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Bridges burnt on all sides

Both Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez on occasion rant.

Chelsea fans yesterday continued their campaign of opposition to Rafael Benitez
Chelsea fans yesterday continued their campaign of opposition to Rafael Benitez

The difference is that the former comes across as calculated and in control, even when perhaps he isn't. Witness the tirade two seasons back when, after Real Madrid's Champions League elimination at the hands of Barcelona, he blamed everyone from Uefa to Unicef.

The latter, alas, sees his venting blow up in his face. It's not just the much parodied and ridiculed "Fact" monologue, the one which gave Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United fans endless ammunition. It's also the litany of complaints Benitez launched an hour or so after winning the Fifa Club World Championship with Inter Milan, which ultimately got him the boot. ("I cannot continue like this, we are performing miracles, we need more players and more investment.")

Wednesday night's version sounded in part as if it was studied – there were obviously things Chelsea's interim manager had been wanting to get off his chest for some time – but, equally, there was something extremely extemporaneous about it. After all, why blow up like this after an uneventful win against a lower division opponent? And why have a go at your own travelling fans, folks who made a 300-mile round trip on a work night and who, to be fair, hadn't been any more vicious than usual in their abuse?

Benitez's blow-up prompted the usual reaction from the national media. Yes, it was ill-advised, but you can understand after all the unwarranted abuse he received.

What people fail to realise is that when it comes to supporters things don't need to be rational. The very act of supporting one club instead of another is, by definition, irrational and yet we celebrate that passion and loyalty. But when it comes to disliking someone because of past associations, nope, that's not OK. They expect supporters to let bygones be bygones and "get behind him" for the sake of the club.

Yesterday, against West Brom, the supporters' feelings were clear. There were banners such as the Twitter hashtag "#Rafaout", which were not removed by the club and stayed up for the entire game. There was the usual ode to Roberto Di Matteo in the 16th minute. And cries for Mourinho.

When Benitez was appointed he talked about wanting to "win over" the supporters. Well, after questioning their right to boo him, that won't be happening any time soon. And even if there were some still willing to cut him some slack he no doubt lost them when he effectively blamed the club's poor performances on the abuse meted out towards the manager.

Could you see it coming?

Of course you could. It's not that Benitez is a bad manager. He isn't. As he pointed out, he has won nine major trophies, including league crowns and Champions League titles. It's just that he was a bad manager for this Chelsea team at the time he was appointed.

Managing at Stamford Bridge requires patience, diplomacy and the ability to suck up. Benitez is spiky and paranoid at the best of times – there's a reason why he fell out with bosses at Valencia, Liverpool and Inter. He's a very good tactician when he has time to work, and at Chelsea he had none. Appointing him was a bad idea, giving him the interim tag an even worse one and it was foolish of him to take the job.

Obviously Chelsea bear some responsibility, too. Their approach with Benitez was the same as with previous managers. They appoint them, give them huge wages and then leave them isolated, with no public support. Would it have killed someone at the club – obviously not Roman Abramovich, since he never speaks out, but, say, the chief executive, Ron Gourlay, or the director of football, Michael Emenalo – to come out and make a plea to the fans?

Evidently so. Maybe they were too scared and did not want to tie their colours to the mast of a sinking ship.

Whatever happens to Mourinho and Real Madrid at Old Trafford, the 3-1 drubbing delivered to Barcelona at the Camp Nou will live on for a long time. It may not restore the Special One's legacy because too many bridges have been burned – it would take delivery of the club's 10th European Cup to do that – but the fact he figured out how to stop Lionel Messi and the best side of recent years is something that will remain on his CV.

And it will be an important selling point in helping him land his next job. Because the reality is that his reputation outside England isn't quite as gilded as some think. In fact, Paris Saint-Germain are pretty much the only card he holds and even then that is contingent on the duo of Carlo Ancelotti and Leonardo making a hash of things between now and the end of the season.

But if you can humiliate Barcelona on their own soil, beat them at the Bernabeu with an under-strength squad (as they did yesterday, with six regulars out of the starting line-up) and then triumph at Old Trafford in the space of a week, many will believe the old mojo is back.

Especially if you then follow it up with a run in Europe. When the dust settles in two weeks' time, Real Madrid might well find themselves as second favourites behind Bayern in the Champions League, which is exactly where Mourinho wants to be. Either that or the Portuguese will be facing 10 weeks of damp squibs, recrimination and humiliation, with only the Copa del Rey final to keep him warm.

Leave it to Sir Alex Ferguson to mess with people's minds. All week long the spotlight was on Ryan Giggs, who signed a one-year contract extension, that will take him past his 40th birthday. Yesterday happened to be the 22nd anniversary of his league debut. And it would have been his 1000th appearance as a professional, for club and country.

So what does Sir Alex do? He leaves him out of United's matchday squad altogether.

Maybe it's his way to remind everyone that what came before doesn't really matter. It's all about what you do next. Some may suggest it's rather Grinch-like, others that, in fact, it has been one of the secrets of his – and Giggs' – success.

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