Focus on Inter Milan

Benitez must shoulder blame

December 23, 2010
By Jon Carter
(Archive)

Did he ever stand a chance? Taking over from the Treble-winning Jose Mourinho, with Inter Milan's expectations at their highest level for generations, Rafael Benitez knew he was drinking from a poisoned chalice and cannot be surprised that his underachievements have led to his dismissal.

Massimo Moratti, Rafael Benitez
AssociatedMassimo Moratti was not impressed with the way Rafa Benitez handled himself.

A student of the blame game, Benitez is never far away from pointing the finger elsewhere but, at Inter, the fault lies within. The spectre of Mourinho's ghost loomed large, but from the moment Serie A begun, Benitez's inability to win over his players and build on the confidence that was coursing around the San Siro were at the root of his failings.

A 2-0 Super Cup defeat to Atletico Madrid and a dismal 0-0 draw with Bologna started his reign in unspectacular fashion and, with results falling short of expectations in his early months, the most noticeable criticism came in his man-management.

Last season's top scorer and Champions League hero Diego Milito was the first to air his grievances under the new regime as constant substitutions played their part in turning him against his new boss. Instead of building on the Argentine's impressive year, Benitez saw fit to relegate him to a second-class citizen and, initially, the form of Samuel Eto'o seemed to vindicate his decision.

But Inter's inability to score goals after the Juve game - they netted five in five games in Serie A - proved something was not right and, along with a high-profile falling out with Sulley Muntari, Milito's complaints were made public.

The criticisms that came to light seemed to go deeper than just one player. His agent said: "Someone like Milito needs to feel the support of the coach in order to give his best. Last year, he gave his utmost because he felt that the coach had blind faith in him. Mourinho always made him feel indispensable - the best in the world. Now this doesn't happen with Benitez. He always feels under examination and the early substitutions bears witness to that."

But possibly more worrying was Rafa's mental state. An incredible press conference in which he added to football's lexicon, claiming "white liquid in a bottle has to be milk" during an attack on Liverpool's former managing director Christian Purslow, saw him focus too much on his old job at Anfield.

Drawn into a war of words with new Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson, his "some people cannot see a priest on a mountain of sugar" rant continued to divert attention from a problem closer to home and he was seemingly unable to turn the tide as a 1-0 defeat to rivals AC Milan in November drew heavy fire, before he was placed on the brink after a 2-1 defeat to Chievo.

A brief revival in a 5-2 win over Parma saw the vultures staved off for the short-term, but Benitez's decision to rest his key players for the Champions League's final game - a 3-0 defeat to Werder Bremen - just a few days after another damaging domestic defeat to high-flying Lazio saw his position under further threat.

In a final move to save his job, Benitez led Inter to success in what president Massimo Moratti labelled the "must-win" Club World Cup, but he then saw fit to air his own grievances against the club's lack of backing directly afterwards. Using his post-match press conference to demand significant transfer funds from president Massimo Moratti, while telling them to sack him if they weren't going to stand by him, the situation was only ever going to go one way.

Benitez was never going to match the achievements of Mourinho but, in failing to even come close, his embarrassingly quick tenure, even for Italian football, should serve as a warning to him for the future.