The End of the Rafa-lution
The date read 19 th May 2012. It had just gone 23:20 local time when an eerie silence fell...
The date read 19th May 2012. It had just gone 23:20 local time when an eerie silence fell upon the Allianz Arena in Germany’s capital city of Munich. He stood at 6 feet 1 inches and had the look of a man possessed, this was to be his night, his time to be written in the history of the club. Calmly he walked the 50 odd metres or so, received the ball and placed it on the spot. He adjusted the height of his socks and slowly took 3 steps back. He stood still, legs wide apart and hands rested softly upon his hips.
“I’m going to say it now, it is written in the stars,” said Gary Neville; confident that this was the moment.
“And it’s come down to Drogba, who this time is the fifth penalty taker for Chelsea in the Final shootout...”
A deep intake of breath from referee Pedro Proenca, followed swiftly by a sharp bluster of his whistle. Time stood still. It was only two seconds, I assure you, but two seconds which ticked over like minutes, even hours for the twenty-five odd thousand Chelsea fans who had been lucky enough to get a ticket, the thousands who made the tip to Munich and the millions watching in pubs, bars and living rooms across the world. His right foot hit the ground first, best foot forward often the advice, followed by a gallop of the left which planted elegantly into the hallowed turf. Finally, the return of the right foot; time could continue to tick over. Donned gracefully in a fluorescent pink boot, the size 13 monster swung in like an axe to decapitate the hopes and dreams of a Bavarian nation.
“Unser Stadt, Unser Stadion, Unser Pokal” read the colossal display from the Bayern fans pre-match. "Their City, Their Stadium, Their Trophy". Much was already written in the annals of this famous club that they would end their 11 year wait for their fifth European crown in their own back garden.
But it wasn't to be.
The right boot of Didier Drogba tenderly eased the ball home, into the bottom left-hand corner.
Manuel Neuer could only turn and watch as the ball crept over the line, his heroics not enough this time around.
“He’s done it...The greatest night in the history of Chelsea Football Club, European Champions; they've beaten Bayern in their own backyard.” These words will forever evoke memories of that night for Chelsea fans, along with the spine tingling Goosebumps which no doubt appear.
If time stood still that night, it seems only as if someone has it the fast forward button to reach this point.
The date reads 19th February 2013. Chelsea have just won three back-to-back games for the first time since December 2012 after the 4-0 win over League 1 side Brentford, a game which one can only be assured will not live long in the memory.
Much has happened in the nine months since that glorious summer's evening in Munich; England once again failed to live up to the media hype and crashed out of another competition on penalties, Olympic fever hit Great Britain like a runaway train, Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term of Presidency and Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.
But what hits hardest to the Chelsea fans is what has changed at their beloved club since they lifted that often elusive yet much coveted Champions League trophy.
The interim boss Roberto Di Matteo, who guided the team to glory in the FA Cup and that Champions League crown, was made to wait two months before being handed the reins permanently, signing a two-year deal.
The savoir from Munich decided his eight years was enough, and Didier Drogba announced his decisive penalty was to be his last kick of a ball in a Chelsea shirt. Off he went to pastures new in China, where he joined former teammate Nicolas Anelka. His adventure didn't last long, as things in Shanghai turned sour, and Drogba left for a new challenge in Turkey with Galatasaray.
Following the Ivorian out the door was fellow countryman Salomon Kalou, who joined French side Lille, Michael Essien who was reunited with his ‘Daddy’ Jose Mourinho, joining Real Madrid on a year-long loan, Romelu Lukaku also left on a year-long loan to Midlands side West Brom, Raul Meireles who left to join Fenerbahce in Turkey and Daniel Sturridge, who joined Liverpool in January for £12million.
Billionaire owner Roman Abramovich decided that it was out with the old guard, and time for a revolution at the Bridge. With changes comes big money transfers, and none came pricier than Eden Hazard, the 21-year-old signing from Lille for £32million. He was joined by Brazilian wonder-kid Oscar from Internacional for £20million, Nigerian Victor Moses from Wigan Athletic, wing back Cesar Azpilicueta from Marseille and January recruit Demba Ba from Newcastle United for an undisclosed fee.
With change ought to come patience. Patience for a manger to build the side, gel them and make them tick. What Chelsea fans weren't expecting was the news that came out of Stamford Bridge in late November 2012.
Di Matteo had been sacked, just three months into the season. The side sat third in the Premier League table, just four points adrift of then leaders Manchester City, and merely three behind Manchester United. The club had won just two of their last eight games, and a 3-0 defeat to Juventus in Turin was seen as the straw that broke the camel's back. A club statement on his dismissal read;
"The team's recent performances and results have not been good enough and the owner and the board felt that a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction as we head into a vitally important part of the season.
"The club faces a difficult task ahead in qualifying for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League as well as maintaining a strong challenge for the top of the Premier League while competing in three other cup competitions.
"Our aim is to remain as competitive as possible and challenge strongly on all fronts."
What happened next was even more astonishing and hurtful for Chelsea fans. Spaniard Rafael Benitez was handed the job on an interim basis until the end of the season. Benitez, who played the villain in the eyes of the Chelsea faithful during the Mourinho era, was certainly an unpopular choice with the fans. His first game in charge, a 0-0 draw at home to Manchester City, saw the first in a string of toxic atmospheres at Chelsea games in response to his appointment. The fans rallied around Di Matteo, standing to applaud and sing his name on the 16th minute of every match since his dismissal (16 was Di Matteo's shirt number during a successful playing career at Stamford Bridge).
Comments made by Benitez during his Liverpool rein also didn’t help his cause. Countless quotes have circulated the internet since his appointment of quotes he made about the Blues whilst at the Merseysiders;
‘Chelsea is a big club with fantastic players, every manager wants to coach a such a big team,’ said the Spaniard. ‘But I would never take that job, in respect for my former team at Liverpool, no matter what. For me there is only club in England, and that’s Liverpool.’
‘We don’t need to give away flags for our fans to wave – our supporters are always there with their hearts, and that is all we need. It’s the passion of the fans that helps to win matches – not flags.’
Benitez is also claimed to have written a dossier on the diving of Didier Drogba and maintained Frank Lampard was overrated. His refusal to apologise for the comments after accepting the Chelsea job clearly hasn’t gone down well.
For a lot of the fans, the appointment of Benitez was seen as a pivotal factor for the Chelsea board in the faltering resurgence for £50million signing Fernando Torres. Torres, who had his best years under Benitez at Liverpool, had been given the role of star striker at the club, following the departure of Didier Drogba. It was often thought that Torres' poor form was due to Drogba's dominance in the dressing room as well as being number one striker on the team-sheet.
Torres appeared revitalised, with 7 goals in the first 9 games Benitez was in charge for, but a poor return of just 1 in 14 since Boxing Day has seen the Chelsea faithful ironically lose faith in the striker. Demba Ba was bought in as support for Torres, who can't have been expected to play 90 minutes every game, and quickly he became a fan favourite with a string of committed performances early on, scoring 3 in his first 2 games.
The losing of faith in Torres coincided with disillusionment with the hierarchy and running of the club amongst the fans. Key figures like Bruce Buck, Ron Gourlay and Michael Emenalo have come under criticism for their actions over the past few seasons, and their unscrupulous dismissals of certain managers haven't endeared them to the Chelsea supporters. Many see their advice, which is seemingly passed on to Mr.Abramovich as incorrect, and without the fans interest at heart. The sacking of Di Matteo as well as the appointment of Benitez confirmed this amongst the fan base, many questioning what these figures actually do to help improve the club and if they even consider the fans feelings whatsoever.
The refusal to not offer club legend Frank Lampard a new contract is also playing on the fans minds. Lampard is close to becoming the clubs all time record scorer, just three goals from tying the record of 202, but has still yet to receive an extension to his deal that expires in the summer. Despite his advancing years, Lampard has proven he still has what it take to cut it at the highest level and the fans will no doubt hope a new deal is thrashed out sooner rather than later.
Chelsea's season is currently in a downward spiral, despite their three back-to-back wins. Having been involved in eight competitions this season, there is a very high chance the club will end up empty-handed. Having already been dumped out of the Community Shield, Super Cup, Club World Cup, Champions League and the Capital One Cup, the club have been left with little to no chance of winning the Premier League and face an uphill task in regaining the FA Cup with Manchester United away at Old Trafford potentially not far on the horizon. Therefore, the one viable option and possible winnable competition left is the Europa League, but that's not without its potential slip-ups.
If you would have said to Chelsea fans after their triumph in Munich that there's a high possibility that they wouldn't win one of these competitions, especially with favourable opponents in the Club World Cup and Capital One Cup, many would have laughed you off.
What it appears Chelsea fans want most is that ability to fast forward once again, and to a date that they particularly like. The 19th May 2013, 17:50. The final whistle will blow for the club’s last game of the season at home to Everton, barring some sort of miracle they reach the FA Cup Final. This ought to be Rafa Benitez' last game in charge of Chelsea, if he makes it that far, and it'll bring to close what has been a very forgettable season.
But what happens next? Who takes the hot seat for what has to be one of the hardest jobs to hold down in European football? Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp has already ruled himself out the running, as has Abramovich's apparent favourite for the job in Pep Guardiola who's joining Bayern Munich in the summer.
Who does this leave?
Jose Mourinho: Fan favourite Mourinho would be welcomed back to the Bridge with open arms by most if not all Chelsea fans. Having spent three years in West London before parting ways with the club, the Portuguese tactician bought Chelsea their first League trophy in 50 years, followed swiftly by their second. A total of six trophies in three years did enough to endear him to the fans, and with Mourinho likely to be leaving Madrid at the end of the season, he could need Chelsea as much as they need him.
David Moyes: Moyes has been made second favourite with the bookies just behind Mourinho. The Scotsman has done a stellar job with Everton over the past 11 years, particularly with very little resources. Moyes is a relatively surprising name on the list, given his status as a one-club-man, but his recent refusal to commit his future to the Merseysiders has seen a few big money bets put on him. Moyes may struggle when it comes to Abramovich, as his much publicised working relationship with Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright allows him to pull all the strings, something he will be less likely to achieve at Chelsea.
Gus Poyet: Poyet is another surprise name in the hat, and third favourite with the bookies. The Uruguayan had an excellent playing career with the Blues and is doing a great job with Championship Brighton & Hove Albion. Poyet would be seen as a popular choice with the fans, but given his lack of managerial experience at the highest level, he remains firmly an outsider.
Gianfranco Zola: Another former Blue and a club legend, Gianfranco Zola is currently exceeding all expectations with Championship side Watford. Playing the free-flowing, fast-paced football he graced many a hallow turf with in his playing days, Watford are riding high in the Championship and are serious promotion candidates. This has no doubt caught the attention of the Chelsea hierarchy and Abramovich who has a constant crave for the Tiki-taka football played by the likes of Barcelona.
Diego Simeone: Simeone is another in the frame for the job having excelled in his role as manager for Atletico Madrid. Madrid are second in La Liga behind leaders Barcelona and have played some exceptional football. Their 4-1 drubbing of Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup no doubt caught the eye, and some see his acquisition as a linchpin in bringing Radamel Falcao to Stamford Bridge.
It's assumed that Benitez won't be offered the role on a long-term basis, and unsurprisingly with Chelsea, there is to be expected a flourish of activity in the transfer market to ensure they are challenging on all fronts once again. What will be surprising is if Abramovich admits his mistakes, notably his £50million striker Torres and his Spanish accomplice from Liverpool Benitez. Chelsea fans will be hoping that the 19th May 2013 at 17:50 brings with it a deep intake of breath from the referee, followed swiftly by a sharp bluster of his whistle, bringing down the curtain on the farcical theatre that has been the Rafa-lution.
Carefree & KTBFFH
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