White smoke billowing from the Vatican’s Fiorentina End chimney this morning signalled a shock turn of the managerial roundabout at Europe’s top institutions of football and religion. Despite rumours that Pope Guardiola would be next in charge of the papal balcony, shock choice Rafael Benitez will instead take up the vacant job of Pope for the rest of the season, with the vastly experienced ex-Pontiff Benedict moving in the opposite direction to manage Chelsea.
Most independent observers agree that Chelsea have got the better end of the deal. Former Pope Benedict’s Wikipedia entry confirms that before accepting the high-pressure role at the Vatican, he made his England debut in 1984 and over the following eight years scored 48 goals, finishing as his country’s all-time second highest scorer behind Bobby Charlton. After his retirement from football he moved into broadcasting, working as a pundit on Match of the Day.
His subsequent time at the Vatican has also been well spent learning a thing or two about goalkeeping as his predecessor’s assistant and spending most afternoons for the last eight years talking tactics with his cardinals while kicking choirboys around the Sistine Chapel.
‘We certainly didn’t expect the Pope,’ explained Chelsea Supporters Group leader Trizia Fiorellino. ‘But we’re giving this a cautious welcome. OK, so none of the players speaks Latin, but the way we’re playing right now we really need a miracle; he could be just the man for the job.’
Benitez, by contrast, has only a middling theological record, despite being highly regarded in the Archdiocese of Liverpool. Many religious commentators believe his impressive CV to be largely due to luck, citing 2005’s ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ when eleven men were improbably saved from being massacred – later analysis indicated the salvation to be less due to Benitez’s faith than to the goalkeeping prowess of Jerzy Dudek. Benitez is understood since then to have heroically allowed the press to crucify him as a desperate last attempt to gain religious credibility.
But still the reaction from Catholics was scathing. ‘We’re gutted,’ insisted Damian Thompson, former editor of the Catholic Herald. ‘Pope Benedict has hardly had ten minutes in the job, and the Supreme Being decides it’s his club and he can get rid of him like he’s, I don’t know, God or something. Oh well. Does anyone know the Latin for ‘fat Spanish waiter’.
(hat-tip to Not Amused)