This is going to sound ridiculous but it isn’t—the truth often takes on an air of the ridiculous, particularly in the hands of a maverick. Rafael Benitez is a parody of football manager, not an actual football manager. This isn’t a metaphor for a manager who does everything in extreme and it’s not a joke; it’s a genuine conclusion. Rafael Benitez doesn’t exist as a person or professional football manager; he exists as a parody of one. Continuing as if this isn’t enough information and in doing so pandering to the lowest common denominator audience once again, I’ll explain.
Nothing Benitez does fits within the usual spectrum and it’s too perfect to be real. It can’t be real. Most managers and, in fact, people in general, are different shades of grey, with the odd, special individual such as me standing out as a strong pink or some such, but Benitez isn’t either of those. He’s arrived at a pure grey which seems to make no logical sense: he’s normal in every aspect, but in each of those individual aspects he’s normal multiplied by a million, which creates something hideous. Ultra Grey Rafa: it sounds like a brand of razor, but as far as we can be aware he has never helped cut anyone’s beard except his own. Do not let him near your hair.
Here we go. Benitez, like many football managers, is unpopular with his club’s fans at the moment. Chelsea fans are booing him at every game and producing witty, post-ironic slogans such as “I’d rather have half a can of Sprite as our manager than Rafa Benitez*” Unlike other managers though, Benitez has not received these jibes for doing a bad job—which, coincidentally, he has done—he’s received them for the act of being himself. The explanation for Chelsea fans’ ongoing protests comes down to this: Chelsea fans do not like Rafa Benitez. Yes, there have been some top-up explanations, such as him having put down their club a few years ago when he was Liverpool manager, but no-one has really shown much commitment to those, they’re just back-ups. Chelsea fans do not like Rafa Benitez because they do not like Rafa Benitez and they do not like Rafa Benitez because they do not like Rafa Benitez, and so on.
So he’s unpopular, which is very normal, but he was unpopular from before he actually got his job, which is a distorted version of normal. And then there’s the way he’s gone about managing Chelsea. Rotation has been the main theme in what’s going to go down as a pretty unfortunate managerial incident. Since coming into the club a couple of months ago, Benitez has seen fit to open up a policy of not always playing his best players, with Oscar, Mata and Hazard the first guys to get to learn the game from a new perspective: the bench. More recently Fernando Torres has been introduced to this policy, which we can imagine he’s not only enjoyed but learnt a lot from. Some have argued that there’s nothing unusual here—every manager does it!—and that would be case, except Benitez seems to have forgotten why he’s entered the revolving door and is now just stuck going around and around in it…
A lot of managers rotate their squads, but Benitez does it for its own sake. “Resting your main players for the big game next week Rafa?” “No, I’ll be resting them for that too.” Benitez has invented not playing your best team as a means to its own ends. I hardly need to add that it’s exactly the kind of thing a parody of one would do.
And then there’s the support he’s received from fans of his former club. Not Inter Milan fans: strangely, they didn’t take to him. No, he’s received support from Liverpool fans, defending him against criticism even as he leads Chelsea towards highly tactical mediocrity instead of them. Managers are occasionally popular at clubs, but only pretend, parody managers are popular at clubs even when they move on to one of that club’s rivals. I’m not buying it.
Benitez is a parody. This is beyond doubt, particularly because of the number of times I’ve repeated the accusation. But that isn’t the end of it. Bringing the game into disrepute is against FA rules and if that isn’t what’s going on here then I suppose the next thing you’ll be telling me is that Ultra Grey razor reference earlier was spurious and ill-thought out. Benitez needs to punished: we can’t have managers who are parodies, they’re a blight on the game. Luis Suarez has already attempted the same on the pitch and look how that’s turned out: commentators are no longer allowed to acknowledge his presence for fear of offending his delicate sensibilities by describing his own appalling actions. Football matches are fracturing right in front of our eyes and the game can’t take much more.
How to stop Benitez then? One way. Allow him to continue exactly as he is. You’re surprised, but here’s the thing: Benitez isn’t sustainable as a parody. He isn’t real, he’s been sent to confuse us and if we just ignore him he’ll simply disappear. No one honestly thinks that constant rotation makes sense—behave.
*A representative sample but not an actual sample.