Benitez must stop burning his bridges
As a studious, analytical man out of work for almost two years, one thing Rafa Benitez should have worked out by now is that it is not a wise move for a coach in any country to take on the owners of the football club.
Benitez has done that with his past three employers and discovered that even with supporters on his side – which they were in at least two out of three cases – there will only be one winner; and at Chelsea of all clubs, it will never be the man in the tracksuit.
At Valencia, then Liverpool and Internazionale, the source of conflict was always an impatient desire for new players. The old adage has it that managers always want two more.
In Benitez's case, the driving force can be seen as an extension of a relentless – and therefore unobtainable – bid for perfection. With his existing players, he will walk on to the pitch at the final whistle, even after an emphatic victory, and pick them up on a pass or a run that could have been better. Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, while admirers, are both on record as saying they would have appreciated a pat on the back once in a while.
Owners must occasionally have thought the same thing. At Valencia, although only fourth choice as coach – he had come from low-profile managerial jobs at Extremadura and Tenerife – he won a title in his first season but almost immediately became dissatisfied because of the following summer's lack of investment. A year later came his famous comment about a player the board had bought: "I was hoping for a sofa and they bought a lamp." He said of the club's chief executive, Manuel Llorente: "He doesn't value work, only results."
Winning a second title against the odds that season, Benitez decided to leave, and an often underrated stubbornness kicked in when Llorente and others offered all the control and power he had wanted but were turned down.
Valencia's loss was Liverpool's gain; and could, those close to him claim, have been that of Tottenham, who appointed Jacques Santini instead. Despite the extraordinary Champions' League success of 2005, Anfield would eventually become a ring of fire, in which dealing with Tom Hicks and George Gillett was as comfortable as walking on hot coals.
The morning after a second Champions' League final, lost to Milan, he deliberately fanned the flames by criticising the board for not moving fast enough when he identified transfer targets. What was not known at the time was that he had not slept, having walked the Athens streets with his chief scout for four hours in the rain, but even so it was the sort of outburst it would be unwise to try at Stamford Bridge if the January transfer window does not go to his liking.
Two years ago he attempted a similar tactic at Inter. On 19 December the headlines read: "Benitez issues quit threat to Inter". On 23 December it was: "Inter sack Benitez".
At Chelsea there will be a bridge between owner and manager in the form of Michael Emenalo, briefly a Notts County and Nigeria defender, who is his technical director. Benitez says he has worked for 20 years with a technical director and six years (at Liverpool) without one, implying he can cope with both systems. "It doesn't matter the structure of the club, the main thing is the relationship," he said. "We talk every day, it's not a problem."
It's good for a manager to talk, but Emenalo should advise him to count to 11 first.
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