Rafa Benitez: The Puppet In The Abramovich Pantomime.

  on January 03 2013 6:54 PM
Rafa Benitez: The Puppet In The Abramovich Pantomime.

Maybe the Chelsea fans were never going to take to Rafa Benitez regardless of what sort of start he achieved. His derogatory remarks about the club when he was Liverpool manager were not soon forgotten, voicing on more than one occasion his dislike for the club. Monumental battles with Chelsea and Liverpool, both in the league and Champions League, where Benitez led his team to two finals at Chelsea's expense, lingered long in the memory as Chelsea searched for that elusive Champions League trophy that Abramovich craved.

How ironic then, that after Chelsea's long awaited Champions League trophy, it's Benitez with the task of progressing the team after a shambolic turn of events. It was no secret Abramovich wanted a bigger, more experienced name at the helm on a permanent basis than Roberto Di Matteo.

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However, Di Matteo providing Chelsea with the most unlikely Champions League victory in modern memory, added with the respect that he generated from the players at the club, left him with no alternative than to offer him the job on a permanent basis. Things started very brightly, with the additions of Eden Hazard, Oscar and the form of Fernando Torres, Chelsea had the whole league fearing their firepower as they sat atop the Premier League.

There was always a sense though that they were only a couple of bad results from unravelling and this proved to be the case. Chelsea were all but out of the Champions League and after two straight defeats in the Premier League Di Matteo was dismissed.

Abramovich suffered a backlash from fans for such a ruthless act but his tolerance for under-achieving managers has always been low regardless of past accomplishments. Scolari and Mourinho are the two prime examples of this. His number one target, Pep Guardiola, was unwilling to come out of his sabbatical to take over at Stamford Bridge. Abramovich is still hopeful of securing Guardiola at the end of the season, with the promise of a substantial transfer funds and full control of team operations guaranteed.

That still remains to be seen, the owners choice of interim manager did not go down well whatsoever. From the moment Benitez has taken over he has been met with protests. Fans with banners demanding his removal, terrace chants stating their love for the previous manager. It was important Rafa got off to a good start. Two consecutive 0-0 stalemates did nothing to dampen the fans opinions of him. Things have been better in recent weeks that is evident, but last nights 1-0 defeat at home to lowly QPR, who had yet to win away all season and haven't won away at Chelsea for over 30 years, has the fans baying for blood once more.

One positive of the Benitez reign has been the form of Fernando Torres. Most people within the game think Benitez was given this opportunity due to his ability to get the best out of Torres. He is not the same player he was at Liverpool. He doesn't possess the same pace and power and sometimes looks devoid of confidence when things aren't going well. Abramovich invested heavily in Torres, a £50 million transfer fee and a reported £250,000 per week in wages. Abramovich has been reluctant to give up on Torres and during Benitez's reign as Chelsea boss there has been a marked improvement, having scored 14 goals this season.

Will this be enough? His rotation policy has come to frustrate the Chelsea fans. His benching of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard in the QPR defeat had most baffled. They are, without question, the two most creative players Chelsea possess and to rest both when they are hanging on by a very thin thread to Manchester United in the title race was a strange one. Some say he took QPR for granted in resting both, feeling victory was all but assured. We don't know how the players feel after a long and gruelling Christmas period which sees them play four games in ten days. They may have been feeling fatigued but that's no excuse to give Chelsea fans who feel their players earn extortionate amounts for what they do and complaining of fatigue is somewhat insulting to their supporters who live lives much harder than the Footballers they support week in, week out. So what next for Benitez and Chelsea?

They are clearly a club in transition, the 'Old Guard' look set to be on their way out. Frank Lampard has stated in the media that this could be his last season at Chelsea. Lampard has been in spectacular form for them in recent weeks, no more so than at Everton on Sunday, where he capped off a superb display with two vital goals in a 2-1 win at a notoriously tough place to get anything. Getting rid of Lampard would be a mistake, every side needs experience and whilst Lampard will tell you himself he's not the box-to-box midfielder he was, he has altered his game to become an important part of this Chelsea team. Manchester United have demonstrated how important it is to have experience to guide the younger players, with Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs still hugely influencial figures within the club into their late thirties. Abramovich isn't inclined to go in this direction.

There is even talk of Ashley Cole departing when his contract expires at the end of the season. Cole is still widely regarded as one of the best left-backs in World football and if he were to leave then the transition period would be confirmed. That would only leave Captain and Club Icon John Terry and Petr Cech remaining from the glory days of Jose Mourinho. There has even been speculation that Terry will not be offered a new deal because of his unwillingness to accept old coach Andre Villas-Boas' new regime and coaching techniques.

This would be outrageous and would cause uproar amongst the fans. The imminent arrival of Demba Ba will help their attacking options. They have activated his £7 million release clause and has had a strenuous medical today. He is a proven Premiership scorer and is excellent value at the price. It will also prove advantageous to Torres, who hasn't had any competition and will provide Chelsea with another alternative should Torres' form dip again. Selling Daniel Sturridge for £12 million to Liverpool was also a good bit of business. Sturridge came as a youngster from Manchester City with bags of potential and has yet to live up to that and have become tired with his arrogance and petulant attitude and sold him for a very good price. So the times are changing at Chelsea.

How much input Benitez is having is unclear. One thing is evident though, if things don't go well it won't be Abramovich that gets the fans' frustration... It will be the man they never wanted in the first place. Dean Jones - Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_