Soccer

Butler: Eight crazy nights for Chelsea manager Benitez

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Noel Butler
4/5/2013 11:59:00 AM
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Been quite the seven days for the House of Roman. It kicked off with the well-deserved defeat last Saturday at the hands of a relegation-threatened Southampton. 

At a time, the club needed to be at full strength as ways to consolidate their position nestled amongst the Champions League contenders and Rafa the Rotator had other ideas as he rung the changes.

The Spaniard left a number of key Starting XI contributors out of his team as ways to ensure they were fresh for Chelsea's Easter Monday FA Cup tilt against the BPL Champions elect.

In doing so, he exposed himself to the wrath of the fans, the board and the owner as his preferred St. Mary's Starting XI did anything but achieve the desired outcome.

Rafa though could care less of how that disparate bunch felt.

We had precedent.

Following the FA Cup victory at Middlesbrough back in late February, he delivered his now famous eulogy admonishing everyone from the substantial number of season ticket holders who continue to mock his appointment, the board for providing the interim tag he even dared to have a pop at Roman himself.

Without taking a breath, he also publically admitted for the first time in a BBC Radio interview he would be on his bike to pastures new at season's end.

Never the type to miss an opportunity to get his excuses in early, Rafa finished how he started by tearing a significant strip off the fans who have mocked his appointment throughout his tenure - laying the blame for possible failure in the Champions League qualification stakes firmly at their door. 

It wouldn't be Rafa's fault - the person charged to inspire greater performance from his players that would solely be the responsibility of the highly vocal unsupportive types.

On the team bus back to Chelsea's rather palatial training HQ in the leafy stockbroker belt confines of Cobham following the Southampton defeat Rafa was formulating his final plans for the encounter with Manchester United less than 48 hours later.

It was a rather subdued Stamford Bridge this past Monday morning as club supporters began gathering amongst gathering storm clouds and the most blustery of conditions ahead of the unearthly lunch time encounter with Manchester United.

Rafa's team was almost unrecognizable to the one that took to the St. Mary's pitch. Dare we say it resembled a most legitimate Starting XI.

Although the temperature of the FA Cup Quarter-final never surpassed the unseasonably cold Easter weather, the smile on Rafa's face at the final whistle could have even have lit up Kim Jong-Un's mood.


Chelsea was in yet another FA Cup semifinal. Rafa continues along his very well-trod path of not ever meeting a knock out cup competition that he didn't adore.

In his pre-match press conference ahead of last night's Europa League quarter-final first leg, he was in very jovial mood.

Even Ryan Bertrand admitted the mood around Stamford Bridge had elevated of late as he paid his manager likely the greatest of public compliments since the ex-Liverpool and Inter Milan guvnor took charge late last fall.

Rafa stole the show when he took to task ex-assistant Ray Wilkins, who had questioned the manager's rotation policy on television directly following Monday's victory over Manchester United, when he suggested Bertrand could also have played in the Southampton defeat.

Rather sanguinely noting Easter Monday's date, with a significant sports medicine degree in hand Benitez told the gathered media throng he could explain Wilkins' position.

It was an April Fool's Day joke.

The very same day, Benitez had wiped the considerable smile off of Sir Alex Ferguson's face. On Wednesday afternoon, he sent club legend Ray Wilkins to the naughty boy's step.

Rafa had come over all Jose Mourinho-like, perhaps in gathering anticipation of Roman's prodigal son returning in the summer.

The Mourinho theme continued Thursday night at the Europa League quarter-final first leg, as supporters continually sung his name as strewn across the Stamford Bridge stands were a number of Mourinho face masks.

The mood prior to kick-off was significantly elevated from Monday's pre-match scenes.

With the likes of Lampard, Terry and Torres re-inserted into the starting XI, one only had to look at the grin on the face of Bertrand during the traditional pre-match scenes as he couldn't help himself giggling uncontrollably at the sight of teammate Torres' in full Machiavellian like face mask.

El Nino with the well-taken brace had the last laugh though. Job done, Rafa stuffed his well-thumbed notes into his jacket pocket exited the pitch destined for the post match press conference.

As the supporters spilled out into the Stamford Bridge surrounds many making their way for a celebratory pint at one of the abundance of watering holes that litter this particular part of south west London none of the traditional "Rafa Out" chants rang out for word football's best known rotator.

Wonder how many Rafa masks will be in attendance when they gather again for what will be Chelsea's fourth match in a mere eight days.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:
Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

This Saturday with coverage kicking off at 9:30am et/6:30am pt - Chelsea v Sunderland live from Stamford Bridge on the TSN and TEAM Radio Networks.

Plus Manchester City v Fulham Live on TSN - 10am et/7am pt.

Rafael Benitez (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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