Benitez: Boo or Back?

Rafa Benitez has been appointed Chelsea manager, and some of their fans aren’t happy to have him. Benitez was booed at the weekend by his own fans, and Trizia Fiorellino, chair of Chelsea Supporters’ Group, has been trying to organise a refusal to accept him as manager.

Why is Fiorellino so set against him?
When Liverpool manager, Benitez said

“We don’t need to give away flags for our fans to wave – our supporters are always there with their hearts, and that is all we need.
“It’s the passion of the fans that helps to win matches – not flags.”

Fiorellino, discussing that statement this week, has said

“I feel it would be best for the manager to come out and fully explain his comments about the supporters. When he was the Liverpool manager, what he said was more than banter. I don’t think managers should get involved in that kind of thing.”

‘More than banter.’ Presumably he means worse than banter?

This is from a supporter of a club whose most beloved recent manager was Jose Mourinho.

I get that sometimes attempts to wind up opposition fans go too far, into tastelessness. Just at the top end of the English league, Alex Ferguson has been taunted by opposition fans referring to him as ‘Taggart’, which Manchester United have made formal complaints about in the past. Arsene Wenger, as a result of his Arsenal team developing young talent, has received chants of ‘Arsene likes kids’ from opposing fans. Giving that chants directed at the opposing manager are almost always insults, whether strong or playful, it’s doubtful that opposing fans who sang that were merely making a factual observation.
During the recent London derby when West Ham play Tottenham, an historically Jewish club, West Ham fans chanted in support of Adolf Hitler and hissed – presumably in imitation of gas chambers.
I don’t believe that there are that many genuine Nazis in West Ham’s support, it was almost certainly an incompetent attempt at playful banter gone horribly, horribly wrong.

I don’t want to argue that because he didn’t invoke the Holocaust, anything Benitez wants to say is fine. But I want to illustrate how close to the opposite end of the spectrum Benitez’ ‘controversial’ statement was. He didn’t even say that Chelsea do need flags to help create atmosphere, which I can imagine Mourinho saying in similar circumstances. You have to really look hard to see the insult in that quote.

That is… Unless… Is a love of flags a deep part of Chelsea culture? (It’d make as much sense as the celery thing.) Is criticising the beloved and ancient Chelsea tradition of waving flags so deep a cut that it causes deep and lasting offence?
Or was the flag thing just some random boardroom attempt to create passion artificially, and was Benitez being more critical of this kind of artifice?

By all means, Fiorellino (and any Chelsea fans who agree with him), if your love of free flags is so deeply held that you want to force out one of seven managers to have won the Champions League in the last ten years, who won the Spanish league twice despite being in charge of the third horse in a two horse race, and came close to winning the league with Liverpool, go ahead. (He won the Champion’s League with a team that included Djimi Traore. Surely that’s better than what Di Matteo managed?)

There is in fact, a decent argument to be made that Benitez, who has been out of work for close to two years, is past his best, and shouldn’t have been given this chance. But I’ve not seen that argument weilded nearly as often in the past week.

Is it an absolute rule that whenever the media want quotes from a fan to ‘represent’ the fanbase, they seek out the most dangerously unhinged supporter they can find?

3 thoughts on “Benitez: Boo or Back?”

  1. Very nicely worded piece. I don’t think most football managers run to that amount of honesty and self-awareness somehow though, or at least their PR teams won’t let them. Fortunately for Rafa there’s another way to win over the fans – win something. Unfortunately for him, he can’t do that for about 6 months and would anyone put money on him actually getting that long? Strange situation to analyze from an Arsenal fan’s perspective as its almost the polar opposite of what is happening at our club. The best way to do it – probably somewhere inbetween the two extremes.


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