LONDON – The final whistle was accompanied by a loud chorus of boos at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, a sound all too familiar to Rafael Benitez, who could use a friend and a victory in the worst way.
Chelsea blew a two goal halftime lead at home to Southampton and came away with a disappointing 2-2 draw just hours after the news broke that Pep Guardiola, Roman Abramovich’s first choice to manage his club, elected to take less money and fewer headaches and signed a three year contract with Bayern Munich.
Guardiola is the big winner of course since the former Barcelona manager had his pick of jobs with Chelsea and perhaps Manchester City at the top of the list. A day earlier, the Premier League was buzzing after Guardiola was quoted as saying that his goal is to one day manage in Europe’s top league which only fueled speculation that Abramovich, Chelsea’s free spending and desperately impatient Russian owner, was about to get his man.
Money -- and Abramovich has plenty of it -- can certainly buy you yachts and allow you to overpay for a floundering striker like Fernando Torres. But money, especially Abramovich’s money, couldn’t buy Guardiola because money doesn’t buy trust. Abramovich the billionaire goes through managers the way spoiled children discard toys and Guardiola wasn’t about to become Chelsea’s 10th manager in 10 years.
Since leaving Barca, Guardiola has been living in New York and seems to enjoy anonymity on American soil. I’ve run into him at Red Bulls games and recently at a Knicks-Spurs game at Madison Square Garden. He looks well and sounds great. Why allow Abramovich to spoil a good thing.
That Guardiola picked Bayern Munich, the team Chelsea defeated last May to capture its first European title, probably burns Abramovich just a bit. So yes, that makes Pep the winner in all this.
The loser, of course, is Rafa who is about as unpopular at Stamford Bridge as an Arsenal supporter would be. Fans here have never embraced the idea of the team sacking Roberto Di Matteo and hiring the former Liverpool boss on an interim basis. There was a sign of “Rafa Out” on display on Wednesday and Benitez further infuriated fans when he replaced Frank Lampard with Torres in the 79th minute.
Torres lost possession on two occasions and wasted a good scoring chance when he missed the target from 16 yards out. Chelsea now sits 13 points behind leaders Manchester United and just two points ahead of fourth place Tottenham.
On Sunday, Chelsea’s crosstown rival Arsenal comes calling and things could get worse before they can improve. Benitez is not sure if defender John Terry will be available for the London derby. Lampard struggled at times against Southampton with a move to the Los Angeles Galaxy all but complete. A source close to the club has called it “all but done.”
Terry and Lampard are a huge part of the club’s rich and deep history. They’ve experienced the lows and highs together but now one is injured and the other’s mind seems to be elsewhere. Change is coming at Stamford Bridge. The fans sense it and they are uneasy about.
The club has the resources to stay near the top of the table for some time. But that same money that overpaid for Torres and bought Demba Ba from Newcastle United, couldn’t buy Pep Guardiola’s trust.
Every man has a price. And it’s good to know that Guardiola stands for something. In the end, this is Rafa’s mess to fix until Abramovich eventually finds someone else to take his cash. Anybody know what Jose Mourinho’s asking price is these days?