Who would bet against Rafa Benitez getting the boot long before the end of his interim spell as Chelsea manager? In a job where winning does not guarantee you staying in the hot seat, you can already get long odds on the Spaniard’s chances of avoiding the axe based on his shocking start to life as Blues boss.

Benitez got his excuses in before his side surrendered the lead to crash 3-1 at West Ham when he explained his squad was tired. In an unsubtle dig at Roberto di Matteo, he said: ” I’m not here to criticise, but that’s the reality. We will be stronger as a team and a squad if we juggle them.” But blaming his popular predecessor for failing to rotate his squad will not protect him.

Ron Suart, in charge for just 31 games during the 1974-75 season, holds the ineviable record for being the permanent manager in charge for the shortest number of matches at Stamford Bridge. Not counting the single match caretaker role of Ray Wilkins, Gus Hiddink’s three months in temporary charge is the shortest reign under Abramovich. The Dutchman is the only manager to leave by his own choice. Benitez has indicated he would like to extend his 6 month deal. But his credibility has already been damaged after his first 3 matches have produced two goal-less draws and a hammering at Upton Park.

The irony here is that Roman Abramovich, perceived to be chasing the dream of bringing beautiful attacking football to West London, had it all under di Matteo who, since delivering both the Champions League (below) and the FA Cup, was starting to turn on the style when Chelsea hit the top of the Premier League at the start of the season.

The reality is that Chelsea are now saddled with a £50 million striker well past his best in Fernando Torres and a manager whom his critics suggest is also in decline. He may have a contract as interim boss until the end of the season.

But you have to feel some sympathy for Benitez. Whatever he manages to achieve at Stamford Bridge, many Blues fans will never accept the former Liverpool boss. And as we all know the only thing a contract with Abramovich guarantees is a pay-off because the Russian is always liable to wake up one day, click his fingers and send Benitez back to the job centre.

– BY JOHN GUBBA

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