There are two good reasons for Tottenham Hotspur to hire Rafa Benitez this summer. The first is that he’s a very good football manager. The second is that it would be really funny
If you sent a camera crew to the training ground and filmed a fly-on-the-wall account of Benitez’s first training session, you could dine out forever on the syndication rights. Imagine Rafael van der Vaart’s face when the famous ‘empty clipboard’ fills up with arrows and circles. Imagine how profoundly blank Jermain Defoe would look as he stood forlornly in the face of a 20 minute lecture on off-the-ball movement. From the affable laissez-faire era of Harry Redknapp to the meticulous, obsessions of Benitez in one entertaining morning, it would be wonderful. And yet there is still dissent at the mention of his name.
It was Rory Smith of The Times who pointed out the oddity of dismissing the candidature of Benitez (2 x La Liga, 1 x Champions League, 1 x UEFA Cup, 1 x FA Cup) while wringing hands at the departure of Redknapp (1 x FA Cup). The Spaniard’s abrasive nature with the press tends to mask his ability and Tottenham would do well to give him serious consideration. Yes, Liverpool played some fairly dour football under his tutelage and they didn’t win anything at all from 2006 to 2010, but they also played some very entertaining football, and the things they almost won are always worth a mention. Benitez might not be quite the messiah that some of his disciples believe him to be, but he’s a very talented boy. You’d have to be to take a supposedly ‘two man’ team to the brink of a Premier League title without one of the two men that everyone said you relied on. Liverpool’s 2009 challenge came in spite of Fernando Torres’ repeated injuries, not to mention a series of niggly knocks to Steven Gerrard.
And for someone who was often accused of ‘failing to understand English football,’ he might just have been ahead of his time. Pilloried for squad rotation when he arrived in this country, his Liverpool side generally enjoyed a better run-in than their rivals. In that 2008/09 near-miss season, they won 10 of their last 11 games. The season before that, they won 10 of their last 13. By contrast, Redknapp’s Spurs gave up almost a quarter of their 2011/12 campaign, running out of steam and losing their grip on third place. They could do with a bit of rotation at White Hart Lane.
They could also do with a serious reboot. Their team is at the end of its cycle and it needs an overhaul. They can’t afford to pay Emmanuel Adebayor the wages he thinks he’s worth and without him, they have only Defoe and Louis Saha up front. Key players are drifting into their 30s and there isn’t much in reserve to replace them. Benitez is a one-man solution. He scouts for fun. Directors of football are supposed to take the load off the manager, but Benitez wants the load. He yearns for the load. The load is what he dreams of. He’s a machine. He’s spent his sabbatical rattling out long tactical blogs on his own website. The man needs a job.
Benitez will have learned much from his time at Liverpool, and arguably even more in his brief spell at Internazionale. At Spurs, he could flourish and lay down the foundations to keep the club in and amongst the Champions League places. Levy should take a very long look at the Spaniard and make a move to change the culture of the club for the better.