Chelsea, Rafa Benitez and the danger of the CV padding manager
With Chelsea’s latest rotation-induced defeat today at Southampton, the question of the interim or temporary manager being unsuitable for league success raises its head again. One of the stats that is always wheeled out about the Abramovich era is that Chelsea have won more trophies than any Premier League club. Sure, that’s great, but since Abramovich bought the club they’ve still won one less league title than Manchester United and have only won it once since the departure of Jose Mourinho.
Is this a good enough return on the significant investment and talent that the squad possesses? Clearly not. But the manager carousel has churned out cup after cup. Chelsea have dominated the FA Cup in recent years and have also now wrapped up a Champions League trophy. So why are they more competitive in cups than the league?
The trouble has been that because managers at Chelsea know they will get sacked if they don’t win the league or if they slip out of title contention, so they focus their energies on winning cups. If, as in the case of Di Matteo, they are sacked due to bad league performance but have won cups, they tend to get more opportunities. Di Matteo flagrantly and recklessly ignored the Premier League last season and the result was a 6th place finish, Chelsea’s lowest in a decade. But because he was rotating his players to keep them fresh for the Champions League and FA Cup pursuits, he was able to add two of the three most prestigious trophies an English club manager can win to his CV.
It meant that if he hadn’t been offered a contract, he would have hit the market as a hot commodity. The same is happening once again with Benitez. We all know he won’t be there next year. What looks more impressive when he goes for interviews at other clubs this summer? If he steers the club to an anonymous 2nd/3rd place, a marginal improvement on what he inherited? Or an FA Cup and as he attempted earlier in the season, League Cup and Club World Cup trophies? Clearly, the second gives him a chance to open more doors. If he leads in by saying, ‘I’ve just won 3 trophies’ it sounds better than, ‘I took the club to second but that’s better than when I got here’. It’s not a reliable measure of performance but since when were managers appointed for entirely logical reasons?
Benitez is just the latest manager to pass through Chelsea and use the club to grow his own credentials. It’s understandable really, if he’s going soon anyway why shouldn’t he look after his own interests first and foremost? The same goes for Di Matteo. He thought he was getting one shot at it, so why not try and win the Champions League when you may never get an opportunity to try again?
The issue lies with Chelsea’s impatience with managers. They have to say to the new man in the summer, your objective is to win the league – we don’t want another three semi-finals in the cups, we’ve won the FA Cup plenty lately, just win us the league. Play your full strength team in every league game and make sure we are the champions. Otherwise the new man, unless it’s Mourinho, will feel compelled to stretch the squad and try to win everything.
If Chelsea are to win the Premier League they need to invest in a man they believe can win it for them and abandon the confused selection policy which has blighted their domestic performance for several years. You can’t blame the managers who see the club as a chance to stack their CV but the club needs to stay away for that kind of appointment. That means this man…