The first materialised barely a day into his tenure, when a 2007 quote ascribed to him was raked up. "Chelsea is a big club with fantastic players. Every manager wants to coach a big team. But I would never take that job, in respect for my former team at Liverpool. No matter what," he was quoted as saying. Benitez was Liverpool manager in 2007, so how could he have called them his "former club" back then?
The quote, it turned out, was fabricated – disseminated by a 15-year-old tweeter from the Czech Republic who was a fan of Benitez, felt betrayed by his appointment at Chelsea and decided to cause him some trouble. The boy´s Twitter avatar photo was a cartoon of his hero Benitez. But the lie was half way around the world before the truth could pull its trousers on. The "quote" was widely published and became a part of the "Benitez hates Chelsea" myth.
There were limitations, too. Fernando Torres, diminished by a lack of weight training, had a different mindset. He was overcomplicating things; thinking too much about movements into goalscoring positions which had once been second nature. He was too quick to blame others.
That much could be dealt with – a word here, a conversation there – but the abuse has been less easy.
There then followed a team meeting on Monday during which John Terry took on the role of challenger to the manager, familiar to him from England´s 2010 World Cup campaign. Benitez felt it has been wrongly construed as an insurrection.
This unpleasantness is finite. Benitez´s aim is to complete his last three months, get out with his pride and reputation intact and perhaps deliver a couple of trophies to have the last word.
Of course, humanity´s capacity to destroy is infinite. Chelsea´s fans can drive him out before the summer, if they really can´t wait. Banner day beckons. We await to discover football´s depths of inhumanity.
How Benitez was misquoted
"Chelsea is a big club with fantastic players. Every manager wants to coach a big team. But I could never take that job, in respect for my former team at Liverpool." This quote has been used to beat Benitez since he arrived at Stamford Bridge but he never actually said it. It came from a 15-year-old Tweeter from the Czech Republic who had a Benitez photo on his account and became part of the myth.