Masterpiece of Understatement

I must admit, immediately, that the title of this piece comes from an article by BBC Sport’s chief football writer, Phil McNulty.

As much as I despise bad writing, there is a part of me that is slightly overwhelmed by just how beautiful good writing can be. Beautiful writing is common in fiction- almost as common as dross. It might even be more appropriate in fiction than in non-fiction. Fiction is supposed to transport you, deviate you from the repetition of your daily cycle. Non-fiction is supposed to be fact.

Facts are dull. They are dry. They are true, so they are boring, prompting certain newspapers to reject fact in favour of rather more entertaining speculation. That’s bad journalism, and it’s not good for us.

I really can’t express how amazing the following sentence made me feel:

“To suggest that Benitez’s arrival to succeed Roberto Di Matteo has not been received with universal acclaim by Chelsea’s supporters is to offer up a masterpiece of understatement.”

Isn’t it glorious? If you said that out loud, you’d have to pop a monocle in and hold a pipe to the corner of your mouth to stabilise yourself.

What’s more, it’s true, and that makes it so much better. Yes, I do despise Benitez- I pitied Liverpool for keeping him as long as they did. He’s the managerial equivalent of swimming with lead weights around your ankles.

This Sunday, Stamford Bridge will be livid. The Matthew Harding stand will most likely be alight with fury. The West Standers, of course, will sip their caviar, spread their champagne on crackers, and wonder what all the fuss is about, but that’s what you get from ten years of being a billionaire’s favourite toy.

The fact is, eight years ago, every single Chelsea fan fell in love with a man. He wore a long grey coat, and he did it so much better than Roberto Mancini. He was handsome, and had a way of speaking that made us all quite giddy. He was controversy embodied, a megalomaniac rumoured to have hidden in a laundry basket just to dictate the flow of a cup final from which he was banned.

He probably didn’t, but in our dreams he did. Four years after his dismissal, following the unfortunate omelette incident, the name of Jose Mourinho is still sung by Chelsea fans. Every time Roman gets sick of the latest manager, every one of use crosses his fingers that he still has Jose’s number.

We miss him terribly.

In contrast, Rafael Benitez is a balding, bespectacled, chubby man. He enjoys zonal marking, which is dull. Where Mourinho had masculine stubble, Benitez sports a beard which can probably be found in a joke shop. Where Mourinho was sharply dressed, Benitez is more practical, which is all very lovely and sensible, but since when do football fans love people for being sensible? Since when does anyone?

The final nail in the coffin for Benitez is the fact that he used to manage Liverpool, and managed them when they were quite successful. On the back of some repugnant cheating by famous ginger Xabi Alonso, Chelsea were kicked out of a Champions’ League which was rightfully theirs, leaving it to Inter Milan to cock up the final and let Liverpool win.

As a result, Benitez and Mourinho don’t get on. To explain what that means, Andre Villas Boas didn’t get on with Mourinho either. He didn’t do very well- probably something to do with the older players’ ability to send text messages to Spain, but probably more to do with receiving replies.

Rafael Benitez could manage Chelsea to the four remaining trophies of the season, and I’d still want him to go at the end of the interim. I’d want him to go because I’d believe it to be a fluke, knowing him, as all Chelsea fans do, as a mediocre manager who has been unemployed for two years.

I hated Phil Scolari with a passion. I can’t even say I care that much about Benitez.

Beautiful journalism is a brilliant idea. Facts aren’t dull. Facts actually mean something. The words “masterpiece of understatement” spoke to me in a way that an epic poem never could. They spoke the truth.


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