To Rafa or not to Rafa?
Rafa Benitez, former coach of Liverpool and Inter Milan, is thought to be one of the favorites, if not the favorite, to be appointed as Aston Villa manager. Of course, we all thought Mark Hughes would be the next Villa manager, and look how that turned out. Then we were all convinced it was Steve McClaren, but the squish has been put on that name as well. So is it Rafa, or is it, once again, someone that Villa fans aren't even aware of yet?Benitez seems as though he could be a legitimate contender. It's rumored that he'll be in Birmingham to hold talks with Randy Lerner, et al, later in the week -- a piece of gossip that has many Villa fans all a dither. But Rafa has a good track record, so what's with the tizzy? Two La Liga titles, plus the FA Cup with Liverpool, plus, oh, that little thing called the Champions League. Remember? He won it. In 2005. That's a lot more recently than 1982, folks.
But -- and I was talking to Aaron about this yesterday -- reservations remain about Benitez's abilities. Perhaps some of this feels all too familiar: grab a formerly great coach as his career seems a bit on the decline. But it's more than that. Yes, almost anyone would have had a tough time (and that's probably an understatement) replacing Jose Mourinho at Inter. But Rafa had more than a tough time. He took the treble winners and brought them down to seventh before he was sacked and replaced by Leonardo.
And it wasn't just that Benitez had difficulty with a side that had Mou's fingerprints all over it. Obviously it was going to be hard to change from such a defensive style to one better suited to Benitez's coaching abilities. One can try to say the nerazzurri struggled early in the season due to injury, but many believe that most of those injuries directly stemmed from Rafa's training program. Benitez also took Wesley Sneijder out of his role in midfield (where I think most can agree he is one of the best playmakers in the world) and attempted to turn him into a striker. This is just but a small sample of the complaints pinned on Benitez while at Inter.
While Benitez is certainly not the worst manager Villa could appoint, going through another season riddled with injuries and plucking players out of position...well, it makes for a bleak outlook. Then again, Rafa also talked about himself being a priest on a mountain of salt, so at least press conferences could be interesting.