ANALYSIS: Rafael Benitez has long taken the blame for the Nerazzurri’s regression in recent years but the club were just as culpable for failing to strengthen an ageing squad
By Mark Doyle
Marco Materazzi still maintains that shortly after Rafael Benitez had taken charge of Inter in 2010, his new boss made him remove press clippings of the most important moments of his career from his locker. The defender alleges that Benitez simply could not stomach the sight of Materazzi celebrating trophy triumphs with former Nerazzurri coach Jose Mourinho.
The Portuguese had led Inter to a historic treble the season before and, while Benitez spoke confidently of winning even more trophies than ‘The Special One’, as far as Materazzi was concerned, the former Liverpool manager was a man racked by insecurity.
“He thought he knew everything,” the World Cup winner said of Benitez, “but he was afraid of his own shadow.”
Benitez, unsurprisingly, remains enraged by Materazzi’s claim about the enforced removal of commemorations of past victories. “It’s a lie, so he’s a liar,” the Madrid native declared last year.
One imagines that Benitez retains just as much disdain for the views of then Inter president Massimo Moratti, who has also portrayed the 54-year-old as a coach incapable of coping with the pressure of following Mourinho.
“When we chose Benitez, we thought his experience would help us to improve the situation,” the oil tycoon stated in January 2011. “But not everyone can withstand such stress.
“Did Mourinho’s legacy weigh on [Benitez]? Yes, I would say it did a lot.
“You could see he felt it and he spoke about it often, maybe this was to justify himself.”
It could indeed be argued that Benitez simply took on a job that he could not handle; that he was simply not up the challenge of succeeding Mourinho. But it is worth remembering that Materazzi was singing from a different hymn sheet just six months previously.
“[Benitez] is a very serious person, a great worker, he has experience of European football … He is different to Jose Mourinho, but this is important because I didn’t want a Mourinho imitator.”
Furthermore, it would seem unfair to attach too much weight to Moratti’s character assessment of Benitez, given he had initially claimed that the former Liverpool boss had been his No.1 choice to replace Mourinho, only to then change his story after appointing Leonardo as the Spaniard’s replacement in December 2010.
“I thought about the candidacy of Leonardo back in June, but then there was no point talking to him about this because he wanted a break after working with Milan,” Moratti told the Gazzetta dello Sport.
“I always saw [Leonardo] as the best successor to Mourinho. He is quite a strong person to be able to withstand such pressure …
“Leonardo has a different personality [to Benitez] and he will not be influenced by memories of Mourinho.”
The spectre of Mourinho may well have haunted Benitez. Mourinho, after all, had left an indelible mark on the club’s history.
As Alex Ferguson said at the time, “It’s tough to take the place of someone who has won as much as Mourinho,” before adding rather prophetically, “One day whoever succeeds me at United will have the same handicap.”
Mourinho was undeniably a tough act to follow. Plus, he and Benitez are very different coaches; very different men. The transition for the players was never going to be smooth. But it clearly should not have been so rough.
Benitez, after all, inherited a squad which had just won the treble. However, over the course of his six-month tenure, he lost numerous players to injuries and even more to poor man-management.
The high volume of Inter players sidelined by muscular problems could be attributed to misfortune. However, it has long been claimed that Benitez was to blame for implementing a rigorous weight training regime that allegedly overwhelmed players who were drained after going on World Cup duty just days after a successful treble-winning campaign.
However, in the infamous outburst after the Club World Cup success that sealed his sacking, Benitez pointed the figure of blame at his players and, by implication, Mourinho.
“These lads have done no gym work for two years and to compensate for this they go [to the gym without my knowing] and they hide injuries.”
Of course, by that stage, Benitez had already lost the dressing room. Indeed, Materazzi was by no means the only dissident, with Dejan Stankovic admitting shortly after Benitez’s dismissal that he would never forgive him for dropping him for the Club World Cup final.
In such circumstances, it was no surprise that Moratti decided to sack Benitez after the Champions League winner publicly challenged the president to either back him in the January transfer market or remove him from his position.
However, the question remains as to why Moratti had refused to heed to his new coach’s request to strengthen the Inter squad during the summer of 2010.
“The truth is that the club and technical staff sat down together to plan a renewal of the squad, including the names of new players, but these suggestions were never followed,” Benitez claimed in July of last year.
“The way I see it, this was the cause of everything that happened at Inter that year and possibly even in the following campaigns.”
After all these years, maybe that’s all that Benitez and Moratti can agree on: that the Spaniard’s tenure set Inter back years.
The only thing they would continue to disagree on is whose fault that was.
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