Being at the helm of affairs in a big club is every manager’s dream, especially when the club’s history and financial track- record are solid. Sometimes the lure is the cash incentive. Some coaches do it to prove a point. Club management is a herculean task when decisions go wrong, but a paradise when you have a good run.
Rafael Benitez resumed the managerial job of a club at a brink of a Champions League exit in November 2012 amidst tension over the dismissal of his predecessor. Thus far, the Spaniard may be considering a ‘pay back’ kind of treatment at the end of the season.
After Chelsea FC won the Champions League last season, many had touted Roberto Di Matteo- who got on the job in similar circumstances as Rafa- to be the long time manager of a club that had been troubled with many managerial reshuffles over the years. But that was not to be, as the success hungry owner was quick to hand him his sack notice very early in the new football season. Such scenario opened up the door for a ‘right opportunity’ for the Spaniard who had been out of the coaching job for two years.
The tension with which Benitez met his new job must have triggered goose bumps and mixed feelings, but the prospect of savaging five trophies (as at November 2012), was worth the challenge. It took the Spaniard four fixtures to register his first victory at Chelsea- a 6- 1 Champions League drubbing of Nordsjaelland- but the victory wasn’t enough to savage a knock- out stage appearance for the London Club. Less than two weeks from winning his first match, the Blues lost the final game of the Club World Cup to Corinthians in Japan. Benitez went on to end the year on a high, most notably was the 8- 0 thrashing of Aston Villa in the English Premier League on December 23rd. Coming into the new year resumed a different run of poor form as Chelsea FC bowed out of the Capital One Cup, losing to Swansea over two legs in the semifinal.
Finishing the Premier League among the top four will be worth an achievement for the interim manager, but not without a fair challenge from Tottenham Hotspur; probably Arsenal and Everton. A semifinal clash with Swiss side, Basel could help Benitez redeem his managerial experience at Chelsea, but not without making it to the final of the Europa League. With the rumour of Jose Mourinho’s possible return to Stamford Bridge, it’s time we spear Rafa the sentiment and let him enjoy his time while it last; now that he may have been enjoying a better run of form (apart from the FA Cup semifinal loss to Manchester City.)
At Inter Milan and Chelsea, Rafael Benitez had always been criticised for failing to start the season well, this I attributed to the climate he inherited in both clubs. The Spaniard resumed the coaching job of Inter Milan the season after Jose Mourinho had guided them to a champions league trophy and took over at Chelsea at the edge of a Champions League group stage exit (the first time a defending champion will fail to qualify for the knock- out stage). For me, there is nothing compared to taking on the most difficult task but not when your career need a big boost. At times, managing a club such as Southampton may have been the big boost for Rafa’s impressive career, for the fact that you have what it takes to guide them to Europe.
Benitez is one coach with an astounding managerial record. He became the third coach to win UEFA Cup and UEFA Champions League in succession after the 2005 Champions League with Liverpool. He is tactically excellent and as committed to the cause as you could be and with a host of experience to draw upon. Among the things he should be looking forward to change is his inability to turn things around very early into a new job. He is very single- minded when he thinks he is right, a weakness that could become his strength if applied properly.