Rafa the 'interim' knows his place in Roman's Chelsea empire
08:11 GMT, 26 November 2012
We once visited a house that had an orangery. It was very nice, except it seemed quite like a conservatory. What was the difference At a certain price, we assumed, your conservatory became an orangery.
Managing Chelsea is a little like that.
At most other clubs, Rafa Benitez would be a caretaker. At Chelsea, he is an interim. Spend money at the rate of Roman Abramovich and that's what you get: an interim.
There in black and white: Benitez grimaces during Sunday's game, as the teamsheet shows he
is indeed interim boss (below)
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And interims are perfect because they
have even less power than the usual Chelsea manager. A full-time
employee would at least hope to have some input into policy, even if his
wishes were largely ignored. An interim appointment has as much of a
say in club matters as the work experience.
A fact Benitez let slip on his first day in charge when he announced the termination of Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole. Benitez made it plain that this was not his decision. He didn't say he agreed with it but he didn't disagree with it, either. His thoughts were of no relevance either way.
This was merely something he had gleaned, not from his first training session but from his first meeting with Roman Abramovich. The boss had no use for either man after this season. It wouldn't stop Benitez calling on them until that point but beyond they were gone.
Much like Didier Drogba. Chelsea ditched the striker who won them the Champions League and now they will lose their best full back and one of the finest midfield players this country has produced.
Teams evolve, we know that. Yet there seems to be something almost spiteful about the process at Chelsea because it is not being driven by the coach.
Sir Alex Ferguson has been ruthless at Manchester United on occasions. He dumped Phil Neville, who has gone on to have an outstanding lease of life with Everton. Yet Ferguson's actions never felt vindictive. They were his judgments, his calls and he was professionally expert and entitled to make them.
What jars at Chelsea is that a succession of managers – Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo and now Benitez – appear to be under instruction to hurry out the old guard, whether or not they believe that this is wise.
Moving on: Cole is poised to leave Chelsea at the end of the season
Abramovich clearly hated it that Di Matteo preferred Drogba to Fernando Torres so gave him no choice in the matter. He would not have appreciated Di Matteo's view that Cole was worthy of a new contract, either.
Villas-Boas was clearly expected to build a new Chelsea and Benitez has already been given his orders.
There was no question that bramovich might seek the counsel of his interim appointment, having given him time to work with the squad and provide an educated assessment.
Benitez could find Cole without peer in English football; he might believe the edge Lampard gives Chelsea in the matches he plays is worth another year. Abramovich is not mindful of Benitez's opinion.
Calling the shots: Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich watches his side take on City yesterday
Would he be mindful of those of Pep Guardiola At first, maybe. Of the Premier League and Champions League games played by Lampard this season, Chelsea have lost one, away to Shakhtar Donetsk, and he went off injured in that after 18 minutes. Cole is closing in on his 100th cap for England and Leighton Baines, in outstanding form for Everton, is still not in danger of usurping him.
Carlo Ancelotti will try to take Cole to Paris Saint-Germain in January. Ferguson has discussed his potential for Manchester United, too. Lampard is 34, Cole 32 next month. Injuries are occurring more frequently, the relentless workload of an English season is beginning to tell.
It is not unusual for a club to evaluate the worth of a new contract at this stage in a player's career. It was four years ago, at a press conference at the Club World Cup, that Ferguson spoke of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville being phased out.
Don't tell Sir Alex what to do: Gill or a Glazer brother does not presume to tell Ferguson when Giggs's time is up
Giggs's presence has remained constant, Neville retired, so did Scholes and then thought better of it. In each case, though, the call came from the manager.
David Gill or a Glazer brother does not presume to tell Ferguson when Giggs's time is up. And there is the difference. In being so candid, Benitez confirmed the only view that mattered at Stamford Bridge. It wasn't his. He is just the interim. Sounds posh, like orangery. In reality, it's just words.
Sportsmanship leads to gamesmanship and then we all lose out
The controversial goal by Shakhtar Donetsk striker Luiz Adriano against Nordsjaelland of Denmark last week should have been a moment of realisation for football. Instead, no doubt as part of its one-rotten-idea-a-day quota, it has brought a disciplinary charge from UEFA.
Here's what happened. Nordsjaelland's Morten Nordstrand was barged over by Fernandinho near the centre circle. With Nordsjaelland in possession, referee Anthony Gautier, of France, stopped the game. Restarting with an uncontested drop ball, Willian, of Shakhtar Donetsk, kicked it down field to return possession to the Danes. On doing so, Adriano collected the loose ball, rounded goalkeeper Jesper Hansen and scored an equalising goal.
Nordsjaelland protested furiously then
and again moments later when what they thought was permission to score,
unchallenged, from the kick-off as a means of restoring their lead was
halted by Shakhtar defender Taras Stepanenko. From there, Shakhtar
What did I do Shakhtar Donetsk striker Luiz Adriano sparked a furious reaction from FC Nordsjaelland players after he raced onto an uncontested bounce ball back pass to score in their Champions League match
A few observations. First, why did Gautier stop the play It wasn't a foul and Nordstrand did not appear to be in agony or unconscious. As his team had the ball, were his team-mates concerned for his well-being, they could have kicked it out, allowing him to receive medical attention.
Second, when Willian struck the ball forward, the obvious recipient was a Nordsjaelland defender, Jores Okore. Adriano's run appeared initially intended to close him down but instead Okore ambled in the wake of the ball, meaning Adriano sped past him to take possession.
This raises another issue, in what has now become a counter-productive grey area for football. The ball having been returned, at which point can the opposition start to play Was Adriano to stand still, while Okore shuffled about before deciding that, yes, he was now happy to receive the ball in 30 yards of clear space
In the 2006 FA Cup final, Steven Gerrard's late equalising goal to send the game into extra time was scored after the ball had been kicked out of play to allow treatment to be administered to a Liverpool player.
On target: Gerrard's late equaliser against West Ham in the 2006 FA Cup final came after the ball was kicked out following an injury to a Liverpool player
Liverpool were instructed to throw it to the nearest opponent, West Ham United full back Lionel Scaloni, but then immediately began closing him down. Struggling to control the bouncing ball, his panicked clearance went straight to a red shirt, and Liverpool scored from the second phase of that play. Some felt the pressure on Scaloni was unsporting on Liverpool's part but what were they to do How long were West Ham to be allowed to play unchallenged These are unnecessary complications.
At the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night, a Real Madrid player went down and his team-mates played on. Then they lost possession to Manchester City and began screaming at their opponents to do the right thing and kick the ball out of play.
As so often happens in football, sportsmanship becomes gamesmanship. This never used to happen and nobody died. If a player is seriously injured, the referee can still suspend play and restart the old-fashioned way, a contested drop ball.
What happened in Denmark on Tuesday is all part of the modern fad of game management, in which a referee sees himself also as mediator, facilitator and part of the show. The old way was better. Play on until otherwise instructed. What could have been simpler
And while we're at it…
Jose Mourinho knew he was being unkind at a difficult time but that did not make his observation less true. It was fortunate that it was Manchester City's manager who had disappointed again in Europe, he said, because, had he failed to get Real Madrid out of their Champions League group, he would have been sacked. And he certainly would have. Had Mourinho wanted job security, he could have stayed at Porto for life.
Pressure: The Real Madrid manager doesn't shirk from working under the most intense stress
'Beautiful blue chair, the Champions League trophy, God, and, after God, me,' as he put it. He is mocked for wanting to work only for the moneyed elite but every job he has taken has carried an enormous level of expectation.
The number of hirings and firings at Chelsea show what a feat he did to stay in Roman Abramovich's employ for three years, the same with Inter Milan – the club he left wanting more – and now Real Madrid, who go through managers the way Lewis Hamilton uses petrol.
Say what you like about Mourinho but he doesn't shirk from working under the most intense stress.
Rory's taking the Nike
It won't have pleased his new sponsors, Nike, but Rory McIlroy's comment on switching from Titleist equipment was priceless.
Couple: McIlroy poses with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki after winning the DP World Tour Championship
'I don't think it will make any difference,' he said. 'A hockey stick and an orange serves me all right.'
Jaffa would appear to have missed a trick here. Not to mention the Man from Del Monte.
Ref justice for Long and Co
If referees do not know what a foul looks like, they really have to lay off the cautions for diving. Mike Dean is the latest to appear foolish, booking Shane Long of West Bromwich Albion for what was plainly a trip by John O'Shea of Sunderland.
O'Shea appeared to think he had received his second yellow card of the match and was about to head to the dressing room without complaint. To his surprise, it was Long who received Dean's caution. Following on from equally horrendous decisions given against Fernando Torres, of Chelsea, by Mark Clattenburg and Danny Rose, of Sunderland, by Lee Mason, it would appear English football is now giving the benefit of the doubt to the cloggers. Another step forward.
Old Trafford support
There was a fantastic turn-out for the unveiling of a giant bronze statue in Manchester. But who knew Edward Woodward (below left) was so popular at Old Trafford
Everybody ignore Chris
So now England's rugby players know how to react to penalties. Consult captain Chris Robshaw, listen keenly to what he has to say, do the opposite.
Satire is dead
'I'm too intelligent to be a footballer,' says Joey Barton. I've checked its pulse but, officially, it would now appear that satire is dead.
Baggies dare to dream
Steve Clarke, rightly, wasn't getting carried away.
'It doesn't mean too much,' he said after West Bromwich Albion went third with a 4-2 win at Sunderland. 'We just need to stay grounded, focused and not get ahead of ourselves.'
We all know the reality is that, if West Bromwich are still holding a Champions League position at the end of the season, Clarke will be a contender for manager of the century.
Flying high: West Brom are up to third in the Barclays Premier League table
Yet, at the same time, his striker, Peter Odemwingie, dared to dream. He recalled that his Lille team did not even have Champions League bonuses written into their contracts because the possibility was not considered, yet they finished second behind Lyon to qualify.
That's the spirit. There are enough factors holding back small clubs in the Premier League without adding dour fatalism. Don't get carried away but never believe it can't happen.
The enthusiasm for the straitjacket of financial fair play among the elite clubs tells us only one thing: deep down, they are frightened they are not good enough, too.
FIFA slow on the uptake
A mere six years after the Carlos Tevez affair threatened to tear English football apart, FIFA have resolved to take action over third-party ownership of players. Really sprung into action there, didn't they
Scott won't be missed
Michael Scott, who masterminded the Great Britain swimming team at the Olympics – of which the best that can be said is nobody drowned – has quit as performance director. Moving from his base in Australia was apparently the deal breaker for him. He won't be missed, except by Qantas.
Thistle better than Barca
Using the traditional Scottish logic that beating England in 1967 made them world champions, does this now mean that Inverness Caledonian Thistle are better than Barcelona