Jim White

A mad move, or a no-lose situation?

Jim White

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It has been 72 hours since Rafa Benitez was appointed Chelsea manager and still there is no win. The P45 is only a matter of time. He must already be feeling the pressure.

Except Benitez doesn't feel pressure like the rest of us. Cushioned by an ego the size of Catalonia, the possibility of failure does not enter his thinking. Or at least not his own failure. If anything goes wrong at a football club where he is involved it is never his fault. It is always the players who are to blame. Or the chairman. Or those in charge of the transfer policy. Or Alex Ferguson.

Last night the League Managers' Association held its annual dinner at Wembley. Despite what you might think, the toast was not to Roman Abramovich, the one-man job-creation-scheme for LMA members. After all, while Manchester United have offered just one vacancy in the last 26 years, Abramovich has given work to nine LMA members in just nine years. Not to mention the hefty compensation packages which cushion their departure.

But no, instead everyone was bemoaning the lack of continuity in the profession, the way in which job security is evaporating. The conversation was all about Benitez and why he would want to take on the impossible job at Stamford Bridge. Was he mad, the managers past and present in attendance wanted to know. Surely he must understand it can only be a matter of time before he is ejected from the premises - Chelsea's length of tenure seems to be shrinking with each appointment. Hey, even Rafa can't imagine he can survive if Pep Guardiola decides he wants to leave New York and head back to work.

Yet Benitez is no fool. He will be aware of two things. Firstly that failure is a relative term at Stamford Bridge. Roberto di Matteo and Carlo Ancelotti were removed for not being not good enough despite delivering between them two FA Cups, the Premier League title and a Champions League win. And secondly, the chairman aside, no one blames the manager at Chelsea.

Those like Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas who are cast aside are let go with their reputations unsullied by association with the club. Nobody thinks you are rubbish if you are fired by Chelsea. Unless you are Avram Grant, obviously.

Besides, Benitez will have taken one look at the squad put together by his supposed failures of predecessors and rubbed his hands with glee. There is quality everywhere within it. The only real problem is up front. And Benitez won't worry about that. After all, the misfiring forward at the centre of the dismissal of four Premier League managers (Roy Hodgson, Ancelotti, Villas-Boas and Di Matteo) is someone with whom he is very familiar.

Wracking my brains, I cannot think of a previous instance where a manager has been appointed simply because he is reckoned to be the only man who might produce a performance from the star player. But Benitez was that man. Under his stewardship at Liverpool Torres scored a goal in every 107 minutes of play. Subsequently that rate slowed to a goal every 762 minutes under Ancelotti and every 613 minutes under Villas-Boas. Torres clearly blamed his managers for that failure. Which may be why Abramovich likes him so much: they share a belief it is always the manager's fault.

Now that excuse has been stripped from him. He is reunited with the man under whose rule he performed like a world beater. If he doesn't recover the form that made him so devastating in his first couple of seasons at Liverpool, the buck will surely stop with him. Which may be Abramovich's harsh rationale.

As for Benitez, he has the craft, the ability and the confidence to be able to cope with the mysteries of the Bridge. Second guessing, politicking, the manner in which the whole place resembles a mediaeval court, with dozens of barons spinning round hoping to please a silent monarch by trying to work out what on earth it is that he wants: none of this will alarm a man of his levels of self-esteem. It is, he has already said, better than working for a couple of sharks like Gillett and Hicks at Liverpool. He is probably right. Abramovich may have the itchiest trigger finger in world football, but at least he is not clueless.

And never mind that the fans hate him, loathe the very mention of his name. If he wins things, they won't have anything to complain about. And with the squad he has, winning things should be more than a possibility.

One thing, though, of which we can be certain. Daniel Sturridge, Ryan Betrand, Gary Cahill, Victor Moses: prepare to get on your bikes. Rafa doesn't do British talent (or in the case of the Nigerian international Moses, British-reared talent).

If he lasts that long, over the next few months we can expect a steady stream of new arrivals from Spain. But then, if they are all like Juan Mata, nobody in the Matthew Harding stand will worry too much.

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