Massimo Moratti and Rafa Benitez: Inter Milan's Strange Romance

Giancarlo RinaldiCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2010

MILAN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 24:  FC Internazionale Milano head coach Rafael Benitezl during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between FC Internazionale Milano and FC Twente at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on November 24, 2010 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

There is a kind of twisted logic in what is going on at Inter Milan these days.

Remember Roberto Mancini? He brought back the Scudetto after an agonising drought and was sent packing.

Jose Mourinho? He departed for Real Madrid just a few hours after ending a 45-year wait for the European Cup.

So what better way to celebrate a historic Club World Cup than by showing Rafa Benitez the door?

It has been a strange kind of love from the outset. It felt like one of those dodgy relationships your best pal gets into but you are too scared to point it out for fear of ruining your friendship.

Everyone on the outside tried to tell Massimo Moratti and the former Liverpool boss that they were wrong for each other. But, like two children growing up, they had to make their own mistakes.

Yet, maybe the Inter supremo knew what he was doing. His goatee-bearded gaffer brought home the trophy he wanted in order to emulate his father’s achievement. Benitez looks more and more like Moratti’s rebound romance from Mourinho.

Now he has got it out of his system, he can look for a more steady partner.

Questions have to remain about who exactly can fit the bill and what will be expected of them. Are the Nerazzurri embarking on a period of turmoil and regret over the Special One’s departure? He has set the bar so high that almost everyone is doomed to fail in comparison. Former Milan boss Leonardo will have a hard task if, as forecast, he takes the job.

It is quite incredible when you think that the club used to be a byword for big-spending failure. Inter have been transformed into one of Italy and Europe’s superpowers. The expectation level has risen to such a height that it has nearly disappeared out of sight in the skies above the San Siro.

Benitez was a victim of that, but also seemed intent on self-harm too. The latest talk is that he was frustrated by the limited role offered to a coach in Italy. But surely that was no secret and the Spaniard was smart enough to know what to expect. The operating approach of Serie A clubs is there for the world to see.

The icing on the cake came with his plea for four or five players after clinching a major honour. Even the most mild-mannered club owner would have been irritated. In the irascible world of Italian football, it was the equivalent of putting in an official request to be sacked.

Maybe Inter did promise him more money to transform the Milanese giants into his side. He certainly did not seem to have much support from the boardroom from day one, but a winning start could have won over a lot of doubters.

Instead, Rafa took Serie A’s dominant force and left it languishing 13 points behind their city rivals. Results became the biggest rod for his back.

It is hard to feel much sympathy for either side in this footballing divorce. Both went into the deal with their eyes wide open. No doubt Benitez will get a huge pay-off after just a few months’ work. Moratti, for his part, has got his international trophy—but at what price?

Inter sit streets back in the Scudetto fight and are a club which any coach should approach with caution; they remain one of the most attractive sides in Europe but, like smoking, they come with a health warning.

In the last 20 years, only Roberto Mancini has enjoyed a seriously stable spell in charge. Long reigns like those of Giovanni Trapattoni, Eugenio Bersellini and Helenio Herrera are the stuff of dreams.

So Benitez and Moratti will go their separate ways and, no doubt, find new partners: Rafa gets possession of a generous lump sum while the president will keep his long-desired trophy.

But what of the club and its fans? They can only hope that the fresh courtship which already appears to be under way can produce two sporting spouses who prove better suited to one another.


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