It was clear before the end of last season that Rafa Benitez’s time in charge at Anfield was up. Liverpool were going backwards and never really recovered from their failure to go on and win the title in 2009. Benitez may have made an earlier exit, had he not received such strong backing from the Liverpool support, many of whom remained fiercely loyal to the Spaniard until the end of his reign.
Despite Liverpool’s 7th place league finish last season, Benitez was never going to be short of offers – on the continent he is still highly respected and of course is a former Champions League winner. It was therefore little surprise when he landed the job at Inter Milan.
On the surface, it could be argued that Benitez landed on his feet; being in charge of the European Champions and the dominant force in Italian football. While it’s understandable that he wanted to get straight back into the game at a high level, Benitez probably couldn’t have made a worse choice for his next club.
For a start, he wasn’t top of Inter’s list. Massimo Moratti would have preferred Fabio Capello or Guus Hiddink. On the field, the expectations are huge. A season that would normally be considered very good, could be seen as failure when held up against last year’s achievements – you can’t improve on a Champions League win and a domestic double. The European Super Cup loss to Atletico Madrid wasn’t the best of starts and winning Serie A is a minimum requirement given Inter’s recent record – failure to deliver will see Benitez out after a year.
Then there’s the shadow that will hang over Benitez during his time in Italy – his old buddy and predecessor, Jose Mourinho. Any manager would find it tough taking over from Mourinho, but there will be even more pressure on Benitez to succeed, given the bad blood that exists between him and the Real Madrid coach. It’s only natural that comparisons will be made between the two, and how will Benitez handle being at a club where a man he clearly dislikes is such an icon?
The situation at Inter isn’t dissimilar to the 1970’s rivalry between Brian Clough and Don Revie. Was Rafa motivated by the thought of outdoing his old foe? Perhaps he thinks he can ‘win better’ at Inter, though it’s difficult to imagine him gathering his players and telling them to throw away all the medals and trophies they’ve won so far.
It’s too late to do anything about it now, but after his exit from Liverpool, Rafa Benitez should have taken some time to consider his next move. By stepping back Benitez would have allowed himself the opportunity to get over the disappointing end to his time at Anfield, and helped him to decide on a club that was right for him. Instead, he has dived straight into a new challenge where immediate success is required. Benitez may find during the current campaign that he can’t win, even when he does.