Last week, after witnessing an evening best described as “lacklustre”, Rafa Benitez took a huge gulp of the fresh Teesside air and decided respond to questions over his popularity with all the poise and grace of a seagull drowning in custard.
“It's not my fault. It's the owner's fault. Actually, it's the fans' fault. I'm going in the summer though, so whatever. Later, haters.” I wasn't on any of the buses that were taking the Chelsea fans on the second part of their 500 mile round trip on an absolutely freezing work night, but I'd be surprised if the words those supporters must have used to describe his outburst are printable here.
Whilst we're all pretty stunned to still be referring to his reign in the present tense five days later, the incident has created an impasse between himself and the club's fans - and crucially, between himself and the club's hierarchy. Few managers survive falling foul of the terraces; none survive falling foul of the boardroom.
Much has been written about why Chelsea find themselves in this particular pickle. The fact remains that, come this summer, Roman Abramovich faces the most important decision he'll ever make at the club, when he swivels the big managerial chair around again and gestures invitingly for a new boss to wedge himself into its plush velvety bum-groove. His first choice, a certain well-chiselled Spaniard, has already found a home, while his second choice, Germany's Professor Xavier to Dortmund's fledgling superhumans, apparently doesn't fancy it.
Whoever gets the job faces the task of dragging a footballing superpower - who are straddling two eras in their history - kicking and screaming back to a seat at the big table. He needs someone who'll have the bravery and the self-confidence to roll up to one of the Manchester clubs and proudly staple a teamsheet without the words Cole, Lampard or Terry on it to the dressing room door. Without worrying about what's being said about him in private.
He needs a coach who can take a individual with exceptional playing talent and then mould a team that both functions without him, but also gives him the tools and the freedom to excel (making it look to the untrained eye like he's one of the best players in the world). A coach who isn't desperately trying to make approaches and attitudes from by-gone eras work in the modern game, but is looking at what the next great revolution is and how he can both harness and manipulate it.
Someone young, someone with a burgeoning reputation in the modern game, someone with style, substance, and sophistication. A passionate manager, who the fans can share their snarling euphoria with in victory, and their bottle-booting frustration with in defeat. Someone who knows the club, maybe someone who's even worked there before or, say, earned his stripes while on the back-room staff or something.
The man Roman Abramovich needs is Andre Villas-Boas.
In a cruel but hilarious twist of fate, the best candidate to sweep up the crumbs in SW1 would actually be the man they already sacked for trying to do just that. The old guard need to go? AVB thought so 18 months ago. Benitez looks disinterested? Hazard can't quite make the leap from “huge talent” to “world class”? Look what's happened to Bale since he got a new manager. Fans need a manager they can connect with? AVB would wring the blood from a kitten if he thought it would get his team a late equaliser.
Given that the players the gravel-throated young upstart tried to do away with (with no small help from their potential replacements, mind you) went on to a Champions League title without him, there's weight to the argument that his initial appointment was a few years premature. But the next incumbent of the Stamford Bridge job is going to be given the same brief he was, with considerably more urgency. Appointing Benitez wasn't Abramovich's biggest mistake - rather it was the loss of nerve that saw the dressing room appeased and the right man for the job take his Strepsils elsewhere.
Read more of Adam's columns.
Michael Laudrup can be backed at 32.00 to be Chelsea manager next season.