Early Doors

Spurs the big winners again amid Benitez farce

Early Doors

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Contrasting fortunes: Rafael Benitez and Andre Villas-Boas

It has come to something when the most animated a club's fans will be for a 3pm match is at 2:55pm when their manager marches out of the tunnel with a leather-bound notepad of furious doodles in one hand and a security alert keypad in the other.

Already the questions are being asked: 'How will Avram Grant fix this debacle?'; 'How much compensation is Rafa going to get for doing nought?'; 'What will the angry Spaniard say in his next blog?'; and 'Who the hell is this Steve Holland chap?'

As everyone knows, journalists are so lazy that robots could comfortably step in and be proven perfectly adequate: it is, therefore, entirely logical that the world-weary hacks reporting platitude after platitude from the Fulham Road would be best served taking a breather with Eurobot employed to roll out, at 30-minute intervals, the question: "So, seriously, has Rafa been sacked yet?"

It is, of course, true that Benitez has a 'fact hour' in his near-robotic head every day around 1pm, and one he will note with a chuckle and a knowing stroke of his goatee is that Chelsea have spent £86 million in pay-offs since 2004. Yes, £86 million.

As one Chelsea fan so wonderfully put it in a comment on these pages yesterday, "It's as if Roman Abramovich doesn't even read these articles about him." Yes, he googles his name on a bi-hourly basis like all wealthy owners, but it is unlikely that he has our Chelsea club page bookmarked on his yacht's built-in browser.

To say that the talk of Benitez's impending exit from the club is now very much in the bracket of 'tedious' would be a massive understatement: the news of his sacking has been 'reported' on Twitter already, of course. But the more it drags on the more ridiculous the hire 'em, fire 'em club are seen to be.

"Look... er... My relationship with the owner is really good [no?!]..." Benitez told Football Focus in the face of another set of probing, penetrating and frankly ruthless questions - for which the show is naturally known.

It should be of no surprise to anyone that Benitez was not, despite rampant speculation, handed a 'You've been airbrushed out of our history!' note on an A5 sheet of club-headed paper on Thursday after all. Given that Ron Gourlay and Bruce Buck spent most of the day after 'Rafa's Rant™' getting a well-known Fernando Torres-bashing Paddy Power ad removed from outside Stamford Bridge, they must have had little time for airbrushing anything else out over the course of a 9-to-5.

It goes without saying that Benitez is going to be booed and jeered like a horribly corked Rioja-serving waiter on Saturday, and he is going to do nothing but look busy writing his blog on the touchline.

The official line from Stamford Bridge on Thursday was that it was "business as usual" - and so will it be when the 'boo boys' (who wants to be referred to in such a way, seriously?) go for the jugular as Mr Interim takes to his pantomime stage once more, braced for the onslaught of thinly-veiled pleasantries and choice advice.

*Just to get them out of its system, ED will now use this one paragraph to list a bunch of words repeatedly linked to Chelsea to comply with the checklist used by every other article published in the last 24 hours: toxic, interim, farcical, lamentable, spineless, political, impossible, savage, JT-ed, desperate, pathetic, fury, rage.*

Of course, Benitez will likely leave Stamford Bridge with his beard trimmer, moleskin-covered fact book and Torres circa 2008 pendant early on Monday morning, but the comical situation only further serves to show how easy a ride it has been for Spurs in assuming third spot in the table.

It has been a ridiculously comfortable year for Andre Villas-Boas and his Tottenham side after he weathered the inevitable early moronic abuse from the coloured card-waving minority who have since been unsurprisingly muted.

The ease at which his side, without even a single striker to speak of in some parts of the season, have serenely cantered through thus far has been nothing short of an embarrassment given how highly the league treasures its 'Race for Fourth Place'.

Lest we forget, the 'AVB OUT' campaign began in earnest as early as the second match of the season at White Hart Lane, with further bouts of absurd abuse following throughout October off and on. He was far from a popular appointment for many Spurs fans, and had the equivalent of a wet 24-hour honeymoon in Wigan to ease himself into the job.

Spurs can move seven points clear of Arsenal and further cement themselves in third spot with a win in the north London derby on Sunday, and Villas-Boas has barely had to muddy his knees on the touchline or caress his impossibly wavy barnet back into shape at any stage. He must barely believe his luck.

Without getting too Jason Cundy about it all, Chelsea have been disgracefully shambolic for much of what appeared early on to be a promising campaign of free-flowing football and David Luiz-inspired comedy at the back.

Equally, Arsenal have displayed such staggering ineptitude at times this season that it has led many to wonder whether the money being ploughed into an ever-growing array of bronze statues outside the ground would have been better invested in less statuesque figures in defence.

David Moyes has been busy 'doing a Walcott' and dallying over a new deal at Everton, while Brendan Rodgers has been occupied conjuring up vaguely relevant acronyms to fit with his philosophy at Liverpool. Oh, and West Brom are still in seventh. Enough said.

All in all, it's been a frankly pathetic race for the much-hyped up third and fourth spots in the Premier League.

Indeed, if ED still had a propensity to gamble (a catastrophic all-in on Romania at the 1994 World Cup marked the end in the most bitter of fashions), it would chuck everything at Spurs to beat Arsenal on Sunday and further consolidate third place.

The miserable failings of the previously established 'top four' teams around them should not take away from the achievements of AVB's midfield-swollen side, however. Spurs have played with a joyous abandon going forward and with glorious flair in the final third.

In Gareth Bale the club boast the most exciting player in the league – a star who has, as a matter of fact, scored more goals against Arsenal than against any other club.

It is probably fair to say that the Welshman who possesses the most disgusting celebration in the sport will not be quaking in his moderately modest yellow boots at the prospect of facing up to the permanently beleaguered Carl Jenkinson - CARL JENKINSON! - on Sunday.

Let us all hope that this Premier League weekend is notable more for the quality of the football, rather than the five minutes prior to 3pm at Stamford Bridge. Actually, scrap that; Benitez will more-or-less happily add to Abramovich's £86m in pay-offs imminently... the scenes at the Bridge should be rather amusing.


QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I had an informal chat with Ben last week when he said he might make himself available again for international selection which is good. It's Ben's choice. We sat here before and I've said the opposite... He has also got a burning ambition to play for his country in a major tournament. The World Cup next year in Brazil is a major tournament." – There is one word to describe this quote from West Brom boss Steve Clarke about goalkeeper Ben Foster's self-imposed international football exile: nauseating. As absurd as it was that a footballer, who more than likely spends the better part of every day reducing his golf handicap, retired from England duty in his mid-20s in the first place, it is all the more cringing to hint via his club manager that he "might" make himself available once more... urgh!

FOREIGN VIEW: More Beckham-mania in Paris as the world's greatest underwear model and celebration gatecrasher is mobbed by fans on the Champs-Elysees. Sort of.

COMING UP: It's a heady evening in the Championship as Dean 'friend of the players' Saunders's League One-bound Wolves host Gianfranco Zola's high-flying Watford at Molineux, and Derby County take on Ian Holloway's Crystal Palace at Pride Park. But that's not all: the winner of the top-five goals poll will be revealed, Eurovisions will preview the match of the weekend, and The Fantasist is already limbering up for its 3pm 'get excited' live chat. Oh, and Jim White will file his second offering of the week.

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