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May 19, 2013

Rafa exits stage left, Moyes goes forth

One has embodied a traditional club's stability, the other his employer's latest bout of short-termism. Both made farewells in blue, but the depth of sentiment that followed David Moyes and Rafa Benitez down the Stamford Bridge tunnel was rather different.

As the full-time whistle sounded, Moyes -- destination: Manchester -- applauded and waved goodbye to the Everton fans giving him and his team a standing ovation. Benitez -- destination: unknown -- headed straight down the tunnel, not even returning to play a minor role in Chelsea's final-day lap of honour. He has supplied European glory, and with this win avoided a play-off for third place, but mob rules dictate that public shows of appreciation for him are forbidden. He might be just about forgiven by some, but that's where it stops.

• Lythell: Chelsea wave Benitez goodbye with win
• O'Farrell: Defeat epitomises the season for Everton

Home fans instead chose to celebrate Frank Lampard, who was presented with a golden boot for recently becoming the club's record goal scorer. Even late substitute Paulo Ferreira got a loud chorus of appreciation. At some other clubs, the manager gives an on-pitch end-of-season speech to fans. Benitez was never going to be handed the mic. Instead, John Terry and Lampard took it, with Lampard continuing the tributes to Ferreira, who eventually got a chance to speak, too.

"I received a lot of messages on the website saying 'thank you very much,'" Benitez said, explaining his no-show. "This was for the families and players."

While Arsenal and Spurs' clammy hands went through gears of uncertainty, Chelsea and Everton had played with a freedom allowed by the security of their season's challenges being just about met.

Both departing bosses were a constant presence on the sidelines, baking in their suits as the action to-ed and fro-ed from end to end. A swift first-half exchange of goals between Juan Mata and Steven Naismith both came from opponent's errors.

Moyes exits Everton having never won away at any of the former big four, though he can speak of a good record at a post-Sheikh Manchester City. He sank to his knees in his technical area when Nikica Jelavic slid wide the chance to bury the statistical ghost. A minute later, Fernando Torres scored the winning Chelsea goal that confirmed it.

When Moyes took over Everton in March 2002, he was given weeks to save them from their first relegation in almost 50 years. A collection of aging pros, led by Kevin Campbell and Duncan Ferguson, greeted him. Paul Gascoigne, faded to the point of ruin, was another problem to be dealt with.

Everton fans can satisfy themselves that their man has gone to the biggest job in English football. An uncertain future awaits them. The contenders list is hardly bulletproof. Roberto Martinez has relegation against his name. Neil Lennon would emulate Walter Smith in coming down from Scotland -- the fears are he might emulate his predecessor's loss of confidence. Malky Mackay and Michael Laudrup have the look of flavours of the month. Moyes exits with blessing from "the People's Club," as he so masterfully called it the day he joined. He has taken them as far as he can.

"We've had a really good go at it with what we've had over the years," was Moyes' final summing up of his time at Goodison.

Perhaps management's toughest discipline is the negotiation of expectations. When Sir Alex Ferguson took over at Old Trafford, Everton had won more league titles than Manchester United. Sixteen years later, Moyes' initial job was to re-establish Everton as a credible Premier League power. He achieved that in spades but was still not expected to win trophies, or even qualify, for the Champions League. His final team have yielded Everton's highest points total -- 63 -- since 1987-88, and Liverpool are behind them again, the first time in 76 years that civic pride has been successively Everton's. His next challenge is the club of which expectation is highest of all. His first defeat as United manager will be frontpage news. "I am sad that I am leaving Everton," Moyes confirmed. "The players, I bought every one of them, apart from Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert, who were already here."

Benitez departs as a stranger. Not many wanted to get to know him in the first place. The feeling is mutual. "I would like to give credit to all the staff behind the scenes in a very busy period," he said with noticeable lack of thanks to the club's support in programme notes. But, then again, why should he? Ask a Chelsea fan to praise their outgoing interim, and you are likely to be disappointed. A top-four place is regarded as a minimum achievement, the Europa League little more than confirmation that Chelsea are not as good as they were last season.

The Spaniard is accused of piggybacking on Chelsea, while Terry gets a pass for his repeated full-kit limelight stealing. Such is tribalism. That Benitez took over a team that was four points behind United and leaves it 14 points behind is a regular weapon of choice against him. Supporters have become so used to the whims of the Roman Abramovich regime that they are now thinking like the owner. Benitez made use of a good squad to win the Europa League to augment his CV. At the same time, no credible challenge for the title was mounted, but, considering his treatment, it would be little surprise if he did act in his own interests.

Jose Mourinho is once again the answer. Nostalgia and terrace logic places him as returning Messiah. The turmoil of his previous last days at the Bridge is forgotten, his wild-eyed recent antics at Real Madrid rationalised. Jose returns to an open field of title contenders and with his requisite high budget, too. Just don't expect him to thank Rafa for leaving him a decent legacy. Mourinho was celebrated in song as players and families took to the field with the trophy that Rafa won.

"It's been a great experience, taking on a team in transition," Benitez said. "We have left a good team. It will be good for the next manager. He will have a fantastic team."

Six months of Benitez's qualified success will be forgotten once the next Chelsea chapter, a familiar one, begins. Hasta la vista, Rafa. No backward glances, please.

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