Rafa Benitez watched his Chelsea side beat Middlesbrough 2-0 in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday and then announced he would leave at the end of the season, delivering an emotional outburst that included a swipe at the club’s fans and hierarchy.
As with most games in his turbulent reign that began in November, Benitez was barracked by a section of supporters at Riverside Stadium.
An unconvincing win was sealed by goals from Ramires and Victor Moses in the second half, setting up a quarter-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford on March 10.
However, a defiant Benitez was in no mood to celebrate after the match.
“They should concentrate on supporting the team,” Benitez said of the club’s fans. “In the end, they are not making any favors to the club, to the rest of the fans and the players.”
“They put pressure on the players and don’t create a good atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. They have to realize they rare making a big mistake ... it would be much better to have a good atmosphere,” he said.
Referring to the club’s hierarchy, Benitez said: “It’s because someone made a mistake. They put my title [as] ‘interim manager,’ and I will leave at the end of the season.”
Benitez had spent the build-up to the match playing down media speculation of a fierce confrontation with players at a training session, with John Terry widely reported to have been involved in the alleged row.
Terry, rested for the 2-0 loss at Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday, was recalled as one of eight changes to the starting lineup, but a team containing several fringe players was unconvincing in the first half, failing to trouble home goalkeeper Jason Steele.
The defending champions improved after the break and Ramires opened the scoring in the 51st minute by curling in a shot from the edge of the area that took a slight deflection off Fernando Torres.
Moses sealed the victory by tapping home in the 73rd minute at the end of a well-worked move. The result was better than the performance, though, with Chelsea sluggish for the most part. Torres again endured another miserable night up front, showing no sign of a return to form.
Benitez was set to discover the consequences of his tirade that may have left his job as interim manager of the European champions untenable.
Chelsea said yesterday it was “business as usual” despite Benitez’s outburst. His short-term deal was due to conclude this summer anyway, but the Spanish coach could yet be asked to leave even earlier after finally releasing three months’ worth of pent-up frustration.
“Rafa walks the plank” read the back-page headline in English newspaper the Daily Express. “Doomed,” wrote the Daily Mirror.
Benitez, who was scheduled to hold training yesterday with the squad at the club’s training base southwest of London, has effectively been undermined ever since he agreed to take over from the popular Roberto di Matteo on Nov. 21.
Officially named “interim first-team coach,” his authority was immediately blunted, with players knowing they were playing for a manager unlikely to be around at the start of next season.
Benitez has also been denied regular access to Russian owner Roman Abramovich, instead having to go through technical director Michael Emenalo — a mysterious intermediary between the coaching staff and the hierarchy.
Then there is regular hounding by a core group of Chelsea supporters, who refuse to accept Benitez after his clashes with the club during his spell as Liverpool manager between 2004 and 2010.
It began at his first match in charge against Manchester City. Many continued to sing the name of Di Matteo, who led Chelsea to their first Champions League title last season, and still do. Others have been more nasty and personal, with “You’re just a fat Spanish waiter” among the vitriolic chants and banners held aloft.
After such a public criticism of the fans, they are unlikely to stop now.
Benitez yesterday unleashed the same criticisms in interviews with a TV station, BBC radio and then at the post-match news conference after the victory over Middlesbrough.
He appeared to require little prompting by journalists, so it could have been a pre-planned attack on the fans who he vowed he would win over on the day he took over.
That has not happened and probably never will. Chelsea fans spent much of the Middlesbrough match singing: “We don’t care about Rafa, he doesn’t care about us. All we care about is Chelsea FC.”
Since Benitez joined, Chelsea have been eliminated from the Champions League, League Cup and lost in the final of the Club World Cup. The team were third in the Premier League, four points behind leaders Manchester City, on his arrival, but are now fourth and 19 points adrift of Manchester United, the new leaders.
In his three months in charge, Chelsea have won 14 of 27 matches in all competitions.
Chelsea could drop out of the top four, and therefore jeopardize the team’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League next season, if they fail to beat West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge tomorrow.
That could spell the end for Benitez — if he is not already gone by then.