One of the things that impressed me most about our manager last season was his remarkably calm demeanour before, during and after matches despite the enormous amount of pressure he was undoubtedly under throughout the campaign. He’d have been under pressure from the owner, fans and the media (always waiting for the next NUFC calamity to report on), and, given his way of working, himself. However, not once do I recall him losing his shit, throwing a strop, snapping at journalists and getting in to spiteful spats with the managers and players of other clubs in the division. The only time I can remember him reacting with a slight hint of anger was when he stated of Lansbury, ‘I hope he is proud of his reaction’ post 3-1 defeat at Forest. That’s a fairly tame reaction when we consider how poorly Lansbury behaved and how shockingly the referee performed.
As we only spent the one season in the Championship, and given there were no other managers in the division anywhere near Benitez in terms of career achievements and standing within the game, chances to develop any managerial rivalries were always going to be remote. There were a couple of occasions where Rafa/the Club got given indirect insults but these were down more to the general huffiness of the rival manager (Paul Lambert insinuating Wolves deserved to win at Molineux) or the delusions of grandeur suffered by his opposite number (I’m thinking Monk stating Leeds lost due to a lucky goal and the fact they didn’t get a penalty after the comprehensive NUFC victory at Elland Road in November, and Jaap Stam after both games versus Reading).
There is one manager in the Championship with whom Rafa has ‘previous’. Neil Warnock’s issue with Rafa stems back to 2007 when Sheff Utd were in the PL and Benitez was managing Liverpool. Given that the incident occurred nearly 10 years ago anyone would think that Warnock would have maybe gotten over the fact that all Rafa did was play a slightly weakened side against Fulham who at the time were one of Sheff Utd’s relegation rivals. Given that Sheff Utd were at home to Wigan on the final day and simply had to avoid defeat to stay up, Warnock’s gripe smacks of Neil Warnock trying to look after Neil Warnock. Colin’s on-going accusations of sportsmanship allegedly led to a letter from Rafa’s people threatening legal action which, if true, certainly makes me think fair play to Rafa as why should he had to have put up with Warnock throwing accusations around? As recently as last season Warnock stated in an interview with Wales Online that “The last time I heard from Rafa he was threatening to sue me in an email if I mentioned it again,” I don’t believe this is true given that it comes from Warnock and, even if it is, there must be a good reason for him doing it. I can’t find any examples of Rafa kicking off about Warnock. Surprise, surprise.
This got me thinking about some of the supposed fallings out he’s had throughout his managerial career and whether or not he is now a more relaxed man at NUFC than he has been at his previous clubs. Let’s look at a few examples.
When the self-styled Special One arrived with much fanfare at Chelsea in 2004 we’d only had a slight glimpse of his arrogance and lack of grace during a Porto – Man Utd Champions League match the season before. Given, however, that it was Ferguson whom he was riling I thought it was pretty hilarious. His first season in England soon showed us that this wasn’t a one-off. The rivalry/falling-out/beef with Benitez of course stems back to that Liverpool victory in the 2005 CL semi-final. There are many quotes from it but a particular favourite is “They didn’t score in the semi-final against us but I accept they beat us.” I LOL’d at that. Mourinho went on to whinge about the 2006 FA Cup semi-final loss, whilst at Inter he said of Rafa, ‘How many championships has Benitez won since he joined Liverpool? None. And how many names were suggested by the press to replace him? None.’ Mourinho stated that he was surprised that Rafa hadn’t called to congratulate him on winning the 2010 World Club Cup given that it was José’s team. And on it goes with Mourinho denigrating the Europa League victory Rafa delivered Chelsea in 2013 (hilarious given the fact the rapturous congratulations he has afforded himself on winning it with Man Utd).
This hasn’t all been one way traffic with Rafa of course having responded to Mourinho’s petulance. He commented, “Mourinho talks a lot about a lot of people, but I prefer to talk about facts….At Liverpool, with a squad half of the value of Chelsea, we twice knocked his Chelsea side out of the Champions League.’ This represents a fine example of Benitez’s pragmatic way of dealing with issues and, forgive me for not being at all pragmatic but clearly being biased, I’d say that he has never dealt with Mourinho in a like-for-like manner, i.e. by spitting the dummy. It will be interesting to see whether or not Mourinho makes any jibes next season given they’re now both back on the same league. Let’s hope that he does as it’ll indicate NUFC are doing well and any histrionics from a rival manager will surely play to Rafa’s advantage.
This apparent rivalry stems back to Benitez’s time in charge at Napoli (2013-15) when Conte was the main man at Juventus. The Old Lady were pretty much unstoppable on the domestic front under Conte and Rafa’s Napoli provided their biggest threat. There were a couple of minor incidents between the two, Rafa stating that Napoli would find it difficult to compete with Juve given the differences in revenue between the clubs led to Conte responding on one occasion that results had nothing to do with turnover (after a 2-0 defeat to Napoli) and on another occasion that with the money Napoli spent anything other than winning the league in 2013/14 would be seen as a failure (Juve won it). However, this supposed rivalry seems to have been engendered by the Italian press and is really nothing – in fact Benitez before the start of the 2016/17 season stated that Conte would do very well at Chelsea. If NUFC are doing well next season and are seen as a threat to the big boys then perhaps we’ll see a little bit of animosity between these two but certainly the feeling here appears to be one of mutual respect.
During the 2008/09 season Benitez’s Liverpool were looking on-course to win the title and Fergie started with the mind-games (those NUFC fans following the team 1995-96 will be very familiar with this). Fergie began querying refereeing performances, talking about injuries and fixtures and questioning whether LFC had the staying power to get the job done. Despite Liverpool being 7 points clear our man snapped and went on to give the infamous ‘facts’ interview during January 2009 in which he accused Ferguson of trying to influence referees and the FA. Much like KK’s ‘love it’ speech after NUFC away to Leeds, there was quite a bit of truth in what Rafa was saying. However, the press pilloried him for it, stating that he’d lost it and the pressure was too much (to a certain extent backing-up what he had been saying by pandering to Fergie once again)! Man Utd went on to win the title but to say that LFC and Benitez had suffered some sort of collapse due to Fergie’s psychological warfare is a bit naughty given that LFC only lost twice all season. Perhaps Rafa did feel the pressure slightly but his behaviour didn’t smack of someone lacking dignity and it appears no grudge has been held on his side. Ferguson, however, is another matter. In his autobiography he refers to Rafa as bitter and that his CV points to him being lucky as his success has come on the back of inheriting the good work of others….Mourinho’s in particular. Once more this rivalry seems to show Rafa in a better light than the other.
Sam ‘Big Sam’ Allardyce
This alleged ‘rivalry’ started in 2004 during Benitez’s first season at LFC. Bolton won 1-0 with an..ahem…classic Allardyce ‘these foreigners don’t like it up em’ performance. Sami Hypia having his nose broken by Kevin Davies. You get the picture. Benitez didn’t particularly like it and, of course, this set BS off….for years. Take a look at the following quotes from him:
‘Here was a trendy foreign manager with all his smart ideas getting beat by some oik from the Midlands,’
‘Benitez wouldn’t talk to me at all and that just made it all the better when we won.’
Talking about the victory over AC Milan in 2005, a victory that BS reckons had ‘nowt to do’ with benitez:
‘I don’t blame Benitez for claiming credit – but as managers we know the truth…It’s like when you make a substitution in desperation and it comes off…You get all the credit for your tactical brilliance when it’s often just luck’
Now, I can only find one example of Rafa responding to BS’s baiting. Whilst at Real Madrid he responded to the ‘nowt to do with Rafa’ claim with the following:
‘His opinion does not have a lot of value. Do you know how many trophies Sam Allardyce has won’?
That to me is a fairly measured response given the extent of BS’s comments. Again, it’s fairly accurate, right?! It’s a little unfortunate that we won’t get to see this rivalry renewed next season as it would be great to see BS meltdown after a defeat to a zen-like Rafa and his Newcastle team. Of course, it could well happen….depending on who is in the bottom 3 in December and whether or not BS fancies another £5 million quid.
I’m now well aware that this article is turning in to an essay so in conclusion I am happy to give my completely objective and based on facts (!) opinion that our manager is as composed a figure out there in the game and this is a very good thing for us indeed. The majority of the rivalries that he has had over the years seem to have stemmed more from others attempting to wind him up or just being, for whatever reason, a little bitter or huffy. If we’re in a good position next season and challenging for something I am wholly confident that the man will get on with the job in his assured and pragmatic way regardless of any mud being slung his way. HTL.
NUFC Fans Foodbank – Opening Times Next Post:
true faith PODCAST – Graeme Carr Leaves Newcastle United