On the eve of Liverpool’s, sorry Inter Milan’s, 4-3 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League, Rafael Benitez delivered one of the most bizarre press conferences of all time. It will be a moment that will go down in football folklore and leaves Benitez looking like a very bitter man altogether.
Think back to the mid-‘90s and Eric Cantona’s famous press conference “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.” Or maybe even Sam Allardyce saying that he was more suited to managing the likes of Inter Milan or Real Madrid and you get the picture.
Well, Rafa outdid them all.
As the press conference started Benitez was asked for his opinion on the Liverpool takeover by the travelling English media. He side-stepped the issue with skill saying that he “wanted to concentrate on this very important game against Tottenham.”
So far so good. But anyone who has seen Benitez in action over the last couple of years knows that he is not a man to keep his counsel to himself. Think facts and you won’t be far wrong as this classic YouTube shows us.
Anyways, if the press know anything it is how to needle responses out of people and Rafa took the bait like everyone knew he would.
All it took was a mere mention of Tom Hicks blaming him for his poor transfer policy during his final year at the club.
“I prefer not to talk about this,” he said. “Because I feel really sorry for the fans. I was watching them and was really sad after the (Everton) defeat so I think it is better that I don’t say too much, but we have a saying in Spanish which is ‘white liquid in a bottle has to be milk’.”
“So I will explain this…”
“What means this?”
“It means that after 86 points and to finish second in the league, what changed? The Americans, they choose a new managing director (Purslow) and everything changed.
“So, what changed? The managing director is in all the decisions: new lawyer, new chief of press, new manager, nine new players, new medical staff, new fitness coaches — they changed everything.
“At the beginning, they changed the managing director who was talking with some players, and they changed everything that we were doing in the past.
“So, if you want to ask again what was going on, it’s simple: they changed something and, at the end, they changed everything.
“So, ‘white liquid in a bottle’: milk. You will know who is to blame. ‘White liquid in a bottle’.
“If I see John the milkman in the Wirral, where I was living, with this bottle, I’d say ‘It’s milk, sure’.”
Okay…To see the YouTube clip of that particular pearl of wisdom click here.
Inter Milan 4-3 Gareth Bale
After that the match seemed immaterial, and for Spurs the first half certainly was.
Inter raced into a three goal lead inside of 13 minutes as they sliced Spurs open at every opportunity.
The first came from the boot of Javier Zanetti after just one minute. The 37-year-old ghosted into the box and calmly knocked it past the Heurelho Gomes to become the oldest goal scorer in Champions League history.
It was aided by some truly dreadful defending by the Spurs back four. Hutton chased Coutinho inside and left a gap that a Mack Truck could have drove through, Lennon never tracked Zanetti and William Gallas glided like a statue as the oldest man on the pitch set Inter up for a night to remember.
Nine minutes later and Spurs were reduced to ten-men as Gomes received his marching orders for taking the impressive Biabiany down as he guided the ball over the ‘keeper. Again shocking defending contributed to Tottenham’s downfall.
Wesley Sneijder’s precision pass inside Benoit Assou-Ekotto released Biabiany on goal but the Spurs defender showed exactly why many feel he is the most obvious weak link in Harry Redknapp’s side by being caught thoroughly out of position.
Strangely enough, Redknapp left Assou-Ekotto on the pitch and chose to take Luka Modric off. It seemed a strange move, given that Bale could have slotted in at left back while Modric tucked in on the left side of midfield.
Samuel Eto’o calmly slotted the penalty away and less than 90 seconds later Inter was 3-0 up and absolutely coasting.
The goal is by Stankovic is best summed up by; pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, shot…goal.
Spurs was being ripped apart and just could not get near the ball to even make a challenge, it was becoming embarrassing for Harry Redknapp and many on looking EPL fans.
Inter Milan are no great shakes and were no so much as “faster, higher, or stronger” than Spurs, but they were easily more intelligent, more ruthless, and cuter than Redknapp’s side. In short they had more nous that a very naive looking Tottenham team.
The game was over. 3-0 up against 10-men and coasting. That score line lengthened in the 35th minute as Samuel Eto’o raced onto Coutinho’s through ball. The young Brazilian looked a real revelation in this game and it will be more than interesting to see how he progresses under the tutelage of Benitez.
A stony faced Redknapp stalked off down the tunnel at half-time and one must have wondered what he had to say to his miss-firing team. Granted they were 4-0 down and reduced to 10-men against the reigning European champions but let’s call a spade a spade here; Spurs were worse than awful and were an embarrassment to professional football never mind their club or manager.
One would think that the paint blistered on the walls as ‘Arry told the players a few home truths and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that some players may have even been playing for their futures in the second half.
With the game as good as over Inter Milan sat back.
Spurs were beaten, time to rest for the weekend.
If this Tottenham side have proved anything this season, it is that they don’t roll over and die as they did before Redknapp took over. Remember, the Spurs manager is just celebrating his second anniversary in charge.
This year Spurs have salvaged more points after coming from behind than any other team in the Premiership. No one expected them to fight back from four down but an improved performance in the second half was a must.
An early goal by Gareth Bale after a surging run and superb finish made the score 4-1. The ten men of Spurs began to dominate midfield and all of a sudden the game was becoming more of a contest.
Bale then added two more goals, almost carbon copies of the first and Spurs found themselves losing 4-3 with a minute or two to go.
There was to be no fairytale ending for Harry Redknapp’s side but in a strange twist they will leave the San Siro the happier team following the manner of their performance in the second half.
Gareth Bale’s growing reputation was done no harm what-so-ever and his emphatic hat-trick will only make it all the harder for Spurs to hold onto him when the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona come looking.
A dreadful first half and commendable second. Redknapp is in the game too long to take too much significance from his teams fight back but there were many good signs there.
He is sure to use the game as evidence for a new centre half for when he meets his chairman in the near future. If the club do harbour ambitions of challenging for the top four; never mind winning the league it is a position that needs sorting immediately.
Until then? Spurs will always be the side to watch if you want to see goals…