Earlier today, Italian football giant Inter Milan and Spanish coach Rafa Benitez “mutually agreed to part company immediately”, or words to that effect. Basically, it amounts to the fact that Inter President Massimo Moratti had had enough of Benitez’s egotistical antics and said “Ciao”. As we move to the end of 2010, we’ll now see the manager merry-go-round crank up again and I’m sure before the music stops, we’ll have seen some interesting movement in the market.
Rafa Benitez has always been the type of person to polarize opinion but his latest pantomime at the San Siro took only six months to mature. The Spaniard called out his owners following Inter’s 3-0 win over Congolese champions TP Mazembe in the Final of the World Club Championship, demanding a decision on his future based on three scenarios, one of which suggested that the club and his agent should discuss his departure from the club. Quite amazing when you consider that Inter have only won 6 out of 15 Serie A games this year and have suffered some pretty shambolic losses in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, most emphatically that 3-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur where Harry Redknapp’s team ran the legs off Benitez’s aging back line.
I think the most ironic development of the last several days at the San Siro, has been the stark similarity of his current comments to those during his time as Liverpool manager, where he embarked on a public campaign of blaming ownership and claiming he needed more players, and more investment. Having spent almost $400m during his tenure at Anfield, that became a hard pill to swallow, and with some shaky purchases such as Alberto Aquilani, Robbie Keane, and Ryan Babel to name a few, it became clear that Rafa Benitez’s judgement was becoming somewhat clouded. Truth be told, he did sign Pepe Reina, Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt, and many of his buys were on free transfers, but he never quite recovered there when he sold Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid which tore out half of Liverpool’s midfield. That was the beginning of the end.
I believed at one time that if you needed to win a single match to save your life, no matter the opposition, then Benitez was your man. He seemed to have the ability to look at opponents and put together the ideal tactical approach to beat that team, which proved spectacularly successful in the two-leg format of the Champions League, where Liverpool consistently over-achieved. However, I think his ego has betrayed him in recent years with emotional rants against other managers, most notably a childish attack on Sir Alex Ferguson culminating in criticism of his predecessor at Inter, Jose Mourinho, who Benitez said had left him with a squad which was “unfit” and “poorly trained”. That was just plain silly and showed that he hadn’t learnt an awful lot from some of his previous experiences.
One common thread that ties Liverpool and Inter fans together is an unparalleled pride in their team, and combined with a clear understanding of what they’re watching out on the par, makes them difficult to fool. Although Rafa Benitez remains somewhat popular in Liverpool, many Koppites feel his time had come to an end and a change was needed. Similarly, Inter fans can see how the squad has declined after the successes under Mourinho, and despite a long injury list, it’s clear that it’s not the same team that eliminated Barcelona and Bayen Munich to win last year’s Champions League title.
With several vacancies available around Europe, Benitez’s choices seem to be limited to either Spain or England. Blackburn need a manager although their dumb-ass owners have already stated that they are good until the end of the season. We’ll see how long that lasts if and when they start to plummet down the Premier League. His old nemesis, Liverpool, seem to be squirming in their seats while Roy Hodgson wrestles with his dithering squad to try to insert some consistency and with previous owners Tom Gillett and Tom Hicks now gone, a run of defeats for Hodgson might just signal a return for the Spaniard. Several clubs are on the brink of a managerial change with West Ham, VFL Wolfsburg, and Manchester City, all seemingly waiting to pull the plug. Benitez’s limitations in the job market are highlighted by his insistence on “total control” over football matters, and with recent ownership changes within the game, those opportunities are few and far between.
Inter seem to have already decided on their replacement for Benitez with Brazilian Leonardo waiting in the wings to take over the hot seat. Moratti will view the last six months as a waste despite the World Club Cup win, but they will recover once everyone returns from injury. Reports linking England manager Fabio Capello to the position are groundless, even though personally, I would welcome that change with open arms. Martin Jol seems to be in no hurry to make a choice yet, and Martin O’Neill has no interest in overseas work.
Whoever gets the Inter job, Massimo Moratti will most likely have fewer sleepless nights. For Benitez, his arrival in Liverpool for the Christmas holidays will raise a few eyebrows in NorthWest England.