|Mr Popular 2012-13|
Rafa Benítez takes over at Chelsea. Despite the cacophony of disapproval that he endures during his first game, a 0-0 draw at home to Manchester City, the Spaniard remains optimistic about gaining popular support in the job. “I think if we can win games and show quality, we can win the fans over too, no?” he says.
The next match, a 4-0 win over Fulham, is overshadowed by the Chelsea fans burning an effigy of Benítez outside Stamford Bridge before chanting Roberto Di Matteo’s name for ninety minutes. When asked what his reaction to this reception is, Rafa maintains that he was concentrating on the game and did not notice any commotion.
Rafa begins his first full month in charge by pulling Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar aside at training and presenting them with several hours’ worth of footage of Denis Irwin. “Go home and study this,” he tells them, “Irwin always worked hard and remained organised. If instructed, he would gladly have stripped naked and leaped into a vat of acid for the team. You can learn everything from this man.”
Chelsea win all of their fixtures without conceding a goal, going top of the Premier League, progressing in the Champions League and collecting the Club World Cup trophy in the process. “I think Rafa was very lucky,” harrumphs Sir Alex Ferguson, “Any fool could have kept nine clean sheets in a month with those players.” Rafa does not dignify these remarks with a response. Fernando Torres does not score in any of the matches played in December.
JanuaryJames Milner is signed for £60m from title rivals Manchester City. “James can be our Gerrard, no?” Rafa tells the flabbergasted press, “Except that, unlike Stevie, he will work hard and remain organised. He is maybe like Stevie mixed with Dirk.” On the same day, Rafa signs Mats Hummels to replace David Luiz, who will from now on operate as a striker. Deadline day sees Fábio Aurélio arrive from Grêmio.
Chelsea win all four of their league matches without conceding a goal, breeze through their FA Cup games and reach the League Cup Final. Following Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, Arsène Wenger declares Benítez “a purveyor of football so miserable that I may retire in protest at his continued employment.” David Luiz ends the month averaging two goals a game but Fernando Torres is still to score.
The Sun runs a poll asking “Is this the most miserable time to be a Chelsea fan EVER?” 100% of votes cast are in the affirmative.
FebruaryFrank Lampard complains to the press that he hasn’t started a league match since October. Eden Hazard complains to the press that he is being used primarily in a ‘false two’ role at full-back. Ashley Cole is given the opportunity to complain to the press but instead becomes embroiled in controversy of his own as he describes his own fans as “f**king d**kheads, the lot of them.”
When asked whether relationships with his players are becoming strained, Rafa responds “Not at all: Carra and Stevie still text me every day; Reina called me last night; I see Fernando here. There is no problem. We just have to keep working hard and remain organised.”
Chelsea win all of their league matches without conceding a goal, reach the FA Cup quarters and win the League Cup, beating Arsenal 2-0 in the final. Borussia Dortmund are effortlessly beaten in the Champions League round of sixteen. Having assisted a phenomenal seventeen goals, James Milner is named Premier League Player of the Month. David Luiz moves ahead of Robin Van Persie as the league’s top scorer. Fernando Torres, however, is still goalless under Benítez’s management. Fans continue to protest outside Stamford Bridge, demanding Rafa’s immediate removal. “How that incompetent waiter’s hanging on there, I don’t know,” says Sir Alex Ferguson. Rafa holds his tongue.
MarchJuan Mata politely asks Rafa if he may be allowed to do some attacking in Chelsea’s upcoming fixtures. Rafa refuses his request, pointing out that Mata has now won more tackles than any other player in Europe while ranking third and fourth in similar charts for interceptions made and clearances attempted. With Chelsea leading West Ham 3-0 in the FA Cup quarter-final, Mata attempts a through-ball and is immediately replaced by Ryan Bertrand.
Despite the month having begun with comfortable victories away to Newcastle and at home to Wigan, Chelsea are plunged into turmoil as Manchester City become the first side to score against them in six months. “Winning 6-1 is just not good enough,” says an irate Chelsea fan on Sky Sports News, “if I’m honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if that was Rafa gone. We’d all be glad to see the back of him anyway.” Rafa notes that, despite this setback, Chelsea need only one point from their remaining fixtures to win the Premier League.
AprilA 7-0 victory over Sunderland sees Chelsea clinch the title in some style. James Milner assists all seven goals and David Luiz’s four-goal haul takes his tally to thirty for the season. Towards the end of the game, Fernando Torres is presented with the chance to make it 8-0 but loses his footing and, with it, the ball. The striker has now played over 3,000 minutes of football without scoring. Sir Alex Ferguson, magnanimous as ever, declares Rafa’s title triumph “the amateurish work of a meddling halfwit.” Rafa thinks long and hard about a riposte but instead decides to work hard and remain organised.
Following victory in the FA Cup semi-final, Real Madrid are swatted aside in the Champions League semi-final. The aggregate score finishes 9-0 to Chelsea. José Mourinho refuses to acknowledge Rafa at any point, preferring instead to speak cordially with Benítez’s assistant, Bolo Zenden. Chelsea’s fans unveil a banner at Stamford Bridge that reads ‘JOSÉ 4EVA’. A separate banner depicts Rafa’s face with a vulgar euphemism for the female genitalia stamped on his forehead.
“When I grow up, I want to be David Luiz,” says Lionel Messi.
James Milner and David Luiz split the goals as Chelsea win 4-0 at Old Trafford. “I thought they were very fortunate,” says Sir Alex Ferguson, “When you consider that Rafa didn’t actually score any of the goals, I don’t think he deserves any credit whatsoever.” Presented with this appraisal by Geoff Shreeves, Rafa finally snaps. “I did not want to speak about these things. I have tried not to respond to Ferguson’s provocations but the fact is that he wouldn’t recognise a real tactician if one punched him in the face.” As if to prove this point, he strides over to the purple-nosed Scot and punches him in the face. John Terry and Ashley Cole, recognising a premeditated act of immorality when they see one, discover a new and profound respect for Benítez and lobby to have him hired on a permanent basis.
Rafa adds the FA Cup to his ever-growing list of trophies won at Stamford Bridge, but the 5-0 win over Swansea in the final is greeted with boos and jeers from the Chelsea support. Having derided Rafa’s tactics as “so defensive they made my spleen ache”, Alan Shearer bills the Champions League final as make or break.
In the final, David Luiz’s breathtaking hat-trick is matched by another from Lionel Messi and Chelsea lose to Barcelona on penalties. Fernando Torres, having to score to keep his team in it, shanks his spot-kick four yards wide of the post. Roman Abramovich sends Bruce Buck down to sack Rafa in the Wembley tunnel.
West London rejoices like never before, with the sound of popping champagne corks clearly audible as far away as Basingstoke. After a frenetic period of speculation and jingoistic media promotion of Harry Redknapp, Fabio Capello is named as the new Chelsea manager. Fleet Street goes into mourning.
By Rob Brown. Follow him on Twitter: @robbro7
By Rob Brown. Follow him on Twitter: @robbro7