Benitez is wrong to question Chelsea fans’ support of the team

It was hardly surprising that Rafael Benitez eventually exploded with frustration.

He has not been particularly successful on the field – recording a lower win percentage than many of his predecessors and playing largely uninspiring football – and has been massively unpopular with Chelsea fans.

But the timing of the explosion which saw him finally berate everyone and everything he blames for the events of the past three months was strange.

To accuse fans of not supporting the team after 2,000 of them had travelled to Middlesbrough on a cold February night was wrong.

Di Matteo's exit angered many fans.
Di Matteo’s exit angered many fans.

Benitez is unpopular and has been since before he was even appointed, but supporters have remained behind the team and individual players, such as Frank Lampard as he edges closer to Bobby Tambling’s goalscoring record.

Fans have enjoyed the wonderful form of Juan Mata, were happy when Demba Ba was signed, pleased at how good Cesar Azpilicueta seems to be and, more recently, encouraged by Nathan Ake’s full debut.

The fans have been supporting the team. They just don’t like Benitez.

When he was Liverpool manager he accused Chelsea fans of lacking passion. Now they have shown passion, he criticises them for that.

Those who have followed Benitez closely throughout his managerial career point to how meticulous he is, spending long hours at the training ground and having an in-depth knowledge of football.

In that case, he must have known how unpopular he would be at Chelsea.

Former Chelsea captain Andy Townsend has summed the situation up perfectly by pointing out that Benitez “knew what he was letting himself in for” when he came in as Roberto Di Matteo’s replacement.

In truth, Benitez has shown dignity during his time in charge to take three months, or 27 games, before reacting to the opposition he faced.

But one of the things some fans dislike about him is his apparent air of pomposity – and perhaps it was inevitable the outburst would come at some point.

The fact he railed against all and sundry, suggesting if Chelsea don’t qualify for the Champions League it will down to the fans and board rather than his own tactics and team selections, will have come as no surprise to his detractors.

Stamford Bridge has been a right mess since Di Matteo was sacked. Results and performances have got worse and obviously fans have been unhappy.

They have been angrier with the board than at any time in the Roman Abramovich era and there have even been cases of supporters turning on each other in the stands, with factions opposed to Benitez clashing with those who think the negativity is harmful.

The atmosphere is not what it used to be at home games, although that has developed over a period of years and there are many factors to blame for it.

But it is still wrong to say the fans have not been supporting the team. Nobody would pay as much as Chelsea fans do to watch games without wanting their team to win.

They just don’t like Benitez. It’s as simple as that.


James Clarke is the author of Moody Blues: Following the second-best team in Europe

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