By Jonathan Gold
While it’s been pretty clear for quite awhile that Liverpool’s board of directors knows nothing about soccer, it’s nice to hear a top-tier manager come right out and say it. I mean, isn’t it obvious that someone with the undoubted sporting acumen of…wait, Rafa Benitez said it? Oh, forget it.
Although I don’t support Liverpool, I loathe them a bit less than the rest of the big-name English clubs who aren’t my beloved Arsenal. This means that watching them choke and gasp their way toward mediocrity is not something that has me grinning as broadly as I would be if, say, Chelsea was imploding so violently. Liverpool, say what you will about their overrated Kop and easily aggrieved fan base, have an inarguable pedigree as one of the top clubs in the world. They are, in short, serious business.
Which is why it’s kind of depressing that the likes of Rafa Benitez – who clearly bears a significant quantity of the blame for the club’s recent troubles –has carte blanche to criticize Liverpool so openly.
Yeah, yeah, Istanbul and all that, but that was his first year. A guy who wins the Champions League in his first year and goes on to get an FA Cup and conduct a series of poor league campaigns in the next five is a guy who got lucky, not a freaking genius.
But he’s a big name, so when he moved on to Inter to take over from The Special One, it wasn’t a big surprise. Nor is the fact that he’s already reminding everyone what a conniving jerk he is, having oh-so-classily slammed his former club and laid the groundwork for an ongoing squabble with his new bosses at Inter after moaning about not being able to sign anyone in the summer.
On the other hand, though, that may have proved his earlier point about Liverpool’s board knowing nothing about soccer. They, after all, were the ones who let Benitez do what he liked in the transfer market, with hilarious results, while Inter’s seeming reticence to do the same shows that they’re not dumb enough to give him that kind of free rein.
It’s also very funny to see Benitez complaining about the players taking their time to adjust to his tactics, given his previous record of being about as tactically exciting as Mourinho and a lot less successful. On past form, my guess is that eventually he’ll have Samuel Eto’o playing out wide and giving him defensive responsibilities, a la Dirk Kuyt. Also, he’ll rotate Diego Milito all the time and Wesley Sneijder will be unable to get a game because he looked at Rafa in a funny way.
Benitez, to my mind, is symptomatic of a vast problem at the top level of management in the game. Aside from a few admitted geniuses, like Wenger, Ferguson, and Mourinho, there aren’t a lot of people you could point to and say “ah ha! THIS GUY totally gets it!” Who’s managing successful teams right now?
Pep Guardiola’s Barca is talented and deep enough that I could probably take home silverware with them pretty routinely. There’s nothing about the start Roberto Mancini has made at City to suggest that he’s going to set the world on fire, despite having roughly 769 hojillion pounds backing him. Carlo Ancelotti looks…well, OK, pretty good, but a general level of disarray among Chelsea’s rivals meant that they didn’t have to work as hard for the league title as they might have had to in previous seasons.
However, Rafa’s saving grace will probably be the frankly shocking state of many of Inter’s perennial Serie A rivals. (Although given that the Nerazzuri have won the league five years in a row, “rivals” could be pushing it.) A glance at the league table right now shows Inter on top, followed closely by such illustrious names as Chievo, Brescia, and Catania. (Could Catania be said to be “under Brescia?”) Roma, Lazio, Milan, and Juventus have won just four games between them, and both Roma and usually respectable Fiorentina are actually in the relegation zone. So far, it really doesn’t look like being the year anybody knocks Inter from their perch.
Benitez, then, won’t have to manage brilliantly to lead Inter to their sixth successive Serie A title. Which is a lucky break for him.
Jonathan Gold is a guest columnist for The Soccer Guys. If you would like to be a guest columnist contact Kevin Koczwara at firstname.lastname@example.org.