Rafa to get the most out of 'El Nino'
According to his critics, Rafa Benitez is a power-hungry, money-wasting self-obsessive, unfit to manage at the very highest level. Yet it appears that in selecting who should next be in charge of Chelsea, Roman Abramovich has decided to put his faith in those who have more positive things to say about the Spaniard, and, perhaps, one person in particular.
“Rafa Benitez has been the most important coach in my career. He has been the only one who knew how to help me improve. His priority is the team but he adapts the conditions to make everyone fit in the team. That’s his secret. He taught me a lot and thanks to him I matured as a professional.”
These are the words Fernando Torres shared with Esquire magazine in November 2011, 10 months after he joined Chelsea from Liverpool for a record £50 million fee and during a period of 25 games in which the striker failed to score for club or country.
Upon weighing up who could replace Roberto Di Matteo as Chelsea manager it is perhaps not a surprise the Russian decided to turn to the man who has got the most out of “El Nino”.
Under Benitez’s guidance, Torres scored 33 goals in 46 appearances during his first season at Anfield, 17 goals in 38 appearances in his second and, in their third and final campaign together, 24 goals in 32 appearances, completing a transformation from the less-than-prolific 23-year-old who arrived from Atletico Madrid for £20million in July 2007 to one of the world’s most feared centre-forwards.
As Abramovich surveys Torres’s struggles in blue, with a nadir reached in Tuesday’s defeat at Juventus when Di Matteo decided to leave the striker on the bench, it may have seemed obvious to try one last time to revive the £50 million man’s fortunes.
Victim of propaganda
To some extent, Benitez has been the victim of a myth and propaganda campaign that built up around him following his acrimonious departure from Liverpool in June 2010, just as the club was beginning to burn at the hands of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
He was depicted as a poor manager having guided Liverpool to seventh in his last campaign there, with the critics forgetting his second-place finish from the season before.
He was also depicted as someone with a failed record in the transfer market, a claim that focuses on the mistakes and conveniently forgets the successes, such as Xabi Alonso, Jose Reina, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Javier Mascherano and Torres.
Some criticism of Benitez’s record is fair. There is, for instance, no doubt that he is a political animal whose desire for control and maximum say can cause schism at a club.
Benitez is the man who detested Hicks yet sided with the Texan during Anfield’s civil war because he figured it would strengthen his position and lead, as it did, to the exit of Rick Parry as the chief executive – and this makes Abramovich’s decision to call the 52-year-old from his hibernation on the Wirral curious.
For the Chelsea owner has proven himself a man of firm opinions and little diplomacy and he has now opted for someone who sees the same character when he looks in the mirror. Fireworks between the pair are practically guaranteed.