An unpopular man, not just disliked by one fanbase, but several, and hardly a football manager put up on a pedestal by football supporters in general. So, why does Rafa Benitez not get the recognition he deserves? For a man with a CV – and he’ll be the first to tell you this – which boasts of virtually all competitions baring the Premier League, Benitez fails to be regarded as a high-quality manager.
Look at the comparison of the current Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp; regarded as a football visionary, a master of tactics, liked by virtually all. Away from his charm and charisma creating this recognition as a media darling, the German’s footballing record can not hold up a candle to Rafa’s. Rafa, the man who won La Liga with a top goal scorer who netted just seven times, the man who has won the FA Cup, the Coppa Italia, the Europa League, and of course, the Champions League.
For such achievements, his appointments at top clubs have been continually questioned. His spells at Inter Milan and Real Madrid both seemed destined for failure, he was in the firing line as soon as he was appointed; fans wanted him to fail. Inevitably, he lasted just six months at both clubs.
Why is such a character so distrusted in a game where football is everything he knows? For instance, on Fernando Torres’ first game back from the birth of his first child, Rafa said to him…
“You should be proud… We’ve been working on your runs to the near post from corners, and it paid off for that goal.”
Rafa had no idea his striker had just had a child, the rest of Torres’ teammates were congratulating him on becoming a father. This is Rafa’s downfall – the failure to connect on a human level. It has cost him, and it shouldn’t have. It’s reflected in the notion of his players not warming to him, to then fans outside the dressing room. We don’t appreciate what Rafa has done for the game, because we as fans can’t connect with him either.
Where we buy into Klopp’s character traits, we respect him more as a football manager. Steven Gerrard had this to say on Rafa in one of his autobiographies:
“We are cogs in a machine for Benítez”
Although this may seem harsh, it’s true; his players are like a number to him; a bar code which he will try and manipulate to get the best service out of them. If you look back to the treatment of Craig Bellamy and his first exit out of Anfield, this characteristic of his players being a number becomes very clear.
Bellamy had not featured in Liverpool’s Champions League defeat to AC Milan, the striker was naturally very disappointed. On the flight back to Liverpool, Benitez reportedly went over to Craig and said:
“We’re going to buy another striker. If you want to go and speak to other clubs, that’s fine.”
A cold way to be shown the door, the team were mid-flight, they had just lost a Champions League final but Benitez couldn’t wait for the plane to land to tell one of the Reds’ main strikers he was off.
It is this bluntness which is then amplified by his blandness; a man to gain the nickname, ‘TriNa’ – after a fruit juice – because of his decision to not consume alcohol. Water is usually the order of the day, a man who can’t seem to enjoy anything; a man back in the office just hours after a Champions League victory.
It is a shallow, but truthful thought that Benitez’s failure to emotionally connect with fans and players is what has led him to be managing in the Championship. He was never going to be a hit at Chelsea yet delivered silverware, he was destined to fail at both Inter Milan and Real Madrid but delivered silverware at the former.
In a world becoming increasingly sensitive this will never sit well with players or fans, he could get away with it Valencia over 10 years ago, where players egos were not as dictated by the amount of Instagram followers, but, nowadays, the meticulous, analytical and cold worker sadly finds himself in the second tier of English football. And it’s likely to be the biggest club he will ever manage again.
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