Thursday, February 28, 2013

Benitez Press Conference adds spice to FA Cup Sixth Round Draw

Rafael Benitez; His press conference was surprising,
but was it really a 'rant'?

The draw for the sixth round of the FA Cup was concluded yesterday as Chelsea recorded a comfortable 2-0 replay victory at Middlesbrough in the final match of the fifth round.

The result means that league leaders Manchester United will host the London club in the next round, a difficult draw that won't have pleased either manager. Chelsea have an exceptional record in the FA Cup, having won it five times since the turn of the millennium.  
Rafael Benitez would consider himself a more than competent tournament manager and has won the trophies to prove it, but his chances of winning this season's FA Cup may have taken a blow after his unexpected outburst in the post-match press conference that followed yesterday's win. 

Benitez is known for his calm demeanour and reasoned outlook on the world of football which is why many reports describing his response as a 'rant' are exaggerated. He didn't raise his voice once. He didn't refuse to answer the question posed like Sir Alex Ferguson has done in the past, or snap unreasonably as Arsene Wenger did earlier this week. He also didn't pull out a prepared list of facts, an incident he is remembered for whilst manager of Liverpool. 

It is because he was manager of Liverpool, that Chelsea fans have never fully supported his tenure at Stamford Bridge. The majority of the Blues faithful hold issue with his past in the North West of England. The seemingly premature dismissal of previous manager Roberto Di Matteo has not helped his cause, with many fans choosing to vent their frustrations through banners and jeers at Benitez, instead of decision-making owner Roman Abramovich. 

It was in addressing these disgruntled fans that Rafa made headlines. "They have to concentrate on supporting the team, that's what they have to do. This group of fans are not making favourites with the team and they are singing and wasting time preparing banners.

Benitez's frustration at the fans is understandable, especially after a solid 2-0 victory, but it was his public criticism of the Chelsea board that was the most surprising element of this press conference, especially when you consider the ruthless track-record of Roman Abramovich. "Chelsea gave me the title of interim manager which is a massive mistake. I'm the manager." 

There is little doubt that these defiant comments will have upset Abramovich and his board of directors, but with Benitez already set to leave in May, he might just keep the Chelsea manager's position until then, albeit on an 'interim' basis.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea is not the only all Premier League tie of the quarter finals, with Everton set to host Wigan Athletic after they defeated this season's surprise package Oldham on Tuesday night.

It is fair to say that the draw has been relatively unkind to Championship strugglers Barnsley, who face the daunting prospect of a visit to Premier League Champions Manchester City whilst Millwall take on Blackburn. 

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