Friday, April 5, 2013

Benitez, Chelsea and the successful season

Now he's officially departing Cobham in a few weeks, we can begin to evaluate more fully Rafael Benitez's star-cross'd reign at Chelsea.

At present, the Blues are locked in a tight battle for a Champions League position, while also active on two further fronts: the Europa League and, after Monday's victory against Old Rivals United, the FA Cup.

More correctly, we ask what would constitute a a successful season for Benitez in a personal sense.  With free agency looming, Occam's Razor suggests he will only leave the club satisfied should he add trophies to his resume.  The Premiership is gone, perhaps even before he arrived, meaning a successful season for Rafael Benitez depends upon twinned FA Cup/Europa League wins.

Rafael Benitez is firmly cognizant that he has to leave Chelsea with something (or things) to show for an eventful six months.

Even were he to available to boss the Blues next season, he would have to hang his hat on Cups competition, because he has led the Blues to rather haphazard league form: predecessor Roberto Di Matteo averaged 2.0 points per contest this term while Rafa's Blues have managed only 1.72.

However, he has propelled them relatively easily into the latter stages of both remaining Cups competitions - to the extent that there are suggestions that he is deliberately focusing not on an administratively-desired Top Four position, but on collecting as much silverware as possible.

Upcoming/potential opponents in each of these winnable competitions might present some problems - but these could hardly be described as insoluble.

Should Chelsea qualify for the Big Dance next year - no matter if it's in third position or fourth - Benitez can proudly and justifiably say to any future employers that he signed off on three deliverables for his Russian plutocrat.  However, he must be well aware that multiple Europa League titles and FA Cup wins read better to potential employers than their solitary equivalents won half a decade ago or more.

Famously, Benitez was deprived of any real power by the word "interim" that hovered nebulously and forebodingly over his job title, and is now mobilising his endgame strategy using the only real power he retains - that of directing his charges.

If - and, at this stage we can only say if - Benitez is disregarding his current employer to make himself more desirable to future payors, then this is a passive-aggressive game of chicken for the ages.  Should it pay dividends, he automatically puts himself in the frame for some of the plum jobs in Europe; if not, he sleeps with management fishes.

While the Blues hold onto the all-important UCL qualifying position and remain in contention for two further trophies, Benitez's short reign must be seen as a tacit success.  However, should they drop the ball in all three competitions - an unlikely but possible "accomplishment" - then Rafael Benitez will become more toxic than he was before arriving in West London.

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