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VIEW FROM THE ENEMY: Chelsea Fan On Benitez, Signing Van Persie and Abramovich’s Mistakes

You would imagine that Sir Alex Ferguson will channel all the frustration from Tuesday’s unjust result against Real Madrid in to Sunday’s Cup game against Chelsea. Our opponents also lost in Europe this week but their players seem far more resigned to losing than ours this season. Still, in one off cup games, with both teams having a point to prove thanks to the rivalry they’ve enjoyed over the past few years, you never know what could happen.

Chelsea fan and all-round good bloke, Russell Saunders, has taken time out to discuss Chelsea’s current season, their hopes for the future and Rafa Benitez.

Scott the Red: How would you assess Chelsea’s season so far?

Russell Saunders: This season should have been one long celebration after Munich, watching the likes of Mata, Hazard and Oscar play free-flowing football and Lampard reaching the goalscoring record. Instead it’s just been a mess.

We’ve got some great players. Mata is arguably the best attacking midfielder in the league at the moment and Hazard is fantastic in spells. Oscar could go on to be one of the best there is, and Luiz is box office… Some of our attacking play has been outstanding, particularly early in the season.

But overall on the pitch we’ve looked just as we have off it: prone to the odd good thing but also unstable, unpredictable, inconsistent… We’ve lost and drawn way too many winnable games, half the team is in awful form and now it looks increasingly like we could end up paying for it with a 5th place finish. The squad has its problems but, on paper, we’re better than that.

STR: Given Chelsea’s decline since Benitez took over, do you feel as though your fans have been vindicated in protesting against his appointment, in the face of the press wanking over him and telling you that you should give him a chance?

RS: In a sense, yes. We didn’t want Benitez, and not only because of his comments about Lampard, Drogba and Chelsea fans, but also because he’s an awful manager who has teams playing awful football and getting awful results. That’s all he’s brought to Chelsea.

His methods are old hat, he never tries anything new and he sets up negatively. Tony Evans couldn’t have got it more wrong.

But I hate the idea of vindication on this anyway. We’re the only ones (bar Roman, I guess) who pay to be there. We watch every week. I’m bored of journalists and other fans casting judgement on what we should say, feel and do when it comes to our club.

We had a principle, and we stuck by it. I would have expected criticism if we’d done anything else.

STR: Where does the decision to appoint Benitez rank amongst Abramovich’s worst decisions as Chelsea owner?

RS: Assuming that these are all unilateral decisions that he makes, of course…and we don’t really know…it is the worst, probably alongside dismissing Mourinho. The club knew his record and they knew the fans’ opinion.

But it kind of fits the pattern. I don’t think it’s been Chelsea’s fires that have been the issue – it’s the hires that have been the problem. Hiring Grant was insane, and Scolari and AVB absolutely weren’t up to it. Firing them was the right thing to do. Ancelotti bucked the trend – he was a good manager, and while his lack of imagination in his second season was frustrating, sacking him was clearly a bad move.

In reality though, the problems at the club are probably the result of a huge number of smaller mistakes made by either Roman, his cronies, our board, or a combination of all three.

Bringing in Arnesen and Grant behind the scenes under Mourinho, and allowing their influence to mess with things, was probably the start of everything. Other than that: some terrible buys, contract negotiations, our approach to youth, the lack of a plan, catastrophically bad communication with fans around their attempt to buy-out the Chelsea Pitch Owners…the list goes on.

It’s bigger than just a hire or a fire – however much he’s wrong at Chelsea and we hate him, Benitez is actually just a symptom of a wider set of problems.

STR: I was impressed with how long Chelsea fans supported Torres, despite him not scoring, as that would never happen at United for whatever reason (Berbatov got nowhere near as much support, despite being the Premier League top scorer in the season we won the record breaking 19th title!). What was the turning point for your fans? He doesn’t seem too popular any more…

RS: He’s had unbelievable, totally out-of-proportion support. It was Kezman-esque – the only difference being that when Kezman was shanking shots wide and we sung his name, Chelsea were winning every week.

I’d never boo him, but I’ve had less time for Torres for ages. I’m ok with players making mistakes (and he makes them every time he gets the ball). It’s the not trying. He puts in the odd run to close down a defender or keeper, and commentators bleat on about him ‘putting in a good shift’. But when it comes to putting his neck on the line and doing the job he’s paid for, he hides. There’s nothing worse than that.

The turning point for fans I think was Benitez, and Ba coming to the club. There was a period of games where Benitez kept leaving Ba on the bench, and then not bringing him on until the 81st minute when we needed goals. I think persisting with a broken Torres when there was a real striker on the bench just set things off. Even so, the anti-Torres stuff has hardly been vitriolic. Don’t believe what you read.

STR: We’ve heard the chants of “we want our Chelsea back” from your fans. What would you regard as your Chelsea? How would you respond to people who say having a manager you hate is just the downside to having Abramovich as owner, and is balanced out by the silverware he’s bought you?

RS: All Chelsea fans are grateful for we’ve got and the success we’ve had. But does that mean we can’t complain when we disagree with something? I don’t think things are that black and white. I mean, I’m grateful for my job, but it doesn’t mean I don’t tell my boss when I think something isn’t right.

Either way, I’d like to know what fans – any fans – really mean when they sing that. It’s easier to define your club by what it isn’t, than what it is – after all, break it down and a football club is its fans, players, a pitch, memories, how the team plays and results. One is just a variation on the next. I reckon leave Arsenal fans to whine on about ‘identity’ – most of it is made up.

The bottom line: of course Benitez isn’t ‘my Chelsea’. Harshly sacking club legend Di Matteo isn’t either. Neither is the ongoing circus. I’d like to see Chelsea treat its managers better, show its fans more respect, and have a bit more humility.

Blindly accepting all those things because that’s what ‘supporters are supposed to do’ – that’s bullshit.

STR: Chelsea seem to go from one huge story to another. Why do you think your club attracts so much negativity?

RS: Because it has made mistakes and has sometimes acted without sentiment. And because some players have screwed up too (not going to bother going into that). I’d also say though that because we’ve been successful, in no small part because of Roman’s money, fans and particularly the media have enjoyed those mistakes more than they might otherwise…and found it easier to ignore the good stuff. I’ll get over it.

STR: How keen are you for your club to start bringing through your own players? How realistic is it to expect Chelsea to achieve that? John Terry was your last one, 15 years ago, right?

RS: I’d love to see it. I think all fans want to see young players – especially those with a longer history at the club – get a chance. When the likes of McEachran, Kakuta and Hutchinson have had their limited chances over the last few years (and Ake in recent weeks), it was great.

But, with the exception of Bertrand, it hasn’t worked yet, and it would take a change of mindset at the club. The potential is there though. Chalobah (on loan with Zola at Watford) has a great chance. Ake too. Patrick Bamford and Islam Feruz are promising forwards. McEachran’s career has stuttered, but he still has potential. And there are other established young players like Cortois, De Bruyne and Lukaku who already have the ability to add something, and shouldn’t be out on loan…

STR: Who has been your best player this season?

RS: For scoring goals, making them, running games – it has to be Mata. He was fantastic last season and has been doubly good this time around. Oscar and Hazard have been great, but Mata’s been consistently great. No-one else gets close – we’d be bottom half without him.

STR: Which current United player would you most want in your team?

RS: As tempted as I am to say Rio Ferdinand…

It’s a boring answer, but it has to be Van Persie. Know he’s going through a lean spell (not in Torres’ league), but that’s the best £25m Ferguson has ever spent. He will have won you the league all on his own. He’s quality.

STR: Whilst he’s been class for us, having scored just over a quarter of our goals in the league this season, I’d disagree he’s done it by himself! Anyway, predictions for the game?

RS: If Chelsea turn up and we get the balance in midfield right to provide Mata and Hazard (don’t think Oscar will play), anything could happen.

But sadly I can’t see it. Heart is hopeful, but head says Ferguson will set up to stifle our forwards, we’ll struggle to get a grip of the game in midfield, and you’ll run out winners in a carbon-copy of the Man City game the other week.

———
Follow Russell Saunders on Twitter


About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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18 Comments

  1. OSCARGAWA says:

    its kinda strange to see a reasonable Chelsea fan

  2. Tom says:

    Being a Chelsea supporter must be depressing, press wanking over benitez great line lol

  3. greenhoff77 says:

    Sunday is gonna be great

    normally you get 70 thousand united fans giving the away fans abuse.

    sunday you will have 76 thousand fans all giving one person shit..

    altogether now “your just a fat spanish waiter”

  4. Bobby Charlton's combover says:

    I’m expecting a great atmosphere on Sunday as a reaction to Tuesday’s game.

    I’m sorry we never signed Mata even though I don’t think we were in the running for him. I’ve always thought he was class and as a young player has adapted seamlessly to the PL.

    As RS says there has been serious mismanagement at Chelsea and Roman clearly doesn’t know what he is doing when it come to appointing managers or keeping them for that matter.

    Hopefully we can get the better of them Sunday. We’ll be seriously motivated and rested so I’m expecting a bi performance.

  5. FletchTHEMAN says:

    Great banter from Russell, I love the View from the enemy!!!!

    Can’t wait till Sunday. Hope it’s a great match that shows everything great about English football. Hope the refs have a stunning day with no one even knowing they are there. ;)

    Bring on the FACup!

  6. santafereno says:

    No matter what abuse we heap upon the FSW he’ll still feel more at home at OT than at Stamford Bridge.
    GO REDS!

  7. bounce says:

    What is rafa doing in the stands in the picture?

  8. LexxytheRed says:

    He did face reality and throw in the Towel. Come On United

  9. FletchTHEMAN says:

    Make no mistake, this could be one of our toughest matches between now an the final (if we get that far).
    The Chaves played a stinker in Romania and will want to bounce back.
    It is pretty clear that whoever wins this, will have a decent chance of making the final.
    Torres always plays well agains Vidic and decent enough against us.
    Rafa will consider THIS his cup final after the grief Fergie and United fans have given him.
    Not to mention what Terry and Cole will want to do to us.

    If they play like they did in Romania then they are toast. But I feel it could be a very hard game.

    As I always say, I hope the refs have a good day.
    Howard Webb always favors the home side, that goes for a their place as well.
    But I just hope we arn’t talking about the ref on Monday.

  10. Andromeda says:

    Great article once more Scott, personally I will give it a title”The confession of a blue priest”:-)
    he who has ears to hear, let him hear.thus spake Zarathustra.

  11. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    I really REALLY hope we win that game emphatically on Sunday. COME ONNN LADS!!! Time to move on and get this win.

  12. belfast red. says:

    This is the only thing chelski are in the running for so its guna be well tite. Im hoping for a 3-1 but aslong as its not a replay any win will do! ;)

  13. King Eric says:

    “set up to stifle our forwards”. Err I very much doubt that, Chelsea aren’t Barca or Madrid. I could mark Torres out the game and I am a 15 stone 20 a day smoker! Good interview though lads.

  14. King Eric says:

    bounce – Ha. I thought that too.

  15. trev_7 says:

    Lads,

    Have been given 2 tickets by my mates Boss who is a season ticket holder. Problem is they are in his name and one is a junior, which he has upgraded to adult for his wife!>

    I have to go to the ticket booth before the game and exchange then, on booking parking today i threw into conversation what i need to exchange the ticket and she said Photographic id!

    My mates boss just said to tell them i left my wallet in the hotel. Blah Blah Blah.

    Anyone else ever collected tickets from the Ticket Booth under a different name?

    I will have all his details, address, name, dob & membership number etc! Along with the Tickets (1 adult 1 child) & reference upgrade code.

    Just like a heads up from someone who has done this!

  16. McCee says:

    FSW… I love it

  17. AlphaRS says:

    AVB a mistake? You’re having a laugh aren’t you? If you didn’t have so many bell ends in the dressing room particularly Terry and Cole causing problems things would have been a lot better. Also The Oligarch gave AVB a remit to get rid of the old guard but then dropped him as soon as there was any trouble. Weak ownership bowing to player power.
    AVB ent doing bad at Tottenham is he?!

  18. mark says:

    coming from a liverpool fan, this guy I bet only started supported chelsea when jose was manager… Chelsea fans are allways crap and will allways be, never got behing AVB and Benitez has got them champion legues final 3 rd place and a Europa Legue Final which they will lose. Terry is gone now with another injury and if Mourinio doesnt come back in the summer and offer another contract for Lamos I think Lampard will be off to United as you need a quality centre mid.

    If i was Benitez id be smiling as i got load of money in my account of Ambrovich. Chelsea with no lamps ashley cole and terry look very declining same with Liverpool with Carragher going. I d prefer to have Benitez or Laudrop at Liverpool than Rodgers

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