Monday 23 April 2018

Rafa still crying over spilt milk

Ian Chadband in Milan

It will go down as Rafael Benitez's magnificent Cantona moment. Only instead of seagulls and trawlers, he hit us with a curdled face, a pint of gold top and his confidant, John the wisest milkman in the Wirral.

If you ever needed evidence that the leaving of Liverpool has not yet remotely erased the city from Benitez's heart and soul, it was all laid bare here in Milan with this extraordinary message in a milk bottle, in which the Inter boss offered both a rousing defence of his reign at Anfield and an attack on Liverpool's supposed new hero of the hour, managing director Christian Purslow.

We cannot claim that it all came completely unprompted because, twice at the start of a gentle press conference at Inter's training base when asked about Liverpool's takeover, Benitez politely batted the ball back, explaining how he really didn't want to talk about it because he had to "concentrate on this very important game against Tottenham".

Yes, of course, you do, Rafa. But, reminded how he's being portrayed by the deposed owner Tom Hicks as the calamitous 'spend, spend, spend' architect of Liverpool's destruction, Benitez's curling lip finally betrayed a man who must have been plotting his retaliation ever since seeing Purslow on TV being cheered for his role in the takeover by New England Sports Ventures.

"I prefer not to talk about this," the old fibber said. "Because I feel really sorry for the fans. I was watching them and was really sad after the (Everton) defeat so I think it is better that I don't say too much, but we have a saying in Spanish which is 'white liquid in a bottle has to be milk'."


Silence. Hmm, OK, Rafa. Comically, the official interpreter then had to step in to translate, somewhat haltingly, into Italian, thus removing the initial impact of the pearl. "So I will explain this," added Benitez apologetically as his audience waited, breath bated.

"What means this?" he went on. "It means that after 86 points and to finish second in the league, what changed? The Americans, they choose a new managing director (Purslow) and everything changed.

"So, what changed? The managing director is in all the decisions: new lawyer, new chief of press, new manager, nine new players, new medical staff, new fitness coaches -- they changed everything.

"At the beginning, they changed the managing director who was talking with some players, and they changed everything that we were doing in the past.

"So, if you want to ask again what was going on, it's simple: they changed something and, at the end, they changed everything. So, 'white liquid in a bottle': milk. You will know who is to blame. 'White liquid in a bottle'. If I see John the milkman in the Wirral, where I was living, with this bottle, I'd say 'It's milk, sure'."

With that, as his audience wrestled manfully with his lactose riddle, he was happy to lean back with an air of self-satisfaction that he had got something off his chest and to now take the locals' earnest questions about 4-2-3-1, Maicon's lack of form and the greatness of Eto'o.

Tonight against Tottenham, there will be two players in the opposition squad with a point to prove to Benitez, with Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane having been signed and discarded by Benitez during his time at Liverpool.

Keane is also returning to the stadium where he made a move as a 19-year-old from Coventry, although despite Spurs manager Harry Redknapp expressing sympathy for the Ireland captain's predicament yesterday, he is only likely to feature from the bench.

"I feel sorry for him (Keane)," said Redknapp yesterday. "I genuinely feel bad for him that he's not in the team, because he's not used to not playing. He's a great professional and a great lad. It's difficult for me. I brought in (Rafael) Van der Vaart (suspended tonight) and suddenly Robbie finds himself not in the team. It ain't easy. It is hard. I do look and worry and about him and how he must feel." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Inter Milan v Tottenham,

Live, Setanta Ireland, UTV, 7.45

Irish Independent

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