THE BLOG

More Than a Title: Rafael Benitez and the Role of Interim Manager

08/03/2013 17:47 GMT | Updated 08/05/2013 10:12 BST

Rafael Benitez' astonishing outburst following Chelsea's recent 2-0 win in the FA Cup at Middlesbrough made it clear that the Spaniard won't be turning his interim role into a permanent one come the end of the season.

His appointment last November was deeply unpopular with large swathes of the Chelsea fans due to his association with Liverpool and comments he had previously made about the club and so he was greeted at his first home game with a fiercely hostile reception. More intriguing though is his comment on the title of interim manager that he was given when appointed: "Chelsea gave me the title of interim manager, which is a massive mistake. I'm the manager."

Why is Benitez so fixated with the title 'interim manager' when, as a vastly experienced football manager he knows that it is his results that have been his primary downfall and not the title he has been given?

In his 27 games in charge, Benitez has won 14 games, drawn seven and lost six, scoring 60 goals and conceding 27. That makes his win percentage 52% and his loss percentage 22%. This compares badly with the three previous interim managers who've taken the Chelsea hotseat. Avram Grant had a win percentage of 67% and lost just 9% of his games. Guus Hiddink had a 73% win percentage and lost just 5% of his games whilst Roberto Di Matteo won 67% of his games whilst in interim charge last season and lost just 14%.

So Benitez is failing the most important rule of being a successful interim manager - delivery. The prime objective of interim management is delivery; delivering change and improvement which should be balanced with an approach that makes the client (in this case Chelsea) look good. Benitez' has delivered neither change nor improvement in his four months at the club.

Benitez also ignored (or at least underestimated) the political landscape at Chelsea before signing on the dotted line. One of the main attractions of being an interim manager is the prospect of leaving behind the constraints of the political landscape at a business (such as Benitez experienced in his latter days at Liverpool). However, Benitez's error here was to think that just because he was coming in as an interim manager he could ignore the politics.

Another important aspect of being an interim manager is the cultural fit. Half the battle of any transformation process is getting people on board with change and effectively engaging them to ensure it is delivered properly. Understanding the culture of a context and adapting to it is vital.

Benitez had previously criticised the club and this has been held against him, he's also appeared negative and defensive in press conferences, has been quick to blame others rather than take responsibility and is renowned for playing cautious, defensive minded football whereas his hugely popular predecessor Roberto Di Matteo preferred expansive attacking football.

And another of the key golden rules of interim management? It's recognising the fact that interim management can sometimes be a thankless task. Experienced interim managers realise that although they are called on for their knowledge and expertise - delivering the correct outcomes needs to happen with the minimum of fuss, without fanfare and with no expectation of a thank you or big show of gratitude at the end of the assignment.

Professional interims realise that the praise for bringing about successful change will usually lie with the hiring managers or most senior stakeholders of the organisations - interims should leave a role quietly in the secure knowledge of a job well done. Benitez's outburst following the Middlesbrough game made it all about him so he has failed this test on almost every level.

Is it entirely his fault? Almost certainly not as the fans and playing staff could be more supportive of him for the greater good of the club, it was also owner Roman Abramovich's decision to appoint him despite being aware that the cultural fit wasn't right. One thing is for certain, Benitez has bitten off more than he can chew at Chelsea.

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