Napoli’s Signing of the Summer? Rafael Benitez

Though much maligned, Rafael Benitez understands football. While his demeanor may portray arrogance, football managers don’t exist to shake hands and kiss babies; they exist to manage football teams. And if they do that well, no matter what their personality, they are deserving of credit from the fans.

Maybe innovator isn’t the best way to describe Benitez, but there has always been something outside the box with him. Long before the 4-2-3-1 became the “new thing to do” in football, Benitez was employing this system at the turn of the Millennium to win UEFA Cup’s and La Liga titles with Valencia. His follow up act was a dramatic six-years at Liverpool. In his first two seasons, he masterminded one of the greatest comebacks in football history in 2005 to win the Champions League with Liverpool, and followed that up with an FA Cup victory the following year over West Ham. But towards the end of his time at Liverpool, even as his stature grew as a tactician, he became embroiled in controversy. Notable confrontations with Jose Mourinho and Sam Allardyce were complimented with the infamous “facts” rant directed at Manchester United.

And so it was with Liverpool that notable cup successes were followed by years of underachievement. And it was during this time that fans developed the feeling that this was a man too self-concerned. At Inter, the politics of following Jose Mourinho were too much pressure for him to handle. And his subsequent sacking all but solidified the public’s perception that this was a mercenary manager that didn’t care for the club he was managing, just as long as he got his paycheck. Following a two year hiatus from football, he returned, to Stamford Bridge of all places, to take over a very expensive sinking ship. Mired with internal strife, despite a squad full of quality, Benitez took a job that no one envied. And yet despite his failure at Inter and acrimonious end at Liverpool mixed in with the hatred directed at him from Chelsea fans, he guided the club to a highly respectable third-place finish, delivering Champions League football and the Europa League title in the process.

The take-away from all of this is that Rafa Benitez manages football squads, not professional clubs, and there’s a difference. We hear a lot about loyalty, and how managers care about the history and culture of their club. But actions speak louder than words, and rarely do managers remember their clubs history/culture when the money for transfers dries up, or when senior players start voicing their displeasure. Benitez is one of the few who can look at a football club dispassionately and deliver specific goals. Barring the blip at Inter, Benitez has been successful almost everywhere he has managed, even when inheriting a below par squad with the promise of little funds to invest in the team.

At Napoli, Benitez will once again be faced with a situation similar to that of Liverpool and Chelsea. The last two years have seen a wave of change sweep through San Paolo, with influential players like Lavezzi and Gargano leaving for pastures new. And with Edinson Cavani heading out the exit door this summer while Gonzalo Higuain has arrived, Napoli are a club in transition. The decisions that will be made in the next month and a half will determine whether Napoli remains among Serie A’s elite, or whether their fate will mimic that of clubs like Palermo and Sampdoria.

Benitez will have to get the best out of the players that are already with the club. Most importantly, he will have to decide the best positions for Marek Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne. Fortunately for Napoli fans, Benitez has experience in this department. Steven Gerrard’s highest scoring season coincided with Benitez converting him to a right sided winger. And at Chelsea, his decision to play David Luiz as a holding midfielder gave Chelsea a bit more creativity and balance from deep in the midfield. Napoli needs organization and discipline to compensate for the loss of Cavani. Benitez has a proven track record of getting the best out of his squads, and Napoli would do well to support Benitez because he might just be the conductor to keep Napoli on the upward track.

9 thoughts on “Napoli’s Signing of the Summer? Rafael Benitez”

  1. “Benitez is one of the few who can look at a football club dispassionately and deliver specific goals.”

    He has also shown that he will go above and beyond if the fans show him love and respect. His actions and emotions over the years with everything related to Hillsborough is absolutely immense.

    1. Was gonna speak about the dispassionate bit and about Rafa’s personal connect to the Hillsborough disaster…till I scrolled down and saw that you beat me to it…. oh well… :)

      1. I agree that Benitez was always class when it came to Hillsborough and Justice for the 96, and that he will forever be remembered for that. My larger point though was that he’s not an emotional manager, and people criticized him sometimes for not being as animated as Mourinho or SAF, but that was all part of what made Rafa a great manager in the first place. Didn’t mean to downplay his contributions to the Hillsborough cause.

  2. Benitez is a damn good tactician.

    Unfortunately – his stints in Liverpool and Milan has exposed his weakness for making mediocre transfers and having the lack of bottle and focus to win leagues.

    In cup runs and one offs – he’s brilliant.

    Hopefully Napoli will get the best out of him.

    1. Well the thing is that at both Liverpool, and especially Inter, he wasn’t given the funds to spend on players that he wanted. As soon as he signed for Inter, Moratti said that there wouldn’t be any transfers in during that season, so Benitez had to rely on young players like Coutinho and Biabiany who weren’t ready for the senior squad yet, in order to mold his team. People blame Benitez for his failure at Inter, but it was really Moratti’s fault since he signed Benitez then told him that he couldn’t make any changes to the squad. Also at Liverpool, he wanted to sign both Stefan Jovetic and Yaya Toure. And that was long before they became two of the top players in Europe. At the time, Rick Parry didn’t sanction the moves. And Parry also wouldn’t go all in for Gareth Barry also. So there’s a lot of back story to Benitez, but he always ends up getting the bad rep.

  3. Good article, however I must disagree that Liverpool underachieved with him, in fact it was quite the opposite when you consider he was competing with the spending power of Man Utd and Chelsea and. He also excelled in the Champions league. What a Liverpool fan would do for that underachievement right now.

  4. The most misunderstood man in football. Went way up in my estimation after the class he showed at Chelsea.

    Not sure how it will go at Napoli. Italians have no patience, especially there, and as others have note, Rafa is less effective when given a cheque book than he is working with established players.

    I think he ends up back in Spain down the road.

  5. Sometimes I think some of the writers here just write articles without having a clue of what they are talking about. Ask any true Liverpool fan and they will talk about Rafa’s passion for LFC. Donations to Hillsborough Fund and respecting the history of the club. Although he never took us to the promised land he brought a lot of good to the club and Istanbul ;).

    And you would probably just work work for a paycheck too if you look at Moratti’s and Abramovich’s manager record.

    21 managers in 18 years for Moratti and 9 in 10 for Abramovich

  6. ‘liverpools cup successes followed by years of underachievement’ what on earth are you talking about, they improved in the league like clock work every season culminating in the highest goals an points tally ever before the final season when they near went into administration. All of which was way above expectations an despite rival finances. I have never heard benitez regarded as a mercenary by anybody until i read this article. too embroiled in politics of post mourinho? please stick to facts you are making things up out of a hat mate, plus he wasn’t sacked, he mutually terminated the contract after winning 2 cups qualifying for the CL final stages citing broken promises.
    ‘remains if napoli will remain part of serie A’s elite.’ They have never been among the elite, they were divisions down only a few years back an the previous manager left citing 2nd was the highest the closest they could ever hope to achieve as they peaked. I have no idea where your impression of peoples perceptions of that man come from as he recieves nothing but respect an gratitude from all his former clubs, yes even many of chelsea.

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