Benitez is just stubborn enough to make it work at Chelsea
But his mood lifted sharply as he recalled how Rafa dealt with the incident the next morning, fining the quarrelling singers, then having them shake hands and quickly putting the incident right. It further convinced Gerrard that Benitez had a genius for international diplomacy of the footballing kind.
If so, he is going to need it this winter. With Chelsea, Benitez is going to have tougher problems than karaoke rows on his hands, not least in winning over a fan base that is generally suspicious of his sudden appointment and in figuring out how to solve the puzzle that Fernando Torres has become.
The pre-dawn sacking of Roberto Di Matteo after Wednesday night’s Champions League loss to Juventus was the most explicit statement of Roman Abramovich’s impatience for a dynastic period of glory at Stamford Bridge. There was something dark about the swiftness of the replacement.
All of the attention and speculation will centre on whether Benitez can sate Abramovichs insatiable quest for a manager who is either very like Pep Guardiola or very actually Pep Guardiola.
Already, the spice in Alex Ferguson’s remark that Benitez was “lucky” to get back in the game with Chelsea marks the renewal of the mutual dislike which characterised their relationship when Benitez managed Liverpool.
Similarly, Arsene Wenger’s thoughtful observation on Benitez’s willingness to accept a contract that lasts until the end of the season was a subtle way of highlighting the fact that Rafa is, as of now, just a stop-gap measure.
But Benitez’s entire career has been about succeeding against the odds. He doesn’t really look like a manager – he can’t compete with Ferguson’s aura or Roberto Mancini’s sartorial grace or with Wenger’s hauteur. And yet players respect him.
At least one club has fallen for him and half of Liverpool will sigh wistfully when they watch him on Match of the Day this weekend, speaking his halting English with that saucy Scouse lilt to his Spanish accent. Next April, Benitez will return to Anfield leading the very club against whom he enjoyed so many tactical, edgy victories during his time in charge at Liverpool. Then he goes to Old Trafford on May 4th.
If things go to plan, then the entire season could well hinge on the outcome of that match. Right now, Benitez is probably the only person in Chelsea who imagines that he can get Chelsea to play football in a way that pleases its fans and, most importantly, its restless owner.
It’s a bit trickier than teaching Craig Bellamy the correct etiquette with a eight iron. In fact, it’s probably the most stressful job in football right now.
But Benitez is just about bold and mad enough to believe he can make them love him.