Early Doors

Rafa Benitez winning trophy at Chelsea seems oddly appropriate

Early Doors

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The Butcher's Hook pub across the street from Stamford Bridge is popular with Chelsea officials and fans looking for a quick pint or a bite to eat. A few years ago, Early Doors found itself on what one could best describe as an unusual date with a Chelsea footballer in this slightly pretentious little watering hole on Fulham Road. It was with a female footballer before you wonder.

She shall remain nameless for the purpose of this rambling recollection, but it was strange because we spent most of the night discussing an arduous knee injury she had picked up while turning out for Chelsea Ladies.

After bidding her farewell, ED progressed to spending the rest of the evening throwing up in a London hotel founded on food poisoning.

Like a bad tackle had buried her Chelsea career with her contract at the club due to expire that summer, a questionable bout of pea and ham soup from the pub had left me a feeling a little bit peaky.

It is a sensation Rafael Benitez can empathise with despite leading this somewhat dissatisfied club to third in the Premier League, the last four of the FA Cup and the cusp of the Europa League last four.

ED recalls Chelsea’s slightly eerie former chief executive Peter Kenyon nodding over to this girl when he appeared in the Butcher's Hook.

He would not have cared for the nature of the conversation regarding his club, who were astonishingly dragging their heels over paying compensation for the injury she suffered while representing Chelsea. New Brazilian signing Ester of Chelsea Ladies take note. This was an internationalist of some renown.

Stand by your man or your woman in this case? Well, it seems to depend on who you are and how chummy you are with the billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.

In such a respect, it is slightly astonishing that Benitez remains on the Russian oligarch's menu.

Whatever is cooking at the Butcher's Hook on any particular day, you can almost smell the wealth as you pass the ground across the road.

But scratch beneath the exterior of the rash of hi-viz jackets infiltrating the hotel complex and the gigantic European champions sign, and there is not much to discover apart from new money.

Chelsea have gone from being the proletariat to strictly bourgeois in three decades. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

There remains an element of the Chelsea support who you would not to wish to share a soup kitchen with, the sort who were demanding Benitez be strung up by a butcher's hook when he succeeded Roberto Di Matteo in November.

Having broken bread with Di Matteo, ED can vouch for him as a thoroughly decent bloke, but the treatment of Benitez remains as unpleasant and untimely as his predecessor’s filleting.

A famous quote wrongly attributed to Benitez, apparently tweeted by some Liverpool-supporting teenager in the Czech Republic, appears to have caused all sorts of consternation.

Benitez never did say of Chelsea: "I would never take that job, in respect for my former team at Liverpool, no matter what." Nobody said it. A nobody suggested it.

But that did not halt the weeping and gnashing of teeth.

"I've never been so dahn. I just want to top meself," groaned a Chelsea fan called Nigel on radio when Benitez was anointed, obviously not ripe for a cockney knees-up.

"I can't believe we got rid of Di Matteo. What has really given me the hump is this with Rafa Benitez. We don't want him there. We will never, ever accept that man.

"This is my 40th year supporting Chelsea. I've been going since 1972...this is the worst appointment ever. I don't like Benitez. No Chelsea fans would like Benitez. The things he said about Chelsea when he was at Liverpool was awful. Benitez was just a horrible bloke when he was manager of Liverpool."

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This was coming from a character who endured managers such as Tommy Docherty, John Hollins, John Neal and Bobby Campbell when winning the English Second Division was regarded as a feat.

As the Chelsea fans like to sing, they know what they are. We know what they are too. They are John Terry's club. One that is not very big. Rich, yes, but nowhere near as rich in size or tradition as Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal in England.

In spite of some rancid abuse by a fairly audible chunk of their support, one has to doff a hat to Benitez for sticking with it as Chelsea's "interim one".

Chelsea carry a 3-1 lead to Rubin Kazan in Moscow tonight in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final. They return home to meet Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley on Sunday afternoon.

Benitez looked like a dead manager walking when he broke into a lengthy outburst on the subject after a 2-0 win at Middlesbrough in the FA Cup in February.

“I am the manager, I am professional and I want to clarify: I will do my best until the last minute, but if they (the fans) carry on with this agenda, they are damaging the club, they are damaging the team and next year, if we cannot achieve the top four, they have to take a little bit of responsibility.”

Like a dodgy ham shank in the soup, there has always been something rotten about Abramovich's Chelsea project.

Despite some noises from Juan Mata to the contrary, there is surely little prospect of Benitez sticking around the joint beyond the summer. Not when his treatment only serves as proof of man’s inhumanity to man.

Yet it would be weirdly appropriate to see "the interim one" rejoice in some trinkets before he departs office. The lunatic fringe is best muzzled with a trophy or two.

Desmond Kane


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Lionel Messi has done just about everything else in football so playing with a hamstring injury - some might say on one leg - was never going to dissuade him.

With his side 1-0 down to Javier Pastore's opening goal at the Camp Nou, he emerged from the technical area to help earn Barcelona a 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain that saw them through to the Champions League semi-finals for a sixth straight season. He played a pivotal role in Pedro's equaliser, and was not short of plaudits.

"Messi is the best player in the world and he changed the game just by being on the pitch. We have to congratulate him for his show of commitment to the team and to football. It is thanks to him, and everyone else, that we have qualified." - striker David Villa.

"We had agreed that he would play from the moment things started to go wrong for us, and that moment arrived. He came onto the pitch and once again participated in a goal. He proved his competitive edge, he's an irreplaceable player." - assistant coach Jordi Roura

"It doesn't matter if he's a little bit injured he can change everything." - Gerard Pique


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It is worth remembering that Margaret Thatcher was not always a frail old woman of 87. There has been a mixed debate about whether or not football should pay a minute’s silence after the former Prime Minister's death this week.

If men such as the Wigan owner Dave Whelan and Reading's John Madejski, both millionaire businessmen, are going to persist pedalling such an unpopular idea, this column thinks the powers that be should give them what they want - a minute before every game in British football this weekend to let the fans make their views on Thatcher heard.

Believe it or not, football was once a working class sport. Thatcher wreaked havoc upon millions of those people, socially disfiguring the landscape. The silent majority deserve to be heard as much as Dave Whelan.


The Europa League quarter-finals are decided. We have live updates from all the games with Chelsea first up at 5pm. Of the three English clubs, Chelsea visit Russia leading Rubin Kazan 3-1, Tottenham head for Basel after a 2-2 draw in the first leg while Newcastle are 3-1 down against Benfica. Chelsea look best placed to progress, but it is far from a certainty. Lazio host Fenerbahce in the remaining tie with the Istanbul side 2-0 ahead.

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