Benitez vs Mourinho – wouldn’t Rafa be the wiser choice?

Real Madrid look all but set to confirm Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho as their boss for next season within the next week or so, but are the ‘Special One’  and the Spanish giants really cut from the same cloth? Would the club be better served placing their future in Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez’s hands? I think they may just be.

Jose Mourinho is quite the manager, he’s won the league title in three separate countries, the Champions League with two different teams and he’s a superb man manager who makes brave decisions. But the Real Madrid job is one that requires a man for the long haul, and until the board realise that they can’t just go about sacking managers willy nilly every season, they’ll only deal in sporadic success and they need someone capable of staying at the club for a number of years, for that is what it will take to topple the Barcelona hegemony.

The current Inter Milan boss would not appear to be that man. He’s openly stated his preference for a return to the Premiership in the future and then to coach his national team at some point down the line. It’s not a very conventional way of going about things, naming your desired career paths before you’ve carried them out, but such is the credit that he has managed to gather in his time as a manager so far, with his achievements often putting others to shame, that he’s allowed a freedom not granted to most.

Mourinho was pushed out of the Chelsea job before he wanted to go, but at Inter, from day one almost, he’s never looked like he wanted to hang around too long and the Real Madrid job could just be another step on his managerial CV rather than the job he wants for a period of time.

The style of football could also contrast strongly. Real Madrid sacked Fabio Capello after he won the La Liga title in 2006/7 for not winning it with enough style. Vincente Del Bosque was fired for not being high profile enough despite winning 2 Champions Leagues and 2 La Liga titles and Heyneckes and Schuster both did decent jobs yet failed to meet up to the delusional requirements of the Real board.

The fact of the matter is that Real Madrid envy Barcelona and their ability to win trophies in style and they’ve strived to replicate what their rivals sometimes take for granted. Not since the heady days of Puskas and Di Stefano have they combined the two so well and as much as Mourinho guarantees in terms of success on the pitch, his teams cannot be said to play great football.

Inter were worthy champions of the Champions League, after all they did beat the champions of Spain, England and Germany en route to their historic win. This may have been enough for Chairman Massimo Morrati who has, until now, rather unsuccessfully tried to replicate the stewardship of his father’s reign as Chairman under the great Helenio Herrera side of the 60s.

Inter were willing to sacrifice style for substance to achieve their aims, Real Madrid though are not and they will be asking an inherently cautious and defensive manager to abandon the very same principles that have helped him achieve the success to make him the frontrunner for the job in the first place.


This is not to mention how bad a fit the Real Madrid hierarchy and Jose will undoubtedly be. Back in 2007 Jorge Valdano stated that “Those who did not have the talent to make it as players do not believe in the talent of players, they do not believe in the ability to improvise in order to win football matches.” Mourinho when reminded of this statement last week said “I responded to him in a polite way, but forcefully. And that was that.” There may be trouble ahead. If Mourinho found the authorities and club structure of Italy hard to deal with, he’s in for a very tough time in Spain then.

Mourinho’s greatest qualities are his single-mindedness, refusal to give in to popular belief and his ego, but these could all prove to be his eventual undoing at Real Madrid. The club and the man, as much as they both want it to be, are just not a very good fit at all. Real Madrid want the Champions League above all else, and Mourinho has proven that he can deliver short-term success in the competition but he cannot guarantee it, you can never guarantee success in a cup competition.

It may seem the right thing to do on Real board’s behalf, Mourinho may be able to deliver success and perhaps even in his first season, but it will come at a price, the free-flowing, dominant football that they so crave will be as far away as ever. In the Champions League final Inter had 32% possession, over both legs of their encounters with Barcelona they achieved an average of 37% possession, and although this is distorted by Motta’s petulant sending off, will the Bernabeu faithful settle for results over dominance, I very much doubt it.

Rafa Benitez is well versed in the workings of Spanish football from his time at Valencia, and, of dealing with a technical director. Benitez has an ego and stubbornness about him but not quite in the same way that Mourinho has. He coached the Real Madrid B Team in his younger days as a manager and the chance to coach Real Madrid would present a real chance to return to his roots and with that comes an element of control, a measure that they will surely not have with Jose in charge. Liverpool have surrendered so much power and control to Benitez, but this was largely to the ineptitude of Rick Parry, at Real Madrid he would come in with a mandate to deliver in La Liga and the Champions League, two competitions he has traditionally thrived in.

With Benitez too there is also the feeling that under the right conditions, he’s prepared to stay around for the long haul and truly honour his contract. Contrary to popular belief, Benitez is not a defensive manager, an overtly cautious one sure, but when you take these things onto the pitch they do not often translate to being one and the same. He takes risks and back last season when he had the player’s at his disposal; Liverpool played an attacking brand of football, something Mourinho cannot claimed to have done since his early days at Chelsea, when they were a real joy to watch at times with the likes of Duff and Robben exploiting space down the wings.

Football is not about just putting the best players in the team and winning matches, as Real Madrid fans will testify to this season. This principles applies to the manager too, it’s not just about getting the best manager in the world and getting him to manage the most expensively assembled team in history, they have to be a good fit – in this respect, Rafa is, Jose is not.

For the record, I think Pellegrini has done a fantastic job and should be given a second chance next season, but should the club look to no longer require his services, a move that looks increasingly more likely by the day, then perhaps the Real Madrid board would be better served placing their faith in Benitez rather than Mourinho. It may look a good fit on paper, employing the gifted Portuguese manager, but even as early on as now, before he’s even taken the job, it doesn’t look like a marriage made in heaven and any stay that he’s likely to have at Real Madrid will almost certainly be a fleeting one, Rafa on the other hand though, as he’s proved from his time as Liverpool manager, really takes some shifting.

 


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