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The Chelsea Conundrum: Ifs, buts and maybes

For a team who ? for a few more months at least ? can call themselves champions of Europe, Chelsea are in something of a mess. Only, the word mess doesn?t quite cover it. Current interim manager Rafael Benitez?s recent comments only add to the pile of inauspicious headlines that are growing almost as quickly [...]

For a team who – for a few more months at least – can call themselves champions of Europe, Chelsea are in something of a mess. Only, the word mess doesn’t quite cover it.

Current interim manager Rafael Benitez’s recent comments only add to the pile of inauspicious headlines that are growing almost as quickly as the interest on Roman Abramovich’s finances.

And yet, the club are just one good decision away from recreating the sustained success they enjoyed under Jose Mourinho.

The problem is…they haven’t made a good decision for a very long time.

Rafael Benitez

Of their poor decisions – which could be argued stretch back some seven years – the most recent has something to do with Benitez. Although whether it was appointing him in the first place or branding him a stop-gap is open to discussion.

Quite simply, the Spaniard’s appointment hasn’t worked. And as much as hindsight makes experts of us all, it was never going to. Not just because of his time as Liverpool manager, and the ill-feeling that followed controversial results and heat-of-the-moment comments. But because he was replacing the one man who had succeeded where all else had failed – Roberto Di Matteo.

The Italian left with Chelsea just four points off top-spot in the Premier League. Today, they are 19 points adrift.

He left with a win percentage of 61.9%. Benitez’s is currently 10 less.

And most importantly he left with the Champions League trophy and FA Cup residing at Stamford Bridge.

There is no way of knowing where the club would be if Di Matteo was still in charge. But they would be unified; just as they were when they overcame Barcelona and Bayern Munich to secure their owner’s Holy Grail.

Instead, there are rumours of disagreements between captain and manager; the same manager who – bold as he was in condemning his job title – made the cardinal sin of attacking the fans. If you really can’t hold your tongue, some things are best saved for the exit speech.

Analysing the Chelsea of today is in part an act of hypothesis. If Di Matteo was still in charge the fans would probably be happy, as would the players. But then you could say the same thing regarding Guus Hiddink – another Abramovich mistake not in the appointment, but in its branding as “temporary”.

The truth is Abramovich dismisses successes and disappointments with equal ruthlessness.  And it is the same for the ones who lay somewhere in between, like Andre Villas-Boas, who is showing at Tottenham what patience can do for a football club.

Perhaps Benitez truly thought he could win over the fans and ultimately cross out the “interim” on his job description. But having realised he was doomed in both endeavours, Wednesday’s words point to a man who may be pondering a few ifs, buts and maybes of his own.

Reports this week suggest Jose Mourinho could return to the chair so abruptly pulled from under him in 2007; although he gives the impression of being smarter than that.

But the simple fact, for Chelsea fans and staff alike, is this:

If their owner appoints the right man but gives him time (measured in seasons not games), then maybe Chelsea will challenge consistently again.

Published with permission from NinetyMinutesOnline.

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