The official line from Stamford Bridge was that it was "business as usual" and presumably they did not appreciate the rich irony of that statement when television crews were lined up on the pavements and the questions, once again, were about a form of chaos and familiar sense of astonishment about the speed at which a club of Chelsea's ambitions manage to locate crisis.
For Chelsea, business as usual means a disenchanted fan-base torn between their appreciation for the glories of the Roman Abramovich era and the diminishing hope that he might refrain from simultaneously involving the club in so much that feels cheap and unpleasant.
It means another manager living in permanent insecurity, the rest of English football rubbernecking in their direction and another batch of hostile headlines as we wait for the official announcement, knowing that it may not be far away. The statement, when it comes, will be short and to the point. A couple of bland lines from one of the directors, maybe. Nothing too grand. Then back to the business of recruiting a 10th manager in nine years and buying the silence of the chap who has just left.
This is what a cherished old club has come to, operating from a ground that has witnessed so many exhilarating moments in recent years but also so many public relations disasters and where, just across the road, you will now find their £50m striker, Fernando Torres, pointed towards a job cooking burgers in the billboard one bookmaker has erected.
Brutal, you might think, but so is the fact that just inside Stamford Bridge's boundaries the huge picture that used to adorn the wall behind the West Stand, where supporters could have photographs taken beside the image of Roberto Di Matteo and his players and assorted trophies, has been replaced with another picture of the Champions League celebrations – excluding, with
some precision, the manager of the time. A small ignominy, perhaps, compared with the other indignities heaped on Di Matteo. In another sense it feels like a pretty accurate snapshot of the way the modern-day Chelsea go about their business.
Everyone knows the routine by now: appoint, marginalise, isolate and sack. Then comes the pay-off – in total, £86m so far since 2004 – and then the moments when they give the impression they would happily airbrush the last manager out of the club's history. Rafael Benítez, as a politician, might not be as clever as he would like to believe but he was smart in one respect: at least Chelsea's interim manager got his retaliation in first before the lawyers became involved.
That word again: "interim". Until a few years ago people in this position always tended to be known as the "caretaker" manager. Before it became the word of choice at Stamford Bridge, "interim" felt more like office jargon. It was the name of an album by The Fall. One thing it was not was a football term. Now it is the one word by which Benítez's short, joyless reign will be associated. "A temporary or provisional arrangement; stopgap; makeshift," is the dictionary definition. It will be there on Saturday in the match-day programme against West Bromwich Albion, just as it is for every home match. It will be on the team-sheets. It is on the letterheads of official Chelsea paper. The club could hardly have done more to promote the idea Benítez was merely passing through and it is almost bizarre that Abramovich and his nomenklatura expected the team to thrive from such a position.
Sir Alex Ferguson always said the first reason Manchester United finished third in the 2001-02 season was because the players thought he was retiring in the summer and started to think beyond him. A manager counting down the months is inevitably going to struggle to exert full authority and, when the dressing room is as hard-faced and unflinching as Chelsea's, the players were always going to look at Benítez as just a short-term measure, not even good enough to get a proper title. These are basic facts of football life. They really should not need to be explained to a club of serious ambition.
A poll on the Guardian's website has 63% of people blaming the club's hierarchy. Yet there are solid reasons, whether we like them or not, why Abramovich can make one unpopular decision after another and still be spared the crowd's hostility. Many Chelsea supporters will be dismayed by a lot of what Abramovich does. Just do not expect them to turn on the owner when there is a magnificent hulk of silverware, bearing the Uefa stamp and decorated in blue and white ribbons, residing at Stamford Bridge.
At the same time there is also gathering evidence that Chelsea is becoming the place to demonstrate how a culture of short-termism can eventually destabilise a football club. At the end of this season it will be one title in seven years. For the last two seasons they have not even challenged. The interims/managers are sent to the guillotine with such frequency that anyone worth his salt must have to think long and hard about whether he wants to work in this environment. Pep Guardiola smiled politely and decided he did not want to spend every day watching his back. Benítez, out of work and so far removed he had taken to writing an internet blog, could hardly be so fussy when, perhaps most shockingly of all, the truth is that any well-adjusted football person could have told Abramovich appointing the former Liverpool manager was the equivalent of unloading diesel into a petrol engine.
This, maybe, is what happens when a billionaire appoints men such as Bruce Buck and Ron Gourlay who tick off every demand like zombies. The regime at Stamford Bridge does not seem to realise what can happen when there is never stability or clarity, just the sense that they are stumbling along. It breeds malcontents, insecurity, selfishness, people looking after their own interests rather than the team's.
It is not an exact science but a "good dressing room" can generally be gauged by how watertight it is against the outside world. Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool all understand that and Manchester City are slowly getting there. Chelsea operate in a different way. It is a culture of leaks, strategic positioning, undermining others. Not everyone but a concerted number, nonetheless. One of the players – his identity would be a grave disappointment to Chelsea's supporters – has been behind a lot of it. Agents, staff and all manner of other people are involved. They are clever, too, eluding all sorts of investigations, and the longer that culture goes on, the more embedded it becomes. It is the English equivalent of Real Madrid, just not in a good way.
The next manager – Avram Grant, José Mourinho or whoever – has it all to sort out and, when one thinks back to that epic, wonderful night in Munich last May, it is difficult to imagine another Champions League winner has ever lurched around so miserably the following season. Chelsea have become the object lesson in how not to defend the most cherished title of them all. One interim is gone, another is on his way and the atmosphere at every match is just toxic. It is a mess and it might get worse before it can get better.