Why Rafael Benítez may never be accepted by Chelsea fans

Affection remains for Roberto Di Matteo at Stamford Bridge, making it a tough introduction for ‘Rafa the Blue’


Rafael Benítez pretended to busy himself with the seating arrangements on his bench, Roman Abramovich staring out impassively from his box high up in the west stand while the mutiny rippled round the arena. Neither betrayed a flicker of a reaction, the Spaniard later trying to suggest he had not heard the abuse but, inside, both must have been reeling at the brutality of the reception. His adopted side had yet to kick a ball and, already, this season’s interim manager appeared to be fighting a losing battle.

Another week of blood-letting in south-west London has ended with a club in open revolt. The boos were bellowed prior to kick-off, the roar punctured only by a livid chorus of “Fuck off Benítez, you’re not wanted here” spat viciously from all sides. The pitch-side announcer had made the mistake of actually using the new manager’s name when offering his pre-match introduction as the Spaniard ambled from the tunnel’s mouth and into the maelstrom. There was to be no playful wave to the crowd, no roared approval for the new man at the helm. Rather, the smiles and handshakes Benítez shared with members of Manchester City’s coaching staff represented the extent of his warm welcome.

For a while it seemed even as if the pleas for respect and a minute’s applause for Dave Sexton, who had passed away earlier in the day, might be drowned out altogether before the display of disgust gave way briefly for a show of respect. Even George Graham’s defection to Tottenham Hotspur in 1998 had been greeted with more of a grumbling frustration by the locals, those at White Hart Lane never really being able to forget the Scot’s long association with Arsenal. The locals’ support for the team did not waver here but the anger whipped up by Roberto Di Matteo’s dismissal in the small hours of last Wednesday morning, then exacerbated by the arrival of the man this club loves to hate, did spill over. The soundtrack to a fitful contest duly lurched from support for the dismissed to abuse for the appointed.

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