From The Bridge, with love.

It varies, clearly. The amount of responsibility – credit or otherwise – that a particular Manager deserves to receive. And in football, the measurement of such things is a) hilariously prejudiced by tribalism and … well, rage, often and b) by lack of knowledge – ours. In particular knowledge of what really happens in dressing rooms and on practice pitches. Few of us get a fair or informed picture of all that barking and larking or genuine professional graft. At Chelsea, over and above these prevailing inadequacies, there appear to be several extra dimensions, belted provocatively together like some Dadaist symbol for contemporary machismo. How much is satire? How much is real? What’s it made of? Who is responsible for this madness/this brilliance? Well now… blow me! It’s Rafa.

Rafa the ‘fat Spanish waiter’. Rafa the prolific trophy-hunter-gatherer. Rafa the portly ‘academic’. Rafa the puppet-with-thankless-task but substantial wedge, critically(?) we assume. Nominally – it’s him.

So let’s run with that for at least a paragraph. That assumption of him Casey Jones-ing the Blue engine; waving his hat and smiling through steamed glasses at the bouncing innocents along Kings Road Meadow, as they gosh and gallivant alongsides. (Because it’s that kindof beatifically innocent scenario we’re talking here, right?) Rafa as wholesome, er… English, spirit-lifting and no doubt balloon-piloting leader of men rather than porky attendant upon some Russian oiligarch. Because –even us unBlues – we have to dream, yes? Let’s dream.

Benitez starts off as Stinky Pants in the class; universally disliked and derided for his unequivocal unattractiveness and history of suspiciously dour, five-bellied Latin Scouseness. Or something. Slaughtered for not being either of those other two Mediterranean geezers; abused for his obvious and treacherous lack of FatLamps/Terryhood. But he manfully steps up (here comes that Casey Jones thing again) to the fireside plate and woo-woo – slings coals around with authentic Grit and Determination. He whistles convincingly, authentically, trans-halfwayliningly, with just the right fingers in just the right part of his gob and… before yas know it… proper locomotion! Players go beyond mere hand/arm wheeling gestures and puffing out cheeks into recognisably doing His Full-on Rafathing. Firstly, actually listening – as opposed to smirking in the depths of the changing room before jogging subversively out– then whooshing and clanking and braking and refuelling, pretty-much, in exactly the way he might really want, on the pitch. As if Rafa was really really in charge. (Cue major toot!)

It’s becoming (something that seemed cosmologically distantly unlikely) infectious, I think. Both the notion of Rafa winning out and the actuality of Chelsea getting manifestly better. Even those of us who have failed to warm to the man and who remain suspicious of the quality of his achievements elsewhere may – like the Sheddites themselves – have to nod approvingly as the Flying Spaniard streaks past… and on… and upwards. Because let’s face it, this seems increasingly likely.

Chelsea are looking good; more durable and organised; pacier as well as more directly threatening. Torres, whilst not being remotely the liberated, electrically humming soul of Anfield days, has looked like a footballer again. And has scored. Plus that suspicion of frailty brought on by the random inclusion of anyone with an exotic surname is dissipating, markedly. Chelsea’s midfield are more successfully stopping other people playing, whilst growing themselves – finding their rhythm, dominating. They are a stronger unit. Whether or not we acknowledge this through more or less grinding gnashers, it seems only reasonable to conclude that Benitez must take some credit for this.

But when will this turn into love? How long – if ever – before the chanting turns turtle? Already you suspect that the vitriolic banners are being folded away. After the deluge against Villa and now – perhaps more significantly – the hard-won and possibly fortunate win away at Goodison, when might we expect the first warblings of Rafa-appreciation to go public? Who, I wonder, might be bold enough or drunk enough to break ranks from the previously icy monolith? Anthropologists are no doubt secreting themselves amongst the faithful to trace the moment.

In this near-romantic fug it really is possible to shake away, for a lovely moment or two, the shadow of Roman. But not entirely. Because though he remains unimpeachably clear from the dangers of any form of accountability – whether by interview or other democratic means – Abramovic rules. His truly appalling metier – that of the alleged fan but in reality that of the bruiser, the dictator, the maniac, perhaps? – abides. So any personal triumphs or inspired choices or transformative drills or directives from Benitez shrink to nought; or will. Because they mean nothing compared to the real Gaffer’s whims.

I have found it fascinating and a little depressing that in the upheavals of recent weeks and months virtually no dissent – and no demonstrations to my knowledge (though I am happy to be corrected on this)- have been targeted at Abramovic, for what many identify as his bitterly stubborn mode of ‘leadership’. As though he has bought that particular success – ie inviolability – in addition to the on-field accomplishments. Instead, the focus has been entirely fixed on an unwanted Rafa and the unjustly departing Di Matteo. Meanwhile (and consequently) Chelsea the Club remains an idle plaything, less than inert but more than competitive, paradoxically fortunate to be in Abramovic’s financial orbit but corrupted, some would say, by his grasp. In short, (perhaps not uniquely) there is no innocence here; instead there is something which feels greedy and anti-sporting.

Rafa may succeed. He may even succeed undeniably, so that (because a particular gentleman may yet turn Roman down) he may be paraded triumphantly yet by a suddenly loquacious and emotional and converted Abramovic as the ‘Real and Legitimate Manager for this Club.’ But I doubt that. Sounds lovely… but I doubt that.

I have just published an ebook of selected posts and new material, with an introduction from Paul Mason. ‘ Unweighted – the bowlingatvincent compendium’, is available from Amazon ebooks.  The link should take you there from Twitter.


One version of events suggests that the revolution at The Bridge featured a shocking restraint on the part of the owner – a man hitherto identified chiefly for his hatchet-mania. It is said that Abramovich actually supported his manager better and longer than the players did… before finally wielding the battle-worn veteran that is his Ukrainian Kukri. Thus we are presented with the possibility that Mild-Mannered Frank, known and loved for his A Level in Excruciatingly (S)killed Diplomacy (WhenFacedWithanInterviewSituation,Brian) and for his formerly likeably cuddly tumtum may – repeat may – have played a more aggressive role in the undermining of the brilliantly verbose ex-Porto man than Comrade Youknowwho. I’m shocked.

And could it likewise be that Ashley Cole, in a post-Napolitan strop, sought to apply the full, intimidating force of his intelligence to the de-stabilisation of Villas-Boas perhaps – I imagine through scrawling SHIT on the gaffers desk, or similar? And did Didier maliciously synchronise incoming Rolexes for that infuriatingly deadline-hugging fine-teasing screech of supercars into the car park, before winking knowingly at the watching but helpless ‘boss?’ We may never know.

We may never know if that kind of stuff mattered more than the dark, results-driven mutterings exchanged between the Real Boss and (again, I imagine) his own reflection most mornings, for the last month or two. But however, it seems sadly likely that the players… the players wanted The Bemackintoshed One out. More than the newly sensitised Abramovic, amazingly.

So no more absurdly fluent but amorphous/slightly increasingly ludicrous post-match roadkill dissections. And no more cruel dressing-room japes at AVB’s expense. So… so who’s next? The flawed Benitez – who surely isn’t to be trusted entirely to spend, spend , spend on the backbone of a new squad if his record at Liverpool FC is to be held in evidence? Who else? Who else, more to the point more likely than AVB to turn around a team that in recent times combines talent with an unappealing smugness?

Even throughout the good times – and let’s be clear folks, even now is a historically fortunate time for the club and its supporters – there’s been a tad too much of the histrionic (Drogba?) or the sulky (guess who?) or the near-bewilderingly indulgent about many of the sub-galacticos that have plied their trade at The Bridge. (Their trade being actually and apparently something they’ve appeared often to tinker with or dabble at rather than apply themselves to as though, god forbid, they meant to a) truly fulfil some meaningful contract with the club and the supporters b) stay longterm.)  Maybe this is what money buys? Mercenaries. Badge-kissers.

There may indeed be some traceable and even inevitable momentum leading us to where we’re at ‘darna Bridge’. Fans feel stuff like that whilst guys and gals like me search for encapsulating wisdoms; like this one. Particularly of late there’s seemed to be no team.

Who are Chelsea? John Terry was – Frank Lampard was – but this year’s flux seems to deny us any convincing evidence of who just might be next to carry that flame/torch/designer symbol. This living by mood is surely both a result of the Russian owner’s unstillness as well as of the consequent carousel of arrivals and departures from the dug-out – whether they be playing or more-or-less ‘overseeing’ arrivals. Bottom line, like the eyes of Dr T J Eckleburg, it is Roman who sees all. Voices full of money populate both Scott-Fitzgerald’s novel and the environs of the Kings Road. A key difference is that Roman scorches past the merely symbolic into the hands-on, the prosaically influential. He is tinkerer-in-chief, in truth, as well as sower of dreams.

So the club has lurched from one temporary beauty to another. Mourinho and Ancelotti, in their hugely different ways were on the one hand outstanding and on the other… gone. Hiddink too. Fans of Graham Norton will be familiar with the dumping chair at the end of his current run of shows, from which those who fail to entertain the Great Unwashed sufficiently (in Graham’s twinkling Irish eyes) are unceremoniously hoiked back’ards. Reminding me of Chelsea – or Abramovich? Who have the same crassness going for them but lack, generally, the humour.

So let’s return to that question: who’s next? Hilariously (from outside) it appears that Abramovocih has already exhausted the list; like serially. For me, Benitez is a goodish coach who rose periodically – i.e. in cups, typically – to the challenge of galvanising Liverpool. But he signally failed to produce a side which genuinely troubled those competing over the season’s length for the Premier League title. And the longer he went about that business, the less convincingly or astutely he dealt in the transfer market. Given that the Chelsea Project (volume 9?) clearly does imply a serious need for restructuring – culling, actually – as well as buying in, Rafa would not, I confess, be on my wish-list. Is he really top of Roman’s?

But who else is both capable and available? Mourinho – no? Hiddink – no. Guardiola – surely no?!? Does this already begin to bring us into contact with the untested or the (Chelsea)-undeserving? If Abramovic really does want to win and win stylishly that list shrinks yet further; to the extent that the feeling might be that Chelsea simply cannot get the right man; a feeling that first suggested itself whoa… about five or six years ago, or whenever somebody started kicking managers out every season.

Roman will surely go for a big name. Roman will surely not, however, concede to that new man the right to truly manage; begging the further question who, in their right mind, would want to take the Chelsea thing on? Unless for the money.