Benitez & Moyes – A tale of two managers

David Tully looks at the contrasting styles of Rafa Benitez and David Moyes.

They may only work within a mile of each other across Stanley Park, but Rafa Benitez and David Moyes could not be more different in character and styles of management. Benitez, growing up in Madrid, stopping his playing career early and working hard through years of toil in youth coaching and some very unsuccessful spells in charge of Real Valladolid, Osasuna and Extremadura, while Moyes starting life young as a manager at Preston in the lower leagues of English football and making his way quickly to the top flight at Everton. Such experiences have obviously coloured both their progressions as managers. Moyes like all Scottish managers will be compared with Sir Alex Ferguson, and there are in fact a great number of similarities between the pair in styles of management. Man-management is the key for both men, getting the best out of the players they have at their disposal is the cornerstone of their success, and it is something that Moyes has needed a great deal of, while on a shoestring budget at both Preston and Everton. It is something he has needed to learn to excel as a manager but where he differs markedly from Ferguson is that he does not shout at his players, he always remains calm and collected and doesn't lose his bottle, making it easier for players to know where he stands.  

This is where Moyes does have a similarity with Benitez in the manner in which he presents himself, but while Moyes emphasis is on his man-management, Benitez purposely remains aloof from his players; he believes that premier league stars should be able to look after themselves and always look to where they can improve on their game. It's a characteristic that many Liverpool players took time to get used to, one especially Steven Gerrard couldn't get his head around at first. Every time he put in an excellent performance, he would find Benitez after the game spotting a small mistake such as giving the ball away cheaply or moving out of position. Such an attitude incensed Gerrard at first and like many other players, he saw Benitez as uncaring and harsh. This is however crucial to Benitez's management style and something he learned the hard way through all his difficult spells at clubs in his early management career. The small details became incredibly important to him; every stone could not be left unturned to find that crucial 1% which could help him win a match. Such attention a detail eventually paid off with two La Liga titles with Valencia in 2002 and 2004.  

A success attributed not only to his obsessive nature, but also to his strict, rigid tactical system he had put in place, which he now also employs at Liverpool. This is another great contrast between Moyes and Benitez, the former a man-manager, the latter a master tactician. Moyes puts great emphasis on work rate, a 4-5-1 formation similar to Benitez but a far greater focus on competing across the pitch and pressing the ball rather than the possession football of Benitez. This is where their early coaching experience colour their tactical preferences. In the lower leagues with Preston, Moyes recognised that work-rate was so important so as to make up for the lack of quality, while on the other hand, provided with more technically gifted players, Benitez was aware that if he provided a good enough system, emphasising possession football and a disciplined defensive outfit, he could go a long way for they would be capable of carrying out his meticulously laid out plans. At Valencia, the 4-5-1 formation consisted of David Albelda in the holding role, Ruben Baraja in front, Rufete and Vicente, the fast pacy wingers, with the star of the show Pablo Aimar behind either the physically strong John Carew or Mista. A principle he has continued at Liverpool with Javier Mascherano filling Albelda's role, formerly Alonso in Baraja's, Kuyt and Riera for Vicente and Rufete, Steven Gerrard as Aimar and Fernando Torres as Mista. This stubbornness to change style and tactics has rewarded Benitez on many occasions in Europe, and most significantly in the Champions League final win in 2005. It has also won over many fans and players alike, and most significantly Steven Gerrard who now understands why Benitez criticised him so much during the early months of his reign. He is always looking to improve players and the team looking for that crucial detail that might swing a match in his favour. Making a team more disciplined tactically, ensuring players stick to that plan and ensuring that plan is solid is his primary focus, something Gerrard not only understands but now buys into for he believes he has improved as a player under Benitez. He is now more tactically aware and disciplined, knowing when to go forward or stay back, when to play a killer ball or keep possession. Such stubbornness in tactics has however on occasion been Benitez's undoing in the Premier Leagues where his unwillingness to change plans or players led to the high number of draws that cost Liverpool the title last season.  

This is a characteristic that does not afflict David Moyes. What has let him down though, in contrast to Benitez, is his tactical naivety shown quite regularly during his European campaigns, losing on penalties to Fiorentina last season was a case in point. Moyes has however changed style tactically over the last few years and this may have something that do with the increasing amounts of money being provided by the Everton board. While keeping his emphasis on work rate, flair players have also come in the mix. Once the bald-headed twins, Lee Carsley and Thomas Gravesen marshalled in front of the Everton defence, now only one holding midfielder in captain Phil Neville remains, while players such as Steven Pienaar, Mike Arteta, Marouane Fellaini and now Bilyaletdinov have come in to provide creative play going forward. £15m on Fellaini, £12m on Yakubu in recent years and another £7m on Bilyaletdinov has meant there is no lack of money at Everton but there has been a lack of numbers. Something which has been addressed this season with a recent substitute's bench having Lucas Neill, Jonny Heitinga, Leon Osman, Bilyaletdinov and Yakubu all filling places. It could be said to be better than even Liverpool's bench on occasion and that is where lack of players or funds this season can not now be an excuse for Moyes. There is of course still a good gap in funds and quality of players between them and Liverpool but the relatively small gap in places between the two rivals shows how well David Moyes is doing in the job. Moyes' attraction to flair players is something I would dearly like to see from Rafa Benitez but as ever with Rafa, all players must be able to fit in and be disciplined enough to play in his system. Last summer when we sold Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid, we could have had the pick of Madrid's best Dutch players, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael Van der Vaart, Arjen Robben, Klass Jan Huntelaar would all have been up for exchange if he had asked for them. Sneijder especially would have been the ideal replacement for Alonso but alas we get an injured 20 million Italian who might come back too late to save Liverpool's title ambitions. Everton fans should however have an exciting season ahead, with players returning from injury such as Mikel Arteta and Yakubu to a squad which is far larger than last season, a top eight finish, should be no problem.  

On reflection, when looking at both David Moyes and Rafa Benitez, you see two very different styles of management both designed to win football matches, one in Benitez very focused on tactics, while Moyes focusing on players and work rate. I might upset a few Liverpool fans by the next comment, but if I think about it, if David Moyes had been in charge of Liverpool he may have won the Premier League title by now, however I doubt very much he would have been capable of getting the team to two champions league finals, he doesn't have a patch on Benitez when it comes to tactics. Moyes focuses on the fundamentals of hard work and good team spirit, while Benitez focuses on plans, tactics and discipline to beat the opposition he is facing. I would prefer a manager with both characters, the closest we get is probably Sir Alex Ferguson or Bob Paisley but they are very rare beasts indeed.