(Continued from Part-1)
Wise men have said that hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back at Rafael Benitez’s disastrous tenure so far, it is easy to pin most of the blame on just one person, the coach himself. However, one can’t say that the President and the sporting directors (Branca) are blameless. To an extent they too shares some of the blame for team’s fortunes.
Here is an assessment on where things went wrong.
Failure to refresh the squad
Johann Cryuff once said that when a squad has won everything, it is time for it to be dismantled and start all over again. Barcelona failed to follow the advise given by its own legend and paid the price in 2007 and 08 seasons. This is even more true for players who are closer to the end of their careers, as they don’t really care for their international future as well.
For Inter, especially the senior players’ motivation (or the lack of it) has been a big problem. Maicon is a shadow of the player he was last season. Players like Christian Chivu, Diego Milito and even the captain Javier Zanetti have been playing well below the levels shown last year. The likes of Sneijder and co. are still suffering from post-world cup hangover and not at their best.
Is Milito past his prime?
Problem child Mario Balotelli was banished to Manchester city, but in many games wherein Inter has struggled to break down opponents, his unpredictable explosiveness could have made the difference between a draw and a win.
Among the new arrivals, Biabiany has struggled to make the step up from Parma to Inter. Coutinho has impressed in patches, but it is too early for the 18 year old to set the league afire.
While Benitez didn’t get any players he wanted (Mascherano and Kuyt), it is hard to see how they would have improved the team as a whole, especially the latter.
Benitez’s ego and tactics
Benitez had inherited a side which had its most successful season ever. Ideally one would expect the coach to continue the same methods which won the side everything and make minor adjustments to cover for any obvious shortcomings. Instead Benitez wanted to stamp his authority on the squad and went about radically overhauling the way the team played. Gone was the rapid counter-attacking Inter side of 2009-10, which had very little space between the defensive and midfield lines. Instead Benitez commanded the midfield to play further up the field leaving a huge gap between midfield and defence. Inter defenders, who were not the most agile of the lot, ended up struggling whenever there was a quick counter-attack, exposing the gap. This was first exposed and exploited by Mirko Vucinic in the game against Roma and then finally exposed brutally by Gareth Bale. Instead of working to close the obvious flaw, Rafa simply continued on the same lines as he thought what he was doing was best. The result was a team confused between its inherent strengths and radically divergent expectations from the coach, and thereby struggled even against minnows.
Contrast this with Jose Mourinho, when he took over Inter in 2008. He wanted the team to play his favoured 4-3-3 formation. With his wingers proving to be a disaster and the team struggling, he quickly admitted and rectified the mistake and switched back to the formation which his predecessor Roberto Mancini had devised and employed. The result was scudetto with a 10 point margin.
Training Methods and Injury
One of the oft-repeated excuses for Inter’s current predicament which is given by Rafael Benitez’s apologists is the injury nightmare suffered by Inter. The main squad as a whole has suffered from 42 injuries in 4 months, which is more than what a team suffers through the entire season. In addition most of the injuries are muscular in nature (hamstring, Abductors and other problems) rather than bone related. Statistics say that Inter have suffered 30% of the entire number of injuries in the league.
While some injuries can be credited to pure bad luck (Walter Samuel’s season ending knee injury), others have been suffered by generally injury prone players (Chivu, Motta), few others have been blamed on post world-cup fatigue after a long season (Milito, Sneijder etc.) However, this doesn’t explain a vast majority of muscle injuries suffered by players who played almost zero part in world cup or were not really part of first XI last season (Cordoba, Matrix, Mariga, Coutinho etc.). More ominously a lot of these injuries have been suffered at the training ground rather than in the actual match itself. Looking at the situation it is plain impossible NOT TO blame Rafa Benitez and his training methods or his fitness coaches.
Maicon’s form has been shambolic
When Benitez took over at Inter, he brought his entire entourage from Liverpool including his assistant coaches and Fitness coaches. They radically overhauled the training and fitness routines. Mourinho’s sessions were more focused on the ball and on the football field. When Benitez took over, he severely curtailed the field routines and focused more heavy on muscle building activities in the gym. While this might be a good approach in the rough and physical English game, it was simply too much for players used to slower pace of Italian league. The result was a highly disproportionate number of muscle injuries.
No Inter fan who has seen through the worst of last 20 years would be trigger happy when it comes to coaches. However Benitez has left the whole lot frustrated and praying for his sacking. Will Benitez get time to set things right? Rumours indicate that he faces sack soon unless things drastically improve. And he will have nobody other to blame than himself.
For a whole lot of Liverpool fans Rafael Benitez was the best ever manager, but his stint at Inter has severely exposed his limitations for what he is. He is an egotistical coach – one who thinks too highly of himself, than what he actually is capable of.
Will Benitez prove the vast majority of Inter fans wrong? For the club’s sake we hope he does, but signs are far from encouraging.
~ Arvind Balasubramanian