Why Rafa Benitez will never be accepted at Chelsea as he makes his return with Newcastle

Rafa Benitez wins Europa League with Chelsea
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The ex-Blues boss is disliked by fans at Stamford Bridge and he will get an usually frosty welcome back with the Magpies

Rafael Benitez returns to Stamford Bridge on Saturday just over five years since being named Chelsea's interim manager. But he won't get a warm welcome back. 

This is unusual given Chelsea regularly suspend their tribalism to honour former players and managers. Nemanja Matic was recently cheered and applauded despite lining up in a Manchester United shirt as the fans showed their class. 

But Benitez won’t receive the same reception after never being accepted by the fans, despite the fact he wasn’t a flop as boss.

He replaced Champions League-winning coach, and the club’s legendary player, Roberto Di Matteo on November 21, 2012. Chelsea had declined in both the league and Champions League since their greatest glory just a few months earlier but it was still a tough act to follow for Benitez. 

The Spaniard, now Newcastle’s manager, took Chelsea to a third-place finish, won the Europa League and got to semi-finals in both domestic cups. For 10 days, Chelsea held both European trophies after becoming only the fourth club to lift every European honour. 

Chelsea fans already disliked Benitez before his appointment after he spent many years at war with the club and one of his predecessors Jose Mourinho. The battle between managers went from professional to personal and continued for a decade.

Rafa Benitez vs Mourinho GFX

It started after the 2005 Champions League semi-final when Liverpool beat Chelsea courtesy of Luis Garcia's 'ghost goal' which separated the sides over two legs. A brash, young Mourinho raged in the media following the defeat, saying ‘You can say the linesman's scored. It was a goal coming from the moon or from the Anfield Road stands’.

Benitez had already attacked Chelsea's style of football ahead of that game as the club were desperate for European glory to justify the big spending of their relatively new owner Roman Abramovich. 

Liverpool beat Chelsea again in the 2006 FA Cup semi-final and the pair refused to shake hands. Mourinho responded bitterly to questioning, ‘Did the best team win? I don't think so. In a one-off game maybe they will surprise me and they can do it. In the Premiership, the distance between the teams is 45 points over two seasons’. 

Benitez also riled people by calling Didier Drogba a diver in 2008.  He said: "With Drogba, it's important to have a good referee. You can't do anything [to stop him going down easily]. It's very impressive. I have lots of clips from him over the years and he surprises me." 

In the eyes of Chelsea supporters, this battle between managers would probably be fully forgiven by now, but Benitez aimed digs at fans while building up supporters at Anfield. He once accused Chelsea fans of needing plastic flags to generate an atmosphere at Stamford Bridge.

Rafa Benitez wins the Champions League with Liverpool Rafa Benitez banner at Anfield

He also insisted he never wanted to be Chelsea manager, while he was aiming to build up his legendary status at Anfield. 

"Chelsea is a big club with fantastic players, every manager wants to coach a such a big team," Benitez said in 2007. "But I would never take that job, in respect for my former team at Liverpool, no matter what. For me there is only one club in England, and that's Liverpool."

It is understandable that Benitez replacing someone of Di Matteo’s popularity would cause unrest among the fan base. Benitez was booed and signs were held up wanting him out when he took charge of his first game at Stamford Bridge. It ended in a goalless draw against Manchester City but the fans had made their voices heard.

Benitez tried in vain to turn around his image but Chelsea's fans were unrelenting. He eventually reacted to the baiting with comments of his own after three months in charge. 

"A group of fans, they are not doing any favours for the team when they are singing and wasting time preparing banners. It's because someone made a mistake. They put my title 'interim manager', and I will leave at the end of the season, so they don't need to waste time with me.

"They have to concentrate on supporting the team, that's what they have to do."

Rafa Benitez banner at Stamford Bridge Chelsea Newcastle GFX Benitez

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Football fans can sometimes rightly be accused of having short memories but Chelsea fans hadn't forgotten. However, you could argue that he rebuilt his reputation during a busy seven-month spell in charge after his sacking from Inter Milan. He went on to manage Napoli and then Real Madrid. 

Benitez now brings his out-of-form Newcastle side to Stamford Bridge with an already poor record at the ground as an away manager after winning just one of 12 visits to west London. Newcastle's record is even worse with just one win in their last 23 Premier League matches at Chelsea.

Mourinho may be Benitez’s greatest rival, but current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is another who got under his skin in Serie A. Chelsea fans will doubtless waste little time in trying to do the same this weekend.