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Chelsea's move for Rafa Benitez angers fans

Thursday, 22 November 2012 - 2:10pm IST | Place: London | Agency: dna

Even though there are those who portray him as overrated, there really ought to be no question that his remains one of the best tactical brains in European football.

The first question that gnaws away at you about Chelsea's impending marriage with Rafa Benitez is: 'Why would Roman Abramovich feel the need to get rid of a man whose Champions League win was a glorious fluke with a man whose Champions League win was a glorious fluke?'

This may be a mischievous interpretation of Benitez's skills because, even though there are those who portray him as overrated, there really ought to be no question that his remains one of the best tactical brains in European football.

Obsessive, cerebral and -occasionally downright brilliant, his successes at Valencia, where he broke the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga and guided them to Uefa Cup glory, and then Liverpool, where the Champions League miracle of Istanbul and a second appearance in the final, earned him endless love from Anfield, effectively brook no argument.

Indeed, you can pile together all the evidence against him, including his final unravelling years at Liverpool where he became as consumed with all the swirling politics as with the football, the later transfer calamities and the subsequent short, calamitous spell at Inter Milan, and he still comes out deep in credit.

Yet considering that Abramovich is eternally craving, and never seemingly able to find, a manager who will create not just a team capable of winning the European Cup, but one capable of winning it while playing football from the gods, it seems odd that he should plump for a coach whose teams can be just as pragmatic as Jose Mourinho's and rather less flamboyant than not just Luiz Felipe Scolari's but even Carlo Ancelotti's.

More than that, the Chelsea owner is trusting in someone who, in his Liverpool days, enjoyed being Stamford Bridge's bogeyman, who took on Mourinho at his own game and out-Mourinhoed him. Benitez will bring organisation, discipline and a defensive rigour which increasingly eluded Roberto Di Matteo but fantasy football? Doubtful, Roman.

Benitez may worship at the altar of Arrigo Sacchi, the architect of the great AC Milan side of the late 80s, but, of all the teams he has managed, only his Valencia side on occasion could be said to have hit the aesthetic peaks which the Russian really covets. Mostly, it appears an odd and uncomfortable liaison because Chelsea's fans have no time for Benitez.

Twitter was busy on Wednesday with fans angry at the prospect of the Spaniard's arrival. One of the reasons, doubtless, was the way Benitez once taunted those same fans. Even now at Liverpool's Melwood training ground where quotes from the Reds' managers line the walls, one from Benitez catches the eye. "Our fans don't need plastic flags," it reads, a barbed reference to the items laid out on the Stamford Bridge seats before that first semi-final.

These fans will also remember how - under the greatest provocation from Mourinho - Benitez would always be suggesting it was only Abramovich's roubles which were responsible for Chelsea's pre-eminence, as if Mourinho had nothing to do with it.

Indeed, no one could get under Mourinho's skin like Benitez. Now it is the other way round. Only last week, Marco Materazzi recalled: "At Inter, Benitez made me remove pictures of the most important moments of my career with Mourinho and [Marcello] Lippi from my locker. He thought he knew everything, but he was afraid of his own shadow."

If he obsessed about Mourinho there, how will he feel at the place where the Special One is still revered? The man who won a European Cup with Djimi Traore and Igor Biscan will have to work another miracle, like turning lost cause Fernando Torres into a world-beating striker.

The point is that Benitez does need to re-establish his reputation again. Perhaps Benitez cannot lose here, though. Experience suggests a man with a considerable ego-like Mourinho, he knows how good he is but prefers not to make the same song and dance about it — impresses at the start of his reign but ends up being sidetracked by fighting with the hierarchy. A short, impressive stint under a man you cannot fight with could work wonders.

For, sooner or later - probably sooner - Benitez will doubtless
discover that he can never satisfy his master. Because nobody ever will. Following the temporary guardian who happened upon a cup with big ears, Rafa is only another caretaker of an impossible dream.

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