Rafa Benitez likes to throw owners under the bus. Roman Abramovich likes to fire coaches. Chelsea's latest hire is a snug fit.Rafael Benitez was in Dubai on Wednesday when Chelsea canned Roberto Di Matteo. Benitez granted a few interviews and jumped on a plane for London to take over as interim Chelsea coach.
The reason Benitez has resorted to doing television work and blogging about tactics for two years can be summed up by another event in the Middle East. After winning the Club World Cup with Inter in December, 2010, the Spaniard settled in for his post-match press conference in Abu Dhabi and lit into owner Massimo Moratti.
"Last year, Moratti spent 80 million euros on five players, but this year he has spent nothing for me," Benitez said. He went on to demand "100 percent" support in the form of four or five new players during the January transfer window and threatened to leave if he didn't get it.
Moratti called the comments "inappropriate" and had no real recourse but to pay Benitez several million euros to go away.
Benitez hasn't worked since. Well, unless you count the TV work, and, judging by how frequently his agent leaked his interest in vacant coaching positions, he didn't. For a guy who won the Champions League and La Liga, his perception quickly morphed from one who collects trophies to someone who amasses severance packages.
Only the parties involved know the truth, but Benitez claimed Moratti promised him three reinforcements that never materialized. Moratti, for his part, spoke in the wake of Inter's Jose Mourinho-concocted treble about Inter veering toward youth and heeding the impending Financial Fair Play regulations.
The Inter squabble came half a year after Liverpool fired Benitez and his goatee for finishing seventh. Reports put the payout at six million pounds. A year earlier, Benitez had held out against signing a contract extension, taking his grievances public and forcing the tremendously unpopular owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, to hand over a five-year contract. He also orchestrated the departure of Rick Parry and claimed increased control in his sixth year at Liverpool.
"We have a saying in Spanish," Benitez said after his departure, "which is: 'White liquid in a bottle has to be milk.'"
With his own peculiar colloquialism, Benitez was trying to say that ownership didn't support him enough financially to maintain a title challenge. Liverpool had finished second in 2008-09.
Benitez reacted similarly when he left Valencia, quickly throwing ownership under the, er, furniture. "I asked for a sofa and they brought me a lamp," he said, referencing the club's transfer policy and unwillingness to splurge on an elite striker.
The 52-year-old's resume is impressive. He's won the Champions League, the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup, La Liga (twice), the Club World Cup and the UEFA Manager of the Year award (twice). But his resume also includes the asterisk warning future employers that he swiftly leverages fan support against club owners when the transfer budget isn't as abundant as he would like.
Roman Abramovich scanned Benitez's application, glanced at the asterisk, glanced at the billions in his bank account, and shrugged.
Abramovich has churned a couple hundred million into Chelsea in the form of transfer fees alone. Very few owners allow their coaches to spend as much as he does. And very few managerial spots are as temporary. Abramovich only had an opening because he fired Roberto Di Matteo just six months after the Italian won the Champions League and FA Cup.
Di Matteo (262 days) was the fifth coach under the Russian to last less than a year. The others: Andre Villas-Boas (256 days), Avram Grant (247 days) and Luiz Felipe Scolari (223 days) (Guus Hiddink was only ever supposed to fulfill a caretaker role).
Chelsea had nine managers in its first 70 years, from 1905 to 1975. Benitez is the ninth manager since Abramovich took over in 2003, nine years ago. Those nine years have been the most successful in the Blues' history. The trophy haul includes three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and the Champions League.
Both Benitez and Abramovich are very good at what they do. They're also horrible coworkers. They deserve each other.
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