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On Manchester United vs Chelsea, 'the Interim One' and hypocrisy in football

With both teams suffering mid-week losses, Manchester United vs Chelsea was all set to be a thriller. Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United got off to a dream start against arch-rival Rafa Bentiez’s Chelsea with Javier Hernandez opening the scoring in the sixth minute with an amazing header off a delicious ball from Michael Carrick. A little over five minutes later, Wayne Rooney whipped in a free-kick which caused disarray in the Chelsea penalty area. The ball found it’s way into the back of the net with some help from David Luiz’s hair. Within the opening 12 minutes, the Chelsea fans were jeering their own manager and team.

Chelsea fans protest over the signing of manager Rafael Benitez

Chelsea fans protest over the signing of manager Rafael Benitez

Rafa Benitez was never welcome at Stamford Bridge, to say the least. Banners such as “Rafa Benítez, not wanted, never wanted” and “Rafa Benitez – only the Interim One” showed the cruel and heartless criticism directed towards the former Liverpool manager. Ever since the untimely firing of Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea fans have used their interim manager like a punching bag to vent their frustration at their under-performing team. I feel that Chelsea fans are directing their anger towards the wrong person. They would be better off supporting Rafa in his effort to guide this Chelsea team through their phase of transition, and taking out their frustration on a trigger-happy Roman Abramovich.

At times in the first half, United looked to be comfortably in charge. But as the half wore on, Chelsea came into the game more and began to launch counter-attacks of their own while meandering into United territory. All the while, a tired Rafa Benitez stood at the touchline, looking defeated at the prospect of facing another press conference after ending up on the losing side. United headed into the half-time interval comfortably in charge of proceedings.

One of the many things I’ve learnt over the years about football is that the game is unpredictable. Chelsea came into the second half a completely different team. They pressed forward more and started creating chances. Benitez then decided to change his personnel on the pitch by bringing on Eden Hazard for Moses and John Obi Mikel for a relatively quiet Frank Lampard. The changes led to a chorus of jeers around Old Trafford. The Chelsea fans began chanting, “You don’t know what you’re doing”, while the United fans watched their North London counterparts tear apart their own team with abuses. The double substitution turned out to be a masterstroke as Hazard put the ball into the top corner of United’s net with an exquisite swing of his right foot. A glimmer of hope presented itself to Rafa, but the Chelsea fans were still furious at the changes.

As Chelsea sprung forward looking more and more threatening, Rafa became more and more animated in his technical area. Ramires led an inspiring counter-attack, leaving United shell-shocked as he curled a left-footed shot past David de Gea. As the game wore on, the Chelsea fans slowly quietened down in their abuse of their manager. As Benitez introduced Fernando Torres in place of Demba Ba, another chorus of boos and jeers resonated across Old Trafford. In the closing minutes, David de Gea kept United in the hunt with a glorious save on the back of a Mata effort. Howard Webb drew the match to a close with a final score of 2-2, ensuring a replay at Stamford Bridge. The winner of the replay will face Manchester City in the semi-finals.

“We’re lucky to be in the cup. We just ran out of legs, and Chelsea were far the better team in the second half. But I can’t be critical of my side because the running they had to do on Tuesday night, against a really top side in Real Madrid, had its bearing on today’s result, no doubt about that! The two full backs, Rafael and Patrice, are knackered and the two central midfielders tired badly. We kept giving the ball away and it made it a long day for us, going from one penalty box and back to our own. The replay is not a problem for us. We’ve got plenty of time for it as we have no European games.” - Sir Alex Ferguson, on the FA Cup tie against Chelsea.

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson (L) and Chelsea's Spanish manager Rafael Benitez look on during the English FA Cup quarter-final football match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford, Manchester, northwest England on March 10, 2013. The match ended 2-2.

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson (L) and Chelsea’s Spanish manager Rafael Benitez look on during the English FA Cup quarter-final football match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford, Manchester, northwest England on March 10, 2013. The match ended 2-2.

You hear that, Chelsea fans? Sir Alex Ferguson himself emphasized on Chelsea’s fantastic performance in the second half. What I saw for most of the match was not a man who wasn’t trying; I saw a man who was trying extremely hard, but not succeeding. Rafa Benitez is a passionate manager and will do absolutely anything in his power to ensure that his side come out on top. In his Liverpool days, he was respected world over and his team drove fear into opposition hearts. All the man is trying to do is to achieve the same with this Chelsea side. But the fans are not allowing this to happen. Fans are meant to inspire the team and not discourage it. They are meant to stick with their team through thick and thin, no matter what. Instead of ruing missed opportunities in the past, Chelsea fans must look to the future where success beckons. They must support their manager and their team in an effort to bring the FA Cup to Stamford Bridge and to achieve that all-important Champions League qualification spot in the Premier League. They must aid Benitez in his effort to galvanize his troops, marshal his resources and achieve the seemingly impossible.

The very fans who were abusing Rafa throughout the 90 minutes against United, cheered the Chelsea players off the field after their team salvaged a hard fought draw.  A similar situation has arisen over at the Emirates with Arsene Wenger’s future at Arsenal being questioned, but the blue side of the matter is at a whole new level. Fans booing and jeering their own manager and team throughout the 90 minutes and cheering them off the field at the end of the tie is just disgraceful. Such hypocrisy is rarely seen in top-flight football.

In my opinion, Rafa’s tenure at Chelsea has been one of the most selfless efforts made by a manager. Ignoring the feelings of discontent at his presence, he has done the best he can with whatever resources he has had at his disposal. The man has been jeered and booed from the moment he stepped into Stamford Bridge, but has never shown signs of quitting. Any other man in his place would be long gone considering that there has been no long-term contract offered. Rafa has taken nothing but abuse at the club and I feel he deserves some respect for his efforts. With Rafa’s time at Stamford Bridge coming to a seemingly inglorious end, Chelsea must look for a suitable replacement in the form of Jose Mourinho whose stint at Real Madrid will end this summer.

“The fans have to support the team and the players and we will do our jobs. If we cannot achieve what we expect to achieve, that is to be in the top four and be in the Champions League for next year, I will leave; they will stay in the Europa League. They don’t realize that this is a team in transition. We have really good players with talent but it is a time of transition. I am trying to do my best and I will do my best until the end, the last minute.” - Rafa Benitez, after Chelsea’s FA Cup clash against Middlesbrough.

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