Rafael Benitez at his presentation last summer with Internazionale Milano.
Few imagined that his stay would last only six months. He won the Italian
Super Cup and the FIFA World Club Cup during his brief tenure at Inter.
That roar of delight arising from one side of Milan today was not the last celebrative holler of Inter Milan’s Club World Cup victory party.
Rather, it was the war whoop of Inter’s faithful reacting to the news of Rafa Benitez’ sacking. Speculation on the exact date of this act had been building for weeks now, and even the men in Inter Milan jerseys' triumph in a notable but ultimately secondary competition could not save the head of the top man. Even Inter’s prior manager, Jose' Mourinho, announced publicly that Benitez should have thanked him for the Club World Cup trophy, as he was merely inheriting Mourinho’s Champion’s League winning side.
Three Times on the Trot
This is now the third successive time in recent years that this scenario has played out for the one-time boy genius. After a rough start in Spanish football, succumbing to early terminations at clubs in both the Primera and Segunda divisions, Benitez finally came to prominence by developing underachieving Valencia into a legitimate force by winning the La Liga crown in 2002 and 2004, and adding a UEFA Cup title in ’04 as well. However, he quickly became enamored of his own abilities, and differences with management over requests for increased control saw him exit to Liverpool FC. This would mark the beginning of the type of controversy that has followed Benitez for years, increasingly so over the last several.
Liverpool FC: The Agony and the Ecstasy
Liverpool supporters reminded former owner George Gillett that they
fancied the Spaniard.
Successes and failures at Merseyside mirrored his performance in Spain, with massive victories (an immediate Champions League trophy in 2005) and eventual regression (the introduction of new American ownership that again, according to Benitez, failed to back him with additional money and authority.) He cleverly played on the Scouse fans’ venomous dislike of the new owners, painting himself in a much better light than might otherwise have existed. Eventually, however, he again wore out his welcome, landing in what should have been a dream situation at Inter. But even the master manipulator could not play the game well enough or long enough this time to prevent a quick death at the butcher’s cleaver.
On this point, then, the issue of Rafa’s methods, it is quite obvious that he has played every situation as a justification for more authority. When he is winning, he demands increased autonomy as a reward. When he is losing, the cry is that with more leverage, he could return the club to its prosperous path. His behavior, however, always wears thin when the winning stops, as it inevitably does with this type of personality.
A second notable theme during Rafa’s coaching career has been the frequency with which his teams seem to suffer from excessive player loss through injury. It is a notion that has again, interestingly, been trotted out in his defense during his short tenure at Inter, with some blaming the ultralight soccer shoes the players are wearing. His believers suggest he was doing all he could be expected to do with a depleted team; his detractors remind us that perhaps it is Rafa’s training itself that produces the injuries, just as were seen at Liverpool in his last days there.
Unfortunately, the same things that makes Rafa successful are also what eventually brings his downfall. Eccentric geniuses (the term itself being perhaps redundant) invariably become too precious for their own good, succumbing to “magical thinking” and falling in love with their self-perceived abilities. A specific manifestation in Rafa’s case is the over-manipulation of lineup choices, and a bewildering marginalizing of certain players.
As a consequence, Benitez’ reputation is no longer the positive calling card it once was, but the unenviable mark of a man who has read Don Quixote one too many times (or, perhaps, one too few).
Whatever the specific causes of the death spiral that Rafa Benitez finds (or has put) himself in,the bloom is most definitely off this Spanish rose.
About the Author
Ken also writes freelance soccer articles and is currently affiliated with Soccerpro.com. He is also available for direct assignments as well.
Ken gets his licensed soccer equipment at soccerpro.com.
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