26 November 2012

Rwanda: Will Benitez Last the Distance?


With the rate at which Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is changing managers, I'm eager to see if Rafael Benitez can last the distance (by distance, I mean until the end of the season). The Spaniard replaced Roberto Di Matteo last week on an interim basis, making it very clear that he was at Stamford Bridge for the short haul.

The Russian billionaire is willing to wait for Pep Guardiola to finish his year-long sabbatical before trying to lure him to Stamford Bridge.

It's true that Benitez has the attitude and personality to change things at Chelsea but the question is how much time does he have? By now, he should know that the Blues job is not one where you are accorded ample time to get things done.

That is why on top of Di Matteo, the likes of Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti and Andre Villas-Boas did not last.

So one thing Benitez has to do is to hit the ground running not only to impress Abramovich but also to erase doubts Chelsea fans clearly have about him.

There is no doubt that he has inherited a very gifted squad with the likes of Oscar, Hazard and Mata and of course his former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, who is increasingly looking lost and lonely as he tries in vain to rediscover the magic he displayed to such significant effect on so many occasions at Anfield.

Prior to Di Matteo's exit, Benitez stated that Torres's decline was simply a matter of lost confidence. He can now put his theory to the test - and if he is proved correct it may yet be a path to the sort of longer term deal he eventually wants at Chelsea. If he can at least start to prove that Abramovich did not simply waste £50m on Torres, then maybe he will be on the way to convincing the Russian he may be worth persevering with.

The 52-year-old has held high profile jobs such as Valencia, Liverpool and Inter Milan and has won a Champions League, two Spanish League trophies and an English FA Cup. But the one trophy that does not feature on this list and which Abramovich treasures so dearly is the English Premier League.

After Di Matteo's exit, it's clear that the FA Cup and Champions League in the first six months isn't enough to satisfy the Russian billionaire. In fact, the only permanent Chelsea manager that Abramovich regretted sacking during his reign is Jose Mourinho and that is mainly due to his success in the Premier League.

The only two managers who have lasted more than 32 games are Mourinho and Ancelotti, and both won the title in their first season in charge. This means that Benitez's faint hopes of turning his short-term contract into a one or two-year contract rest on him guiding the club to the premier league title. Anything short of that and he is done.

This does not mean that he will be allowed to stay on until the end of the season if results don't go his way.

But if he did win the title, there could still be a stumbling block in his quest to have the job on a permanent basis. This is simply because he is one manager who does not take kindly to owners sticking their nose in like was the case at Anfield. Unfortunately, Abramovich doesn't like being told what to do.

To have a comfortable six months, Benitez has to get his old gun Fernando Torres firing again and at least lead the club to some sort of silverware (be it the Capital One Cup or FA Cup).

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