Two La Liga titles, one UEFA Cup, one Champions League, one FA Cup and one Supercoppa Italiana; Rafael Benitez has a curriculum vitae that most managers dream of. Nonetheless, the Spaniard finds himself resigned to a self-enforced exile from football, after a turbulent and less than successful tenure at Inter Milan. In a matter of months, the Spaniard had surrendered Inter Milan’s 46 unbeaten home game streak and left Jose Mourinho’s treble winning side lumbering in sixth place in Serie A.
Throughout his managerial career, Benitez has suffered strained relationships with the boardroom. Rafa left Valencia after falling out with the club’s director of football over control of transfers, famously remarking “I was hoping for a sofa (a defender) and they’ve brought me a lamp (Fabián Canobbio)”. Furthermore, Benitez had a well-publicised falling out with Liverpool’s previous owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, again over transfer policy; tensions were high on Anfield and after a seventh place finish in the Premier League no-one was surprised to hear that Benitez had been sacked as Liverpool manager. True to form, Rafa’s downfall at Internazionale was orchestrated by his transfer demands and with owner Moratti refusing to publicly support him; Benitez ‘jumped’ before he was ‘pushed.’
Rafael Benitez has earned a reputation in English football as a hard man to please, with Steven Gerrard admitting that he longed for a “well done” after good performances. That, coupled with the fact that in less than four seasons Benitez had disposed of his Champions League winning side, apart from Anfield legends Gerrard and Carragher. Despite his ruthlessness, Rafa has often been praised for his tactical acumen, particularly on European nights. Despite this, the former Valencia man does have a tendency to accommodate his favoured 4-2-3-1 at the cost of players’ preferred positions, with Dirk Kuyt being deployed more as a right winger than the forward whom the club signed (and was clearly evident in the defeat of Man United a few weeks ago). This resilient defiance of anything other than his favoured formation can also be found in his love for zonal marking, which is constantly slated by pundits and was routinely suspect at times, especially during set-pieces.
The Premier League this season has laid down new ground rules for each team’s 25 man squad, in order to help develop the use of ‘home-grown’ players in the top flight. If Benitez was to return to management in the Premier League he would have to alter his values to accommodate the new rules. During his time at Liverpool, Benitez was criticised by fans for failing to support and develop local players such as Stephen Warnock, Danny Guthrie and Adam Hammill, who he allowed to join smaller clubs, a trait Benitez will have to change if he is to rejoin and succeed again in the Premier League.
All this being said and done, if Benitez were to return to the Premier League, where would he go? Gerard Houllier’s job at Aston Villa is supposedly under threat and Benitez would probably be keen to replace Houllier at the helm, just like he did at Liverpool. Still, Houllier is very similar in management styles to Benitez and this has reportedly created a tangible friction between him and the players and staff at Villa Park, so Rafa’s ruthlessness and strict tactical formation may well not suit the Aston Villa set up.
Overall, I think it is safe to say that there is only one manager the Premier League wants to see again and that is Jose Mourinho. Benitez left a bad taste in the mouths of those associated with Liverpool Football club and the Premier League after his reported £6 million pay off, a ludicrous amount even by modern day standards. The only positive this writer can personally see of Benitez’s ‘homecoming’ is to reignite his verbal sparring matches with Sir Alex Ferguson, because we all love a bit of manager ‘banter’ ahead of matches.
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