Having seen Rafa Benitez in great detail as a Liverpool fan and having to defend him against fellow fans of both LFC and other Premiership clubs for the last 18 months it has almost become second nature. But sometimes when the statistics and comments are stacked against someone it’s very difficult to change public perception. No one quite divides opinion like Rafa in recent history he has become like Marmite, love or hate him !
Now taking over from the self-proclaimed Special One is one of hardest jobs in football as Avram Grant will tell you. A team that wins the treble will find it hard for motivation but both Barcelona and Man United won the league the year following their treble successes. So despite an ageing squad the fans will think it’s more than justified to expect the league to be won again. This summer Inter made the 2nd highest profit in Europe, only with Valencia regaining more money through sales so the usual ‘he has wasted lots of money’ jibe can’t be used (not that he ever did at Liverpool, just what the critics said). Although Inter could expect that after years of spending heavily but Benitez can hardly be blamed for 15 years of it. In Mourinho’s 1st season at the club he had a net spend of €50.4 mill and his 2nd season he made a profit of €11.8 mill but that was largely down to the inflated fee Barcelona paid for Ibrahimovic. To put it into context in the summer they made a profit of €32.8 mill, Rafa could have been forgiven for thinking Hicks and Gillett had followed him to Italy. But this side has just won 3 major trophies surely the team could afford to pull in the reigns a little. The table below shows just some of the money problems now facing the Milan side.
When your clubs making substantial losses each season what better man to get in to take the fall other than the Spaniard. Most if not all clubs in Italy are struggling with finance like the rest of Europe but when your rivals bring in players of the calibre of Robinho, Ibrahimovic and Krasic it’s certainly an advantage.
This season has seen an unbelievable amount of injuries add up in Italy as a whole and not just at Inter. With Milan, Juventus and Inter having as many as 9-11 players each missing at any point few sides can continue to compete at the top. Each of these clubs have had new managers in the summer and have to take some blame following a World Cup for the level of training they have had to do during pre-season. Wesley Sneijder admitted how hard pre-season has been under Rafa a week or two before he fainted at half time in the dressing room. Some of the players clearly didn’t need this and would have been better served with rest, having battled on 3 fronts to the very end of last season and the tournament in South Africa I feel this has had a major impact.
The players which were regarded as the backbone of Jose’s Inter, Julio Cesar, Maicon, Samuel, Sneijder, Stankovic, Cambiasso and Milito have all missed parts of the season to varying degree’s. Alongside all the other players that have picked up injuries it’s down to the clubs individual fans to debate which have been the most crucial but even Mourinho would have had his work cut out.
New managers like to put their own stamp on their sides. Rafa wanted Inter to play a more possession based game, pressing high up the pitch and keeping a high line in defence. Jose already had Inter playing in a successful deep and very organised and efficient system, keeping every player in set positions and all clearly knowing there roles. This seems to have a better effect with the ageing defence but that’s not to say it couldn’t be adapted to with time with the emphasis on playing players offside. Maybe a ‘if it’s not broken don’t fix it’ will be the cry of many Internazionale supporters.
Individual team selections and substitutions can be debated until you are blue in the face and everyone will always have a different take on this and I know how frustrating Benitez can be with this. A sense of trust in the manager has to be given on that one but trust has to be earned and the fans will rightly believe he has not done that yet with them.
I’m a firm believer that just because a manager is successful on one level doesn’t mean they can be at another. At no point in Rafa’s managerial career has he ever been at a club regarded as the favourite until now. At both Valencia and Liverpool he was always in an underdog position with clubs in the league either having more financial backing or expectation not to win the league on arrival. This has changed for him and might be something else in which he is struggling with.
Which leaves me finally to my last point, man management ! Rafa has often been criticised by people for his lack of warm approach to players and this was cited as one of the reasons why he left Liverpool with key players having lost belief in him. Though players such as Kuyt, Reina and Mascherano couldn’t speak highly enough of him so that can be down to the individual player.
Most Internazionale fans have probably never heard of Pako Ayestarán, but he may have had a little more of say in how this season was panning out if they had. Pako was Rafa Benitez assistant for his title-winning years at Valencia and was also at Liverpool when they won European Cup number 5 and an FA cup. A fall out at the start of the 2007-08 season saw them part ways. Together they won 2 La Ligas, 1 UEFA Cup, 1 Champions League, 1 Super Cup and 1 Community Shield. By himself Rafa has won the Supercoppa Italiana !
At Liverpool he planned daily training, organising the physical work and fitness training of the team. Now I’m not saying he is better than the people currently employed by Inter for this but Liverpool had severe injuries in Rafa’s last year at the club as well.
Having seen Pako on Sky Sports for their coverage of La Liga recently he comes across as very charming and friendly (I also believe that Rafa is that as well but that’s a different debate). The role of the assistant manager is often played down by the media but I think that role is pivotal. Chelsea fans may agree with their side having lost 3 on the bounce, 2 of which since Ray Wilkins left. André Villas-Boas played an important role for Mourinho since he’s time at Porto although he left Inter before the treble season. The relationship between the manager and assistant has to be right.
Currently at Inter they have Giuseppe Baresi who was brought in by Jose. He has definitely been a success but Rafa and Jose are like chalk and cheese. Rafa has brought some of his own men in Amedeo Carboni and Mauricio Pellegrino who were both players at Valencia with him. Carboni was Sporting Director at Valencia with Quique Sánchez Flores and Pellegrino was a coach at LFC since 2008.
The financial issues and injuries that Benitez has faced in the last 3 years in England and Italy shouldn’t be overlooked. However if/when Rafa gets the sack in the coming week/weeks and he takes on another job or if he survives the mission impossible and continues at Inter. It might serve him well to search high and low for Pako Ayestarán’s phone number, bit of humble pie on both parts to resolve their problems could be best for both parties as well as that of the Inter fans.