MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) – Freshly appointed as Chelsea’s latest interim coach, Rafael Benitez could be forgiven for wondering whether he has accepted a poisoned chalice.
Benitez, 52, arrives with a rich pedigree, albeit almost two years since his last managerial role at Inter Milan, but in order to land the job full-time, he must contend with Abramovich’s notorious impatience.
Since Jose Mourinho left in 2007 after three hugely successful years, only Carlo Ancelotti has managed to complete a full season in the Chelsea dug-out.
Di Matteo may have delivered the Champions League trophy to Stamford Bridge for the very first time last season, but a return of two wins from eight matches in October and November proved too much for Abramovich to stand.
In his quest for on-pitch perfection, the Russian billionaire’s patience is getting shorter.
Luiz Felipe Scolari made it to February before getting sacked in 2009, while Andre Villas-Boas got as far as March last season, but Di Matteo was less than five months into the two-year contract he signed in June.
“The shock that should be there for the fans and the media should sound something to the owner because I don’t know if that’s the ninth manager or whatever it is in so many short years,” said Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew. “It’s just not fair.”
Success is no guarantee of safety under Abramovich, who wants his club to be renowned not just for winning, but for winning in style.
The desire to see exciting, Barcelona-style football grace the Bridge is what prompted Abramovich to gamble on Villas-Boas, but he, like Di Matteo, failed to manage the transition from old to new.
The spine of the side — Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard — remains largely intact from the team that Mourinho built, and Villas-Boas paid the price for his clumsy attempts to ease players like Lampard out of the picture.
Di Matteo galvanised the old guard for one last hurrah and took them to Champions League glory, before he, too, sought to shake up an ageing squad packed with domineering figures.
The young attacking triumvirate of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar thrilled as Chelsea stormed four points clear in the Premier League, but they were unable to arrest the slump that ultimately cost Di Matteo his job.
The quandary facing Benitez is that the Mourinho-era core has still not been replaced.
The misfiring Fernando Torres — dropped against Juventus — is no match for the rampaging Didier Drogba, who left for China after netting the winning penalty against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.
The absence of Terry in recent weeks, due to suspension and injury, has also been keenly felt.
In the seven games he has missed since the beginning of October, Chelsea have conceded 17 goals at an alarming rate of 2.43 per game.
Torres will certainly welcome Benitez’s arrival, having blossomed into one of the game’s finest strikers during their time together at Liverpool.
“Sometimes, the things you work on are things you can’t even see, but when you try it, you realise that each little detail Rafa works on might be worth three or four more goals a season,” Torres told FourFourTwo magazine in February 2010.
“Three or four goals a season for every little detail he teaches you might be another 10 or 11 goals, and suddenly you’re scoring 30 goals, not 20.”
Benitez is also a canny operator in the Champions League, having guided Liverpool to two finals, winning one, but he will not be given long to address the problems he has inherited.