Rafa Benitez is set to be sworn in at Inter Milan today after agreeing terms to take over from Jose Mourinho in another fine example of utter footballing lunacy.
After dragging Liverpool towards mid-table mediocrity it’s an achievement that Benitez managed to walk away from Anfield with his limbs intact, let alone £6m burning a hole in his pocket, but that he should then walk into one of the top five jobs in football makes about as buying Robbie Keane from Tottenham for £20m and then selling him back seven months later for £12m.
Now I’m not saying Benitez is a complete doofus. He did after all win the Champions League in his first season in charge of the Reds (albeit very luckily), added another couple of trinkets (the 2005 Super Cup and the 2006 FA Cup) and guided his side to second place in the Premier League in 2008/09, but considering that he spent £109m on almost 40 first team players in his six years at the club, he has been a real disappointment.
Rafa has been quite clever to blame the political turmoil at the club and the fact that he has been given no money to spend by his owners, but last season alone he shelled out £40m for Alberto Aquilani, Glen Johnson and Sotiros Kyrgiakos – after which Liverpool managed their worst league finish (seventh) since 1999. Worse still, their failure to finish in the top four means the club’s debts will spiral further while he is lighting cigarillos with €500 notes in Milan.
So why have Inter gone for the man the bookies are saying is a 50/1 shot to repeat Mourinho’s Italian treble feat next year? Well, firstly, Benitez speaks excellent Italian and, secondly, his obsession with tactics – often at the expense of entertaining football – is expected to suit calcio.
But the main reason is that Italians are just as insular as the English are when it comes to their respective football leagues. Inter love the Spaniard because they remember him denying their hated rivals AC Milan the Champions League by coming back from 3-0 at half-time in the 2005 final. His Liverpool sides have generally done well against Italian sides in Europe, too, but then again, until last season, which English sides hadn’t? Also he sports a goatee that gives him a tacit air of intelligence and ruthlessness but which belies the fact that he is actually just a rotund, Spanish waiter.
To be honest, Benitez might do quite well at Inter next season. But so he should. After all, the Nerazzurri have won a very average Serie A for the last five years in a row, have an enormous transfer kitty funded by a billionaire oil baron and boast a squad that has just won the Champions League. Then again, Rafa is rumoured to be after workdogs Javier Mascherano and Dirk Kuyt, so maybe not. The point is, the Inter job is one of the biggest games in football and Benitez simply doesn’t deserve it.