13 Apr 2009

Ranting and raving: It's all Rafa does these days...isn't it?

That Rafa Benitez eh? Always ranting about something isn’t he? What is it he’s blown his top about now? Oh yeah, the madcap Spaniard has angrily shouted something about not being able to understand Alex Ferguson’s Scottish accent, probably whilst kicking a cat and bawling at wife Montse about the lack of chorizo in his paella. He loves a rant does Rafa. Rant, rant, rant, that’s all he does.

In his most famous rant, the unhinged defensively-minded boss, whose team are the top scorers in the Premier League this season, calmly read out a list of bullet pointed facts and observations that were later supported by many of his fellow top-flight managers, from whom we wait with baited breath to hear from on the whole ‘accent-gate’ issue.

So, once again, that’s a Spanish man ranting, ranting, about his inability to understand the gruff Glasgow dialect of a Scottish pensioner. A man shouting about the fact that he does not understand what another man says.

Sounds believable doesn’t it? Well, football fans who read the tabloids and watch Sky Sports News are being told to believe it, with increasing regularity.

Admittedly, maybe the media obsession with ‘Rafa’s rants’ is based simply on alliteration (may I suggest ‘Rafa’s requiem?’ Rafa’s reflections?’), but to constantly claim that every word coming out of the space between that magnificently constructed beard is an angry one is to treat one of the best managers around with a massive lack of respect.

This belief that Benitez is a mere novice compared to the wise old Scottish knight of Manchester is a false one; it took Ferguson seven years to win his first title at Old Trafford, compared to just one for Benitez at Valencia. And up until last May, the two had won the same amount of European Cups, despite Benitez only starting his entire managerial career at the same time as Ferguson took over United.

As a foreign manager in England, Benitez has been the victim of a huge amount of double standards. Imagine the fun that the mainstream media would have if he banned journalists from press conferences at a whim; if he refused to speak to the national broadcaster; if he refused to speak to anyone but the club’s own TV channel, as Ferguson did after defeats to Liverpool and Fulham. Unsurprisingly, the ban was lifted after victory over Aston Villa.

Rafa isn’t the only one. Avram Grant was treated appalling for a manager who took his side to second place and the Champions League Final in his first (and only) season, while some of the stick dished out at Arsene Wenger during his early days was barbaric.

We were told that Liverpool’s dip in form in January was down to Benitez’s decision to take his eye off the ball and speak out against Ferguson, instead of the more likely explanation of the collective nervousness of a squad not used to being title favourites, while United’s recent slump was put down to injuries, despite Ferguson’s indulgence in commenting on the day-to-day goings on at Anfield.

Ferguson’s ‘mind games’ are a myth. Many point to the infamous mental explosion of the deeply emotional Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan towards the end of the 1995/96 season as the ultimate example of why you shouldn’t get involved with the United boss, but few point to Blackburn’s title success a year earlier when the comments from Old Trafford did little more than motivate a team of battlers with little or no league winners medals between them. Sound familiar?

The media treatment of Benitez and Ferguson may change if Liverpool were to win the title, but I wouldn’t bet on it. If the championship flag is flying above Anfield next season then Rafa might be lauded for knocking United off their perch, but it’s doubted.

Should Liverpool not win the league (something which we were told was already a foregone conclusion back in February) then you can bet that many in the media will put it down to Benitez’s words speaking louder than his actions, while Ferguson lauds his success to whichever journalist he’s still speaking to.

RIP 96.


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