A leading figure in the Chelsea Supporters Trust says he was "astonished" by Rafael Benítez's condemnation of dissenting supporters and can see shades of Brian Clough's ill-fated reign at Leeds United in the Spaniard's interim stewardship at Stamford Bridge.
Tim Rolls had just left a suddenly fog-bound Riverside Stadium on Wednesday following Chelsea's 2-0 FA Cup win against Middlesbrough and was preparing for the long journey back to London when his radio began reporting Benítez's outburst. "A lot of people were pretty unhappy about his implosion," he says. "His appointment has been likened to Brian Clough going to Leeds; it seems to be one of those pairings which just don't fit.
"Benítez has isolated himself from the majority of the supporters. After Middlesbrough, I wouldn't have thought he'll get a very good reaction at the West Brom game at Stamford Bridge on Saturday."
Rolls disputes Benítez's assertion that the abuse from the stands is jeopardising Chelsea's chance of success. "People are astonished by what he said," he says. "The fans get behind the team and they will be behind the team against West Brom."
He suspects the outburst was carefully planned. "Otherwise it seems strange to come out with it at Middlesbrough where he got far less stick than usual. The criticism he got a few weeks ago when they lost at Newcastle was far worse. People didn't protest after the final whistle at Middlesbrough, the team had won, they weren't angry, they just left the ground."
While Rolls sees Benítez's assertion that prefixing his title with "interim" was a massive mistake as "totally bizarre – he must have agreed to it when he took the job"– he is more concerned with the manager's claim that it is only a minority of fans who are against him. "To say it's a minority is wrong," he says. "Most fans don't want him at Chelsea, it's just that some protest, others don't. He tends to get much less stick at away games."
Dave Dunbar, the chairman of the Swindon Blues supporters club, is far from an apologist for Benítez but he believes the opposition to Chelsea's interim manager has, on occasion, been carried too far. Dunbar listened to Benítez's suggestion that those who constantly sing abusive songs and wave "Rafa Out" banners are jeopardising Chelsea's chances of success' with interest.
"I agree that a lot of the stuff that has happened at Stamford Bridge has possibly put the players off and can be distracting," Dunbar says. "Some of it is not on but some of it is justified. I don't think too much of Benítez's tactical ability or his substitutions. He's very predictable. Or his policy of resting players when he should be fielding his strongest team and getting into winning positions before taking them off. Rafael Benítez is not a liked man at Chelsea."
Much of the dislike stems from the Champions League rivalry between Liverpool and Chelsea during the days when Benítez was in charge at Anfield and made certain comments which irritated followers of the London club.
"It was almost certainly a wind-up, all managers get involved in mind games," Dunbar says. "But his Liverpool past is a big reason why people have been digging into him since day one. He would not have been the fans' choice."
The man who chose to replace Roberto Di Matteo with Benítez seems immune from any flak. "The fans will not criticise Roman Abramovich, at the end of the day it's his money," says Dunbar, who is adamant that backing for Chelsea's owner remains staunch although there may not be a flood of season ticket renewal applications. "It's Roman Abramovich's club, he can do what he wants. Some people are saying they will review renewing their season tickets if he doesn't sort things out." Rolls agrees. "There's no criticism of Roman Abramovich but there is a disillusionment with the club's hierarchy," he says. "Season tickets are an issue. Renewals usually go out in April so Chelsea could do with knowing who next season's manager will be by then."
It is safe to assume that, even at Stamford Bridge's high prices, there will be a stampede for seats should José Mourinho be recalled. "We'd love the Special One back," Dunbar says.
It appears that, despite Wednesday's diatribe, Benítez could well stay until the summer. Should he depart earlier, Dunbar is cool on the prospect of Avram Grant again keeping the seat warm. "I'm not sure," he says. "Maybe John Terry could take a senior role."
Rolls does not necessarily see imminent change as the answer. "We've already sacked one manager this season in Roberto Di Matteo which fans are still unhappy about and there's a shallow pool out there at the moment," he says. "We don't need yet more uncertainty."
He too would like Mourinho back. "He's got that element of surprise. He can spot weaknesses early and make quick tactical changes and substitutions. He's one of those charismatic people who transform clubs."