Juventus and Rafael Benitez: Maybe Not Such a Disastrous Decision?
Over the past few weeks, speculation has been rife around the football world that current Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is to walk away from Anfield after six years and head straight into the hot-seat at ailing Italian giants Juventus.
Seeing beyond the rumors, hearsay, and hyperbole has proved difficult even for the most media-savvy of observers. Talk of "the deal being done" has arrived almost daily, with the most ridiculous of stories appearing the day before the first leg of Liverpool's Europa League Semifinal, which said it had been finalised over the previous two days.
That no official contact had been made with his current employers or, perhaps more pertinently, that the Spaniard had spent three days travelling with the team to Madrid by road and rail due to the suspension of air travel seemed to matter little.
Then there is the almost insane transfer speculation. If he did indeed arrive in Turin he would bring Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt, Javier Mascherano, and Martin Skrtel with him according to a number of reports. That Juventus could either not afford or do not need those players was a clear case of not letting the truth get in the way of the story.
Ignoring all of this, one major stumbling block would appear to be the huge amount of compensation to which Liverpool would be entitled, given the lucrative long-term contract signed by Benitez only last year. This could prevent Juventus, still recovering from the financial effects of their enforced relegation in 2006, from being able to afford to make such a move.
However, given the level of discord at Anfield, and their apparent regression since last season's second place finish, this may not be quite the issue it first seems. The Liverpool board may decide the time for change has arrived, and an agreement to allow him to leave without need for recompense from either party.
So leaving all these issues aside, is Rafael Benitez the man to lead Juventus back to the summit of Italian and European football? Outwardly a man who broke the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly and ended Liverpool's 21-year wait for their fifth European Cup win would seem like an ideal candidate. His recent record does leave some serious cause for caution and concern.
Indeed since that victory over Milan in 2005, he has only added the 2006 FA Cup to the trophy collection, and the team has certainly not made any improvements that suggest the much-coveted EPL title will find its way to Anfield anytime soon under his stewardship.
The man-management skills of Benitez have also been placed under the microscope after several high profile disputes with players. The departures of Robbie Keane, a striker Liverpool could really use given the constant fitness concerns over Fernando Torres, and Xavi Alonso's exit to Madrid, seem to be blamed wholly upon his stubborn and distant nature with his players.
Benitez has also received deserved criticism for his record in the transfer market. While a case can be made to defend him, what is undeniable is the signings are now fully his responsibility. By asking for and gaining ultimate control over the club's moves in the transfer market, Benitez removed all excuses or the ability to deflect the blame. Liverpool have not progressed, as a team or squad, and that is due to the moves he has made.
But would these factors be issues were Benitez to make the move to Turin? Certainly his control over transfers, both in and out of the club, would be seriously diminished. Despite employing some of the greatest coaches in modern football history—think Trappatoni, Lippi, Capello—Juventus have always had a Sporting Director to oversee the club's dealings in the transfer market.
The newly appointed club president, Andrea Agnelli, is expected to unveil a new man in this role ahead of appointing a new coach. Beppe Marotta of Sampdoria is largely expected to be that man, and would make a good choice as he has proved at the Genoa-based club he certainly has a keen eye for talent, as well as a good understanding of what it takes to build a successful and balanced squad.
A strong and competent Sporting Director would remove pressure from the coach to find players and build a squad, but the harmony of the Anfield dressing room certainly seems frayed, and this seems to have been the case since Paco Ayestaran, the long-term assistant to Benitez, left the club in 2007.
A buffer between the Spaniard and his players is vital, and it is a position Juventus would need to fill very carefully were he to arrive this summer.
Perhaps an ex-player like Pavel Nedved, a close friend of the new President, may return in such a role. His presence would also bring someone with a good understanding of the demands of the Italian league, and indeed those of Juventus and its supporters.
With these key men in place around him, the perceived negatives in appointing Benitez would be made largely redundant. What remains is an undoubtedly intelligent, defensive-minded, and tactically astute coach.
One thing that Juventus fans against the appointment of Benitez need to reconsider is the widely-held belief that Andrea Agnelli will prevent the board "making that mistake." While we have only recently learned of his appointment, both he and John Elkann will have been aware for sometime of their new roles in charge of Exor, FIAT, and indeed Juventus.
If the rumors linking the club and Benitez are true then it almost goes without saying that both men back the move, as no appointment will be made without their blessing now the great family is running things again.The new coach will be seen as Agnelli's choice, and any move already in progress will have his blessing.
The shareholders meet on May 10, which is where one would expect the announcement of the new coach, sporting director and any other changes to be made. A week to wait then, until Agnelli is in control and making this "his Juventus."
None of this means Rafael Benitez is the ideal appointment for Juventus, just that it may not be as poor a choice at it first appears. It maybe that the “Spanish Waiter” and the Old Lady can help redeem each others recent failings, and there's only one way to ever know for certain.
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