All aboard the Rafamobile! Benítez suddenly coach of Chelsea (for now)

3 Comments

Hours after they parted ways with the man who won them their first European title, Chelsea’s moved on to a man whose reputation hinges on his UEFA Champions League success.

With the appointment of former Liverpool manager Rafa Benítez today, Chelsea’s replaced Roberto Di Matteo, if only in the short-term. Given the job of seeing out the 2012-13 season, Benítez appears to be doing little more than keeping a seat warm for Roman Abramovich’s true ambition – Pep Guardiola.

Here’s the club’s statement:

Chelsea Football Club can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim first-team manager until the end of the season.

The owner and the Board believe that in Benitez we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives.

The 52-year-old Spaniard is due to meet the players at the training ground in Cobham tomorrow

Those objectives are unlikely to include UEFA Champions League, where Chelsea’s fate now depends on Juventus losing in Donetsk on matchday six. Of course, that could happen, and if it does (while Chelsea beats Nordsjaelland), the Blues will have a man whose reputation has come to rest on his Champions League accumen. If not, there’s always the league, two domestic cups, and Europa League.

It’s a good appointment for everybody except Di Matteo, who likely would be in a job today had Benítez been either unavailable or unwilling to subjugate himself to a temporary position.

Such has been Benítez’s fall. After guiding Liverpool to second in the Premier League in 2008-09, he allowed Liverpool to slip to seventh place, the failure to make Champions League beginning a slide from which the club’s still recovering. Benítez’s subsequent inability to replace José Mourinho at Inter Milan meant the former Valencia boss’s best route to a marquee job was a situation like Chelsea’s.

Let’s also not forget the nature Benítez’s failings in Milan, because they’re particularly relevant to his potential success at Chelsea. We should take managerial hubris and put it aside, because Benítez has likely been dissuaded of notions that had him shrug off his part in Liverpool’s downfall. The state he left Internazionale in was bad enough.

There he inherited an old team coming off a Mourinho-led European title and not only changed how they played but ran his veterans into the ground. There’s more than one similarity to be drawn between that Inter side and Benítez’s new charge. By the time the Nerazzurri took off for 2011’s Club World Cup, they were depleted, mutinous, and out of chances for their ill-fitting coach.

While Benítez is not directly replacing Mourinho in London, he will again be faced with expectations raised by the Special One. Even after Di Matteo delivered the one prize José couldn’t claim, standards at Stamford Bridge reflect the demands of a man five years gone. If Benítez is going to retain his job, he has to claim the league, FA Cup, or Europa League. And as Di Matteo’s travails show, even that might not be enough.

Because if Benítez is to win silverware during his Stamford Bridge residency, it will likely be through the same pragmatism that characterized his most successful times at Anfield. It’s not ugly, it’s not anti-football, but it’s also not Barcelona. And for whatever misguided reasons Roman Abramovich is using to fuel his decisions, Chelsea’s owner won’t be happy until his team is playing the brand of soccer he’s wanted since the day he bought the club.

The lack of style undid Mourinho. It undid Di Matteo. And it will likely undo Benítez, regardless of results.

The one thing that could keep Benítez in London past May 2013 is if Guardiola goes elsewhere, because for everything we’ve heard about Abramovich’s lust of Pep, we’ve heard little of reciprocation from the former Barça boss. We know he prefers England. We know he prefers London. We also know that he’s unlikely to make any decisions until early-2013, if not later.

All of which makes the treatment of Di Matteo more curious. Replacing a club icon with a former rival is precarious enough (though Chelsea fans will likely recognize Benítez’s qualities). To do so when it’s unclear if lack of a striker or thin central midfield are the real problems hints Di Matteo was never going to be embraced by Abramovich. It didn’t matter that Di Matteo’s Champions League troubles came in a group with two of the top eight teams in Europe. That he lost provided Arbamovich an out from a man he never truly wanted, even if it made more sense to keep him until the Guardiola question was resolved.

With no answers in sight, Chelsea fans are best served concentrating on the present. They aren’t the best team in England, but they’re capable of competing for the title. Perhaps Benítez will bring something new out of them. Cup competitions have taken on a special meaning for the Blues. They’re still alive in both. And even if Europe only offers Europa League, the team has enough young, exciting talents to make that congestion-inducing tournament worth a Chelsea-supporters’ time. There’s still plenty of light in this 2012-13 tunnel.

Roberto Di Matteo won’t be driving them through it, but it’s time to move on. All aboard the Rafamobile.

Real Madrid to reject La Liga’s plans for USA games

AP
Leave a comment

Real Madrid aren’t interested one little bit about moving La Liga games from Spain to the United States of America.

La Liga, along with clubs Barcelona and Girona, have asked the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to move their league game from Catalonia to Miami, Florida in January 2019.

Amid growing negativity towards the idea from FIFA president Gianni Infantino plus several other La Liga clubs, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has now stuck his oar in.

“We won’t go to the United States,” Perez said. “I don’t know whose interest it is in to play there but it is not in the interests of the clubs or the supporters, so we outright reject it.”

And there you go.

This idea seemed to be a decent one to start with but the more it has developed, the more it has become a bit of a PR disaster for the league.

With the Spanish FA, La Liga, U.S. Soccer, CONCACAF and others all having to agree on moving a regular-season game out of Spain, it seems like a lot of people will need a lot of convincing between now and November/December time when this will have to be confirmed or canceled.

Last week RFEF demanded more details on the game in Miami from La Liga and refused to give the green light to the game.

Javier Tebas, head of La Liga, seems desperate to make this happen after agreeing to a 15-year deal to play one league game a season in North America. But Tebas hasn’t received much backing from clubs, officials and pretty much anyone else in-between.

La Liga is trying to grow its global brand but moving regular season games across the Atlantic Ocean a la the NFL, NBA and MLB doesn’t seem to be the way fans and players in Spain want to go about it.

What other alternatives are there?

They could perhaps start by playing the Spanish Super Cup in the USA and see how that fares? Or maybe host a mini preseason tournament in the USA involved over half of the La Liga teams? Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona and others already spend pretty much every preseason in the USA playing in front of European giants in prestigious friendly games and fans accept it is a scrimmage but still show up in their thousands.

If La Liga’s brand is that strong, fans will want to travel from across the globe to watch Real, Barca, Atletico and others in action. That already happens, but can you fault them for trying to strengthen it by taking games elsewhere?

La Liga want to try something different and to close the gap between themselves and the Premier League. Throw in the growing popularity of the Bundesliga and Serie A, at least from a commercial standpoint, and it makes sense fo think outside the box, or the country in this instance.

But if the key stakeholders do not agree, it can’t happen. End of discussion.

VIDEO: Worst dive in history? Quite possibly

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Now, we’ve all become accustomed to seeing some of the ugly parts of the beautiful game.

Diving is undoubtedly one of the biggest problems we needed to clean up. And ridiculous videos like this one may help to do that.

Feyenoord’s Steven Berghuis got a little pat on his head from an opposition player at the weekend. It was a friendly ‘nice one, mate’ from Utrecht player Willem Janssen. That was it. Nothing more.

Yet this was how Berghuis reacted as he is being ridiculed across social media.

Now, we all know that ‘trying to win a free kick’ and other forms of embellishment are apparently part of the game. We don’t like it. But until VAR is commonplace at all levels of the game, players will continue to try and get away with whatever they can.

But incidents like this and some of Neymar’s antics this summer, coupled with the public ridicule that type of simulation has received, will surely act to dissuade future generations from attempting such outrageous levels of skullduggery.

We live in hope.

Word has it Berghuis is off to a swimming pool in Rotterdam on Monday to perfect his diving skills…

Women’s Ballon d’Or award launched

Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) A woman will win the most prestigious individual trophy in soccer for the first time this year.

Awarded every year by France Football magazine since Stanley Matthews won it in 1956, the Ballon d’Or for the best player of the year will be given to both a woman and a man on Dec. 3 in Paris.

Pascal Ferre, the magazine’s editor in chief, told The Associated Press women’s soccer has grown so much in recent years it was a logical step to create the new award.

“Women’s soccer is a booming discipline that deserves the same respect as men’s soccer,” Ferre told the AP. “It’s coming to maturity and growing bigger. More than 760 million TV viewers watched games at the last women’s World Cup in 2015, this did not happen by chance.”

France Football will make an official announcement in Tuesday’s edition of the magazine.

A list of 15 nominees for the prize will be announced on Oct. 8 alongside the 30-man selection. The players will be selected by France Football and a panel of international journalists specialized in women’s soccer will vote on a winner.

“The jury won’t be the same as the jury voting for the men,” Ferre said. “Only experts can vote. I’m confident we will get a jury of about 40 journalists, from countries where women’s soccer is growing.”

The Ballon d’Or merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year award from 2010-15, but the magazine and soccer’s governing body split two years ago. FIFA also awards a trophy to the best women’s player.

Ferre said most of the female players he spoke with about the new Ballon d’Or have been enthusiastic.

“They are thrilled and can’t wait for it,” Ferre said. “They are very proud to see that the world of soccer considers that women should be treated in the same respect as men.”

France Football is also launching a new award for the best young player of the year, the Kopa trophy, named after the late Raymond Kopa. The former Real Madrid attacking midfielder who became the first French player to win the Ballon d’Or back in 1958 died last year at 85. Only former winners will be entitled to choose the winner from a list of 10 under-21 players.

The award ceremony will be broadcast live in more than 120 countries.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

VIDEO: 7-year-old’s amazing national anthem at LA Galaxy

LA Galaxy/Twitter
Leave a comment

Sometimes you see something which makes you stop in your tracks and marvel in the wonder of the world.

This is one of those occasions.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Seven-year-old Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja stole the show before the LA Galaxy’s 3-0 win against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday, with the youngster performing an incredible rendition of the National Anthem ahead of the Major League Soccer clash.

Emma was the winner of the #GalaxySocial Day Instagram Anthem contest and her prize was to sing the Star Spangled Banner at the StubHub Center.

Take a look at the video below to see the youngster steal the show, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic declared her the MVP of the game.

Simply amazing.