Rafael Benitez is a perfect manager in an imperfect world.
His wildest dream, his only dream, all he ever wanted is to be the world’s best football coach, executing the perfect game plan, in perfect, meticulous detail, perfectly.
Rafa lives and breathes the game. He ran a blog while out of work, for goodness sake. A shrewd tactician who plans everything in painstaking detail, one senses he loves nothing more than plotting the smartest, most intelligent way to tactically outsmart an opponent.
The field is Rafa’s personal battleground. The players are his sentinels, deployed in combat to outwit his rival under precise, fastidious instruction.
This is all simple and harmless enough. But there’s one problem.
Rafa Benitez does not like opponents. Rafa Benitez despises opponents. His opponent’s aim, naturally, is to stop Benitez from achieving his aim of executing the perfect gameplan. Rafa does not like this. He does not like seeing his masterplan thwarted, by anyone.
Rafa rages against the machine. He has an unquenchable urge to stick it to the man, to show the world who’s boss.
At every job he has had over the past decade, the sirens blaring from above his head have at some point (usually in a press conference) screamed a simple message for all the world: ‘Everything would be okay if Rafa Benitez could only do everything exactly the way Rafa Benitez wants.’
His most recent outburst; ‘Rafa’s Rant, part II’ as some called it, for there was a part I, is just the latest in a long line of outbursts aimed at letting the world know that Rafa Benitez is the perfect football manager operating in imperfect circumstances.
It’s the world, with its flaws and half-truths, that is imperfect. It’s the world, chico, and everything in it, that gets in Rafa’s way. And he does not like it.
Take his time at Valencia.
Benitez built a magnificent team at the helm of Los Che, a title-winning side featuring Albelda, Ayala and Mista, a force that briefly shattered Spain’s Barcelona/Real Madrid duopoly and went on to win the UEFA Cup.
Rafa spent millions on players during his time there and won the league in style. But was he satisfied? Not quite.
Rafa was not happy with the man upstairs, the directors in their comfy seats ruining his grand plans. “I asked for a sofa and they brought me a lamp” he famously spoke out against his sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch.
A prelude, if you will. Rafa Benitez does not like authority getting in the way of his grand schemes and he is not afraid to point his finger and say ‘that’s the bad guy.’
Sir Alex Ferguson, for example. That’s the bad guy.
The year was 2009. Liverpool were top of the league. Approaching five years in England, Benitez had built a good team at Anfield – a team with Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano and Torres. A team ready to challenge for the title, a title the club so desperately craved after years in the championship wilderness.
Liverpool were top of the league. Cruising. But there was another team, another man, trying to stop them. Trying to stop Rafa Benitez from executing his masterplan.
So, in a press conference at Anfield one cold January day, Rafa Benitez took out his notepad and told the world about facts. “Only Mr Ferguson can talk about referees,” Benitez went on, a look in his eyes that was part Machiavellian mischief, part blind fury, part visible nervousness. United were third in the table, behind Chelsea.
“Say hello to the bad guy” Rafa was telling the world. Liverpool drew their next game, 0-0 at Stoke. They would blow a seven point lead over United and lose a title that looked within reach in January.
Poor form and a dispute with the board concerning his desire for complete club control, from the youth teams to who writes the cheques, would eventually see Rafa Benitez leave Liverpool a year later.
This theme, of picking an enemy – someone getting in the way of Rafa assuming his rightful status as the perfect football manager, and openly calling them out, is a recurring one throughout Rafa Benitez’s career. After leaving Liverpool again it happened at Internazionale.
Benitez had taken over from Jose Mourinho, who squeezed every drop out of an ageing group of players and guided them to the promised land – the first Italian team to win the treble. The league, the cup, the Champions League.
When Rafa took over, again he wanted full control. And again, he would not settle for anything less than total co-operation from everyone in his plan to show the world he is the perfect football coach.
After winning the Club World Cup, again he took on the board, issuing an ultimatum to club president Massimo Moratti, who was shocked and, ultimately, outraged at the cheek of it.
“There are three possibilities for the club,” Benitez commented after the win over TP Mazembe. “One, 100% support for the coach and buy four or five players to build a stronger team with competition among the players to be able to carry on winning matches and trophies.”
“Two, carry on like this without a project, without planning, and go ahead with one person to blame, for the whole season.”
“The third,” he added, “is to speak to my agent to reach an agreement if there is not this support. Simple.”
“We are trying to understand what’s going on, this situation is a bit of a mess,” was Moratti’s original reaction. “Everything that happened was a bit unexpected, we are considering every point of view.”
Days later, Benitez was sacked.
It is clear, to use one of his most popular turns of phrase, that Rafa Benitez is a very good football manager.
He over-achieved at Tenerife, won the title at Valencia, the Champions League at Liverpool whilst revolutionising the club’s youth system, and, as he is quick to remind us whenever possible (like in his recent outburst at Chelsea or on his own personal website), countless other honours.
His treatment at Chelsea from a section of fans has been completely unfair and has undoubtedly added pressure to his daily job.
But his displeasure at being named an ‘interim manager’, his insistence that it was a ‘massive mistake’ and his needless, defiant statements that he’ll be gone at the end of the season anyway and if you’re in the Europa League it won’t be my fault, no sir not one bit, are consistent with the mindset Rafa Benitez has adopted at every job over the past decade.
Rafa craves complete control in an environment where that is simply not possible, and, evidently, it burns him up inside.
Rafa Benitez is the perfect football manager. It’s just the world, with its follies, imperfections and broken promises, that gets in his way.
(photo credit: thesportreview.com via Flickr)