Chelsea’s treatment of Benitez worthy of boos

If heaping abuse upon Rafael Benitez before he had even been given one match to prove himself was bad enough, Chelsea fans have now come out and said that they will continue to vilify him in the future. At a club whose capabilities to shock with their flagrant disregard for good conduct and good football people have been in the spotlight in recent times, this still stands out as an egregious injustice capable of showing yet another aspect of their multifaceted ugly side.

If there was more than the thinnest wisp of substance behind the campaign to deny Benitez a chance, neutrals may grudgingly turn the other cheek to the rampant humiliation of him that was on display on Sunday. Yet Benitez’s crime extends to nothing more than ousting a Mourinho-led Chelsea in two titanic Champions League tussles in 2005 and 2007 as well as 2006’s FA Cup, and offering some platitudes implying that nothing – not even Chelsea’s flag-waving fans – could match the passion of the supporters of the club he was in charge of before a particularly important match between the two. It is understandable that the manager of a club would have wanted to rally its most important constituents – players and supporters – before a match by choosing fighting words, and one need scarcely remind Chelsea’s fans of the scandalous lengths Jose Mourinho would go to in his attempts to rally them. Such attempts led to one referee retiring to protect his family, after receiving death threats from Chelsea fans whose anger had been stirred by their manager’s vapid accusation that he had colluded with Barcelona to oust Chelsea from the Champions League, and also included complaining bitterly about Liverpool’s “ghost goal” that led to Benitez triumphing over them in one of the Champions League semi-finals. Was it the then-Liverpool manager’s fault that the lack of goal-line technology had claimed another victim, or was Mourinho’s subsequent sniping at Benitez the product of a man who has never known how to take defeat and the vacillating fortunes of a game hostage to human error in the right spirit?

All Benitez did in those duels with Mourinho was prove himself a manager capable of holding his own against the best, and offering some stability to the steering wheel at Chelsea. Instead he has been greeted with the seething and spitting venom of a crowd who were given a lesson in bitterness and shifting blame from their most famous manager in the Abramovich era that they have been only too happy to display frequently. In the malicious mocking of every fan on Sunday one could see the evidence of Jose Mourinho’s legacy at Chelsea, and one reason why that club have become such a symbol of scorn and recrimination in the Premier League. Rafael Benitez is merely a very credible manager with an impressive track better who deserves better, and no amount of digging up the past history of Liverpool and Chelsea will point to anything more than the fact that their fans are acting out of a sense of spite and hate that was taught them by Mourinho and which they have proved reluctant to relinquish since.

Chelsea’s summer activity: a leopard doesn’t change its spots that easily

For all Chelsea’s recent triumphs and seemingly prudent player acquisitions, there is still something that grates about the manner in which they go about their business. No degree of footballing success can educate Roman Abramovich in the matters of treating a great game and its players with the right respect, and this can be seen in his latest splurging on Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar. Other clubs might have recognised that they were buying players for the future, whose redoubtable talent would need patience and careful management to be unlocked. Yet it is clear by the sums spent on players labelled “starlets”, that Abramovich’s cherry-picking of them has been motivated by the same attitude that saw him spend £50 million for Fernando Torres and expect him to start scoring straightaway. These are players who command the club’s interest for as long as they perceived to be “stars” of the game, and whose lack of a tailored support system once they arrive often means their careers shrivel and falter. It was bad enough for Torres, but to expect three young players – two still in their teens – to shoulder a Premier League title bid next season is an unfair allocation of responsibility that reveals Abramovich’s ongoing failure to understand that signing a chequebook is only the beginning of a club’s investment in a player.

If Oscar, Marin and Hazard thought they had hit the bull’s-eye by signing with a club that reconciled a player’s two great aims of being financially secure and playing at a successful team where they could grow as footballers, they should have taken a second look at the troubles of Romelu Lukaku and Gael Kakuta. Lukaku has spoken openly of the lack of joy and involvement he felt at Chelsea’s double success last season, in which he played a minimal role. It is understandable that his playing time would have been limited by the ceaseless influence of Didier Drogba, but the way his discontent grew away from the pitch suggested that Chelsea have not backed up the money they spend on the best young talent around by investing in a suitable support system and giving them a clear sense of progression and development. Lukaku has now gone on loan at West Brom – something that Gael Kakuta has already done on three separate occasions during his time at the club. Once hailed as the “future of Chelsea”, this young talent is now being discussed in the corridors of power at the club only in the context of including him as part of an exchange deal for the latest young player to catch their fancy – Spanish right-back Cesar Azpilicueta of Marseille. If Kakuta does leave, it will conclude five ruinous years that have seen his career come to a shuddering halt and that illustrate the power Chelsea have to sully even the brightest talents with their myopic approach to team-building.