Wednesday 21 August 2019

Comment: Rafa Benitez is the king of modern-day spoofers

Real Madrid's Rafael Benitez is feeling the heat
Real Madrid's Rafael Benitez is feeling the heat
Real Madrid boss Rafael Benitez
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

When a list of greatest modern day managerial spoofers is compiled, the name of Rafael Benitez should be right at the top.

This arrogant and self-absorbed tactician who has just been given a lukewarm vote of confidence by the Real Madrid board after overseeing their 4-0 by Barcelona last weekend would be horrified to be mentioned in such derogatory tones, yet he has proved himself to be worthy of such ridicule over the last decade.

Here is a coach who has been trading on his highly fortunate Champions League triumph with Liverpool for 10years and more, the misfit who has alienated many of the players and owners he has tried to work with in the years since.

Quite why top clubs continue to employ a man who was close to agreeing to become the next West Ham manager in the first few months of 2015 remains to be seen, as he boasts a record that confirms he is not worthy of the golden chances that tend to come his way. 

Benitez’s La Liga triumphs with Valencia in 2002 and 2004 were arguably more impressive achievements than his 2005 Champions League win with Liverpool, on a night when his fabled role in the triumph has gathered in gravitas with each passing year.

Liverpool fans can’t help but get starry-eyed over their glory, glory night Istanbul, but as Rafa is a man who famously likes to use facts to get his point across (as he proved with his infamous rant in the direction of Alex Ferguson a few years back) let’s not confuse fact and fiction here.

Benitez did well to get an average Liverpool team to the Champions League final – courtesy of a fortunate goal that saw off Chelsea in the previous round – but his role in the last act on a night of high sporting drama was not the decisive factor.

There is a good reason why this 55-year-old politician has helped to fuel the yarn that his legendary half-time address to his team inspired them to come from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan on penalties.

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The alternative narrative suggests that his woefully inept team selection had undermined his team to such an extent that they appeared to have been finished off before half time. Now Rafa wouldn’t want that idea put out in the public domain would he?

In the end, inspirational performances from Reds skipper Steven Gerrard and a handful of unsung heroes inspired one of the greatest comebacks the game has seen, leaving Rafa lapping up the adulation as some kind of oratory genius amid the glory that has flowed down on him ever since.

What has happened since that sporting miracle arguably tells us more about Benitez than anything he was a part of in Turkey more than a decade ago.

An FA Cup win with Liverpool in 2006 (again inspired by Gerrard’s brilliance), Europa League success with a Chelsea side that were too strong for their rivals after dropping into UEFA’s second string competition and a Copa Italian win with Napoli in 2014 are what Benitez has to show for his last ten years of work.

That’s before you consider his list of failures. A disastrous spell as coach of European champions Inter Milan was terminated after just 15 Serie A games in 2010, while his presence as Chelsea’s interim boss a couple of years later was unpopular with the club’s players and supporters until he was replace by Jose Mourinho.

Throw in his petulant rows with club owners, clashes with high profile stars Gerrard, John Terry, Robbie Keane and his ongoing battles with Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid and you have a pattern that suggests this over-inflated ego is incapable of handling high profile characters that dare to threaten his authority.

Benitez seems keen to propel his weight around at every club he manages and that generally means putting big names in their place in a bid to display his strength, but this policy has backfired in him time and again and it was never likely to be work in a Real Madrid dressing room that had little respect for men of his ilk.

The Real Madrid job was the one he coveted more than any other, but it has taken just 12 La Liga games for his reputation to be shredded, with the stay of execution he was given after meeting of the club’s board on Monday evening merely a delay of his inevitable departure sooner rather than later.

“I cannot say what will happen in the future, nobody knows what could happen in six months,” declared Real Madrid chief Perez, as he confirmed Benitez would be staying in his post for now, but his time at Real Madrid will be as brief and unfulfilling as many of us suspected it might be.

Not for the first time in his career, this portly emperor has been disrobed in front of the watching world and as has been in case in previous years, we don’t like what we see underneath.

A football student he may be, but this second-rate operator will never be top of his class.

We should have no sympathy for Benitez or Real Madrid as the duo who believe they were a match made by the sporting Gods last summer were always destined to be a disastrous combination dreamed by a football devil.

Benitez will be in charge of Real Madrid for their Champions League game against Schalke on Wednesday night, but don’t expect this stand-off with his players and the board to last much longer.

Aside from his union with wife Maria, every Benitez marriage has been doomed to end in failure and his latest at Real Madrid is no different.

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