While I’ve since accepted that tight-assed Rafael Benitez speaking beneath himself is now standard fare in any Liverpool versus Chelsea encounter of whatever shade these past few seasons, his continued singsong about Chelsea’s dollar this time around (after all that has gone on at Anfield during this transfer window), I think, borders on chronic amnesia. What more exposes a man’s lack of character or unwillingness to take responsibility than his clear inability to recognize when the boot is on the other foot?
Long before the season commenced, José Mourinho took a panoramic view of the competition and stated in each case what would be their ambition for this season. With regard to Liverpool, Mourinho did not say anything different from what the Anfield players themselves were already saying (and are still saying), which is that winning the Premiership is the focus for them this time around. Yet, egged on by the drama-addicted press, Benitez is now throwing a belated fit over this.
Perhaps, Mourinho’s real sin was to add that Benitez would be without any excuse this season if they don’t win the league (since he’s spent heavily on players), or maybe the thin-skinned Spaniard isn’t comfortable being told that he now has to bring the holy grail of the Premiership title to Anfield having dared Liverpool’s American owners to back him for this purpose or he leaves. Or, maybe he recognizes that his Premiership record against Chelsea under Mourinho must be the worst of any Liverpool manager having lost five of six – his only win coming last January when Chelsea were unusually decimated by injury.
Whatever the real reason for Benitez’s anger, he’s now emerged from his cupboard, geared in full armour, telling whoever cares to listen that Mourinho is breaking his self-imposed restraint not to speak about other clubs. It’s a measure of the man’s intelligence that he does not know the difference between a man saying he was going to be mellower this season and talking about other teams in a dispassionate, matter-of-fact way as part of his job as manager of another team competing for the same honours. It also did not matter to Benitez that Mourinho’s statement in question preceded his declaration to be mellower.
However, the worst of Benitez’s shameless rants ahead of the game is his claim that Florent Malouda chose Chelsea over Liverpool because of money. I don’t know who amongst Benitez’s latest recruits is coming to Anfield to earn peanuts, but Malouda made clear why he chose Chelsea ahead of Liverpool. He has friends at Stamford Bridge and Mourinho sold Chelsea to him better than Benitez could sell Liverpool. Anyone who’s watched how the Frenchman is adapting to the Premiership even this early in his career here wouldn’t be in doubt that he’s in Chelsea to fight for and win things (except if you’re Benitez, of course). In any case, I do not think Malouda will be coming to Anfield to flaunt his wallet or to tell Benitez how his missus finds the London shops more chic than Liverpool’s. He’ll be coming to prove to him on the pitch why his choice of Chelsea is a more sensible one.
Benitez’s relentless obsession with money and how it controls results, the players and so on makes me wonder what Messrs Hicks and Gillett really think of him, especially as he continues to glance longingly in the direction of Roman Abramovich with all sorts of complimentary comments. He possibly thinks everyone understands that it’s his own attempt at mind games against Mourinho (to undermine the Chelsea manager’s own role in the success of the club), but I think the American moneybags wouldn’t wait forever to hear him compliment them too for bringing back the glory days to Anfield. Indeed, maybe they’ve already started wondering if Benitez is the right man for the job since he can’t stop admiring billionaire owners of other clubs. Or is Benitez thinking the unthinkable? Is he hoping to get that call one day to take over Mourinho’s job? Well, it won’t happen, Rafa! You fail to win the league this season, Hicks will kick your butt and Gillett will shave off whatever remains of your pretentious legacy at Anfield. You’re a good manager, no doubt; but you just don’t have it in you to be great. Sorry, we have The Special One and we are coming!
Be afraid, be very afraid.