Rafael Benitez sometimes finds it hard to be loved. Aside from Liverpool, where he won the Champions League and FA Cup, he has struggled to endear himself to the fans of both the clubs he is at, and fans of more neutral leanings. Ranting Rafa, Crazy Rafa, Control-Freak Rafa, Fat Spanish Waiter Rafa – his two spells in England have left him mocked by pretty much anyone without an affinity with him. Yet he does offer some fantastic entertainment and comedy moments (overlooking some of the awful jokes about him – waiter stuff for example; for fuck sake) and also, trophies.
For all his faults, of which there are many, Rafa Benitez’s CV is actually pretty impressive considering his reputation. Two Champions League finals (one won, one lost), two Europa Leagues/UEFA Cups, two FA Cups, two La Liga titles with a team who weren’t Barcelona or Real Madrid, one Copa Italia, and one World Club Cup Thing That He Can’t Really Take Much Credit For Because Mourinho Won The Champions League To Get Inter There But He Still Had To Win It So Fair Play To The Lad Really.
So actually, he probably wouldn’t be the worst manager for a large team looking to recruit this summer. Like Tottenham.
When Daniel Levy decided to relieve Tim Sherwood of his duties this week, he took from us one of the Premier League’s great comedy characters. A man who believed he was a straight-talking, says-what-everyone’s-thinking man of the people, when in fact he – like anyone who believes he is a straight-talking, says-what-everyone’s-thinking man of the people – was just a bit of a weapon. His hubristic, cringe-worthy actions made Sherwood great entertainment value for everyone other than Spurs fans, with his self-delusions second only to Big Stevie Kean. After the over-intellectualism of the dossier-wielding Andre Villas-Boas, Sherwood’s anti-tactics, anti-intelligence approach to management was hilarious viewing. Sherwood’s decision to offer his seat (and gillet, oddly) on the touchline to a supporter last weekend was poetically ironic, considering Tim himself spent his 5 months in charge behaving like a fan who had been given the opportunity to manage his beloved club.
Sadly for him though, Sherwood was clearly taking the North London side nowhere fast. Comedy and success don’t often come hand-in-hand in football, unless, of course, you are Rafa Benitez.
How many managers would buy David N’Gog, Andrea Dossena and Albert Riera in one summer, then spend circa £20million on Robbie Keane, only to sell him back to his old club 6 months later, and still finish second? Only Rafa. How many managers, post-Keegan, would allocate an amount of time in a pre-match press conference to rant about Sir Alex Ferguson in an unsure, socially awkward manner? Only Rafa. How many managers lack both the shame and self-awareness to start players like Jermaine Pennant and Djimi Traore in Champions League finals? THE MAN IS A BLOODY HERO.
The arrangement of Benitez going to Tottenham would, essentially, be perfect. He would inherit a talented group of players and probably take them to a cup final (be it domestic or continental), yet would still offer all the day-to-day slap-stick humour that you’d expect from a Rafa Benitez league campaign. And, let’s face it, Tottenham would probably be happy with that. Unlike Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United, a regular Champions League place is not sewn so heavily into Spurs’ identity, so finishing somewhere between 6th and 8th would hardly be a disaster – and coupled winning a cup or two would make for a pretty successful season. Maybe even an enjoyable one.
Benitez would also have the chance to form a hilarious partnership with Franco Baldini. Previously Fabio Capello’s side-kick, Baldini was the man who oversaw the re-investment of Gareth Bale’s world record transfer fee, recruiting hapless jokers like Roberto Soldado and Nacer Chadli, as well as a seemingly abstract representation of Roma’s Erik Lamela. Fused with Rafa’s record of overspending on players who would quite obviously be useless (Ryan Babel, Robbie Keane Alberto Aquilani, Mark Gonzalez, even Glen Johnson), Tottenham could continue their recent form of spending hefty sums on players who don’t actually improve their squad in any way.
Let’s not ignore the main point here, mind, Benitez would be successful at Tottenham. Along with the madness, he brought plenty of impressive wins in big games whilst at Liverpool, winning away at Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Barcelona. His obsession with trophies may well bring more silverware to Tottenham than their one League Cup since the turn of the century. But Rafa’s erratic nature would combine that success with hilarity, pleasing both Tottenham fans and non-Tottenham fans alike.