PROFILES

“Rafa the gaffer” or Rafa the’flukist’?

benitez potrait
Rafa tha Gaffer!            Image credits – Getty Images

The great Liverpool Football Club believes “form is temporary, while class is permanent”.

This adage has a very strong undertone to it and the the club continues to prove it with their continuous relevance in English and European soccer scenes over a century now. The club might not always be in top form in terms of winning laurels, but it ALWAYS ensures that it “Never walks alone” as its class and pride always walk with it.

The same cannot be said of Rafael Benitez Maudes a.k.a Rafael Benitez.

A winner of the La Liga title in 2002 with underdogs Valencia, has come a long way in the history of soccer management.

Known to be a great tactician and the only coach in European soccer to have won all UEFA titles (UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and UEFA Champions League) and the FIFA Club World Cup, his technical prowess of the game is always questioned as he tends to falter regularly. A popular Nigerian proverb goes thus “No matter the economy of the jungle…the lion will never eat grass”. But it seems like if Benitez was a lion, he might be the only lion to ever feed on grass as a staple diet with his demotion to relegated Newcastle.

benitez @ valencia
Tasted 1st European glory @ Valencia.     Getty Images

Or how does one explain his disappointing performances in the past few seasons? At Valencia between 2001 – 2004, Benitez could do no wrong and because that success threw him into limelight and almighty Liverpool came calling for him in 2004.His first season at Liverpool was tremendous as he ‘flukishly’ led them to the UCL glory with a team that had the worst keeper in EPL that season. The keeper became a shield between AC Milan’s quest for the UCL title as Dudek stood up against the best striker in the world then (the great Andriy Shevchenko) and his hyper’performing team-mates. AC Milan, a team that had not conceded a goal in 5 games in the tournament and had solid defenders like Maldini, Nesta, Ambrosini e.t.c. conceded 3 goals in 6 minutes and went on to lose to Benitez’s men in a penalty shootout. That game was tagged ‘The Miracle of Istanbul’ because no one could explain how Liverpool won it. When it was time for Benitez to prove to world that his ‘Istanbul success’ was not a fluke when he faced the same team (AC Milan) again in the 2007 UCL final, unfortunately as expected by pundits like me…he lost.

His 2nd season @ Liverpool was not bad as he led them to a 2nd place in the EPL. During his stay @ Liverpool, he had no technical approaches to his games but always depended on the technical uniqueness of his players such as Gerrard, Torres, Alonso, Carragher to win him games. Ironically, these players always won him games and whenever he lost then, he embarrassingly blamed it on the absence of one or two of his key players. Two things that worked against him while at Liverpool was that he spent so much money buying mediocre players like Aquilani, Robbie Keane, Voronin e.t.c. and he never won Liverpool the EPL. Though he achieved cult status at LFC with his UCL and FA Cup wins, he was eventually sacked in 2010 for a continuation of poor performances.

benitez & gerrard
Liverpool happy days.           Image credit – Getty Images
Benitez proudly left LFC for Inter Milan FC in June 2010 to continue the fairy tale success Mourinho had started there. Rafa acquired Mourinho’s treble winning team that had just won the Uefa Champions League, the Italian Serie A and  Copa Italia though a few of the players like Balotelli, Quaresma, Victor Obinna e.t.c. moved immediately to other clubs. Benitez flattered to deceive the Inter Milan faithfuls by winning the Italian Super Cup and the Fifa Club World Cup but ensured Inter Milan was 6th on the Serie A table by Dec 2010. Unimpressive domestic and European results led to his immediate sack in 2010 (after 6 months). Inter Milan has never recovered from the damage Benitez inflicted on them till date as the last trophy Inter Milan won was the Copa Italia in the 2010 – 2011 season, courtesy of his successor; Leonardo.
benitez @ inter
He always won something anywhere he went except recently.        Getty Images

After his Inter Milan sack, Benitez disappeared on an involuntary vacation for almost two years as NO TEAM wanted to hire him based on his most recent unimpressive records that led to him being sacked twice in a 6 months period.

Chelsea rescued Benitez from extinction in November 2012 when Abrahamovic unceremoniously sacked Roberto Di Matteo even though he gave Chelsea FC its first ‘Big Ears’ just a few months past. Benitez was not a popular ‘interim coach’ choice amongst Chelsea fans then but they had no choice but to accept him then since he was the best alternative out of mediocre coaches with European experience available in the market then. His popularity with Chelsea fans dropped again when Chelsea lost the Fifa Club World Cup to Corinthians in December 2012. However, knowing Chelsea was his last chance at ever managing a top European team if he bungled the opportunity Chelsea offered him, Benitez led them to win the Euro League Cup and also achieved third place in the EPL. Chelsea fans were grateful for the European success which equally meant Chelsea was the first team ever to hold all major UEFA club trophies in one season since they were still UCL trophy holders at that time.

benitez @ chelsea
Europa League two-time winner.                Image credit – Getty Images
Savouring his most recent European success and lucky resurrection, Benitez quickly grabbed Napoli’s two year contract offer in May 2013 and showed great intent by snapping Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid amidst great competition from Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal. Armed with probably the second best squad in Italy and a mandate of possibly winning the Serie A, Benitez helped Napoli clinch the Copa Italia trophy instead as Napoli was and is still no match for almighty ‘Old lady of Italian football’. Benitez’s second season with Napoli was nothing spectacular as he led them to third place and quickly honored Real Madrid’s request to become their Manager in June 2015.
benitez @ madrid
He walked alone @ Real Madrid.           Image Credit – Getty Images

Benitez was not new to Real Madrid since he began his career there as a youth coach between 1986 – 1995. However, he was new to the reality that class was required everyday as a manager of the greatest soccer club in the world. He tried his best at Real Madrid as he ‘wobbled and fumbled’ with less support from the club’s supporters and players. It was no surprise to the world when he given the boot in January 2016 for six months of poor performances and incurring the wrath of the club’s ever-hungry supporters.

Still enjoying his Real Madrid payout, Benitez was offered the most ridiculous job ever for someone of his caliber. Newcastle United were in relegation status and needed a miracle to escape that fall and Benitez was identified as their messiah.This is where class is permanent because he should have refused the offer but I guess he took it as a challenge or he just wanted to make quick bucks and hopefully help them escape relegation so that he could use it as a reference point to the world that he was still an effective manager even though his past few season performances were not impressive. However, since he chose to dine with the devil at Newcastle, the devil ensured he was rubbed in mud of embarrassment as Newcastle did not escape relegation and NO TEAM came calling for his services at the end of the season. Out of shame and not wanting to be out of work since he had bills to pay (I guess), he is currently Newcastle United’s manager as he hopes and dreams to bring them back to the EPL in the 2017 – 2018 season.

benitez @ newcastle.jpg
“Would you believe I ended here?”        Getty Images

My argument is this, for no reason should Benitez have been offered the Newcastle job if he had a pedigree because Mourinho and Ancelotti were equally idle but only him got the offer. Even after Newcastle’s relegation which was no fault of his, he did not get an offer from an EPL team or any other top European team. This shows that the footballing world had lost faith in Benitez again and now he wants to prove to the world that he is still a world class manager by bringing Newcastle back to the EPL.

If his class was permanent, he would not be with Newcastle now at the English second-tier league but be at the top of the food chain with his counterparts like Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti who are currently managing the biggest teams in England and Germany even though they were both sacked from their last jobs just like him. Never would Mourinho, Ancelotti, Guardiola, Simeone, Wenger, Van Gaal, Klopp  and other top managers be found frolicking with even mid-table teams, no matter the situation. Which gives credence to the Nigerian proverb mentioned earlier which states that “No matter the economy of the jungle, the lion will never eat grass” because it knows its level.

benitez - pls stay.jpg
Benitez has found his lost love @ Newcastle United.             Getty Images

Benitez is surely a manager of repute but he needs to be consistent in his offerings or else his current Newcastle job might be the final beginning of the end of his shining managerial career.

What do you think?

4 thoughts on ““Rafa the gaffer” or Rafa the’flukist’?”

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