Are Chelsea fans guilty of bullying Rafael Benitez? Sky Sports' Spanish football expert Guillem Balague thinks so
Last Updated: 28/02/13 10:47pm
The Spaniard, who agreed in November to take the Blues reins until the end of the season, has been met with hostility by sections of the Stamford Bridge faithful.
Benitez, 52, made clear his displeasure in a press conference on Wednesday night following a 2-0 FA Cup fifth round win at Middlesbrough - revealing he felt awarding him the job only on an interim basis had been a 'mistake.'
Despite the club insisting on Thursday it is 'business as usual,' rumours abound that Benitez will be on his way out of the club before the end of the campaign, accompanying speculation that former manager Jose Mourinho will make his return to English football sooner rather than later.
But Spanish football expert Balague told Sky Sports News that the former Liverpool boss is a victim of "bullying" from the supporters.
He said: "It's interesting to start with 'why?' Is anybody listening to what he's saying? I think he's saying several things.
"The first is to the fans - are you backing the team? Because he's saying to the fans the way they're behaving is not helping. He's asking the fans to back the team because they are all in it together.
"Secondly, he's saying 'I was given the title of interim and it has put him in a weak position in front of everybody's eyes - fans, players, board and media.' Thirdly, the target is the Champions League and at the moment the targets are being met.
"A lot of what's been done against Benitez by a minority of fans is based on a quote that he didn't give. From minute one, there's been bullying towards him. It doesn't matter what he does, there'll be a section of fans against him.
"Everything he does is for the team. What he's saying is that the crucial part of the season is coming, they're through to the next round of the FA Cup and he wants everyone together. Nobody is really talking about that.
"The 'why' is that he felt this was the moment to say that what the fans are doing is affecting the team negatively. Of course, the people who are against Rafa will continue to be against Rafa, but he's asking the rest - the 'quiet' fans - if they want to back their team."
Balague claims that Benitez was initially offered an 18-month contract by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich only to insist on signing until the summer - and admits the ex-Liverpool boss may have missed a trick in negotiations.
Balague added: "If he didn't like the interim tag, he shouldn't have signed that contract. The people around the club are the ones that see him train every day and see the reaction of the players. They've seen a coach coaching and working with a team that is imbalanced. They have a lot of players in behind the strikers and perhaps they need different players.
"The team is not performing well in Stamford Bridge because of the behaviour of the fans. I wouldn't be proud if my behaviour was affecting my team negatively. If you want to be responsible for the victories, you are responsible for the failures as well. Managers, players should do better - but so should fans.
"We've seen a few times this season that people seem to have forgotten what their roles in football are. The ball-boy thinks he's got the right to stop a game and help a team. The fans think they can get rid of managers and put them in. I don't think that's the role of fans.
"My understanding is that an 18-month contract was offered and he decided to stay only until the end of the season. The senior players could be protecting him. It would be good if someone was there protecting him, and that's not happening at the moment."
The likes of Mourinho, along with former Chelsea stars Brighton manager Gus Poyet, Watford manager Gianfranco Zola and West Brom manager Steve Clarke have all been touted as possible swift solutions to Chelsea's problem, but Balague is adamant that changing the manager now would prove an error.
He said: "Do you really want to change the manager at this stage of the season? A manager that knows the team. It is so much noise coming from that press conference that people tend to forget the stats. Last year they were sixth, despite winning the Champions League.
"You look at that squad of Chelsea and sometimes you wonder if they're good enough for that top four. They've got a lot of quality but it's very imbalanced.
"The agenda of the fans is that they don't like him and they want Jose Mourinho in. Even if they go to the FA Cup final, I heard some of their fans saying they hope they don't win so he goes. Are we crazy? Fans don't want their team to win?"