It has been all downhill since that ‘great’ Liverpool second-place Premier League finish for Rafa Benitez, hasn’t it?
And now after a sour end to Benitez’s six-year reign at Anfield, he was hired as a replacement for Jose Mourinho at Inter.
Needless to say, the appointment puts Benitez in the hottest seat possible. He faces the task of replacing the best manager in the world, who has just won every possible title at the club.
Neither Benitez nor another Mourinho would be able to accomplish the previous season’s feat.
Therefore whatever Benitez does and however he may choose to rejuvenate the team, he will certainly find it an extremely difficult mission – if not an impossible one – to find a way out of living in the shadows of his predecessor.
Benitez inherits an Inter side that is seen – on account of last season’s accomplishments – as ‘perfect’.
But while Mario Balotelli was sold for a hefty sum, the money was not reinvested in the team. It is as if Inter owner Massimo Moratti does not want Benitez to implement his own ideas. Moratti has apparently hired Benitez to protect Mourinho’s success.
Benitez is allowed to coach but not to manage as he was not allowed to spend money in the transfer market and saw his previous player Javier Mascherano move to Barcelona without getting the nod to make a bid for the former Liverpool man.
Meanwhile Mourinho – unlike what he may attempt to convince the public – knows that his Inter side is not a really long-term project.
Inter was built to win the Champions League with players that Mourinho recognizes as experienced winners.
Inter’s defense, which starred in last season’s treble-winning campaign, clearly lacks from young talent as all four central defenders are over 30.
And Moratti, who always splashed the cash in order to win the Champions League, seems satisfied with his team easily winning the Italian Serie A year after year, failing to notice that Milan and Juventus have made a substantial positive leap in terms of the quality of their squad, and may now provide Inter with a serious title challenge.
Benitez’s era starts with no fresh blood, an ageing squad and some players who may not be as hungry to win as before. Perhaps this is only a stage where a winning team starts to decline before the owner realizes the need to invest in the squad again.
I maintain my respect for Benitez’s accomplishments despite the miserable ending of his Liverpool reign. The man has reached two Champions League finals, winning one, although his team was not among the favorites.
However, Benitez has not been able to understand the media games that other managers – like Mourinho – have perfected. Benitez could have kept his stock really high had he left Liverpool after reaching his second Champions League final.
But his decision-making in selecting jobs – and players – has been poor over the years and the Inter post puts him in front of an impossible mission of pleasing the fans who have grown bored of winning domestic honors and have just seen their team do the treble.
And unfortunately, if this transitional phase proves its complete failure, it will only come to further impair the already-dwindling reputation of a good pure football tactician.