Facts, Rants, Accusations. Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez are certainly not the Premier Leagues closest friends. Manchester United manager vs Liverpool manager and you can ask how could they be? It is not just their personalities which appear to clash so dramatically but indeed their styles of management and their respective standing in the game in England.
January 9th 2009. It begins….
“Sir Alex Ferguson is the only manager in England who can say anything about the referees and not get punished. Fact.”
The words of Rafa Benitez a little over a year ago, in a press conference, which passed into media folklore, to be ridiculed and derided by those writing the back pages ever since. Looking into the detail of what Rafa Benitez actually said however, and it does in parts ring true. One immediate difference between the two styles of management….? Sir Alex likes playing mind games, Benitez does not…
Sir Alex certainly does hold influence within the English game, so engrained is he into Manchester United and the Premier League. He is certainly not one to shy away from confrontation, and in the heat of the moment, the odd questionable comment. The media it seems doesn’t highlight such incidents as perhaps they might others. Sir Alex’s ‘typical Germans’ comment following United’s recent exit to Bayern Munich in the Champions League passed without much of a reaction. If Rafa Benitez had indeed made the remark then the aftermath would have been interesting to observe.
The surprise expressed by everyone following what has now been dubbed ‘Rafa’s Rant’, stemmed from the fact that Rafa Benitez does not usually behave this way. Calm, reserved, controlled are all words one would use to describe the Spaniard. The media struggle to get any joy from Rafa, owing much to his, still limited, English, as well as his reserved personality. Ferguson, although certainly not a great lover of the media himself, will express his opinion on matters if he feels the situation requires it. He is certainly no stranger to argument. The media, however, seem to show Ferguson a great deal of respect, for his imposing personality as for his achievements in football. Such is the reputation of Ferguson that the media and indeed the players hold a certain amount of fear towards the Scot.
For Manchester United players, the ‘fear’ Ferguson is able to create benefits their performances, maintaining their standards and pushes them to improve and impress. Those who play for him fear the famous hairdryer treatment and so continue to perform. Manchester United’s golden generation of Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, David Beckham and others, developed from the academy, in part because of the respect and fear they felt towards the manager, the face of Manchester United, the one person who focused their minds completely on becoming a footballer. The players in turn did their utmost to impress the manager and push themselves on to bigger and better things.
Benitez, it appears does not hold ‘fear’ in that sense for the Liverpool players. There is respect, of course, but this stems more from his ability as a manager and his notable achievements. Benitez has never been one for showing emotion, (excluding the rant of course) no matter the situation. The fact that he still does not openly celebrate any Liverpool goal is one difficult to fathom for some supporters. Where is the excitement and passion as a football fan? Many Liverpool players have commented on the fact Benitez does not ever raise his voice in the dressing room following a bad display and performance. His analytical and methodical approach to the game differs to Alex Ferguson in how this manifests itself into their outward personalities.
Whilst Ferguson will appear before the cameras and lambaste a performance if he feels it’s needed, Benitez prefers to keep such thoughts to himself and try and resolve it on the training pitch, away from the cameras.
Benitez’s approach towards his players is perhaps more European in style, appearing very similar to the England manager Fabio Capello in respect of their thoroughly professional approach to their work, including their relationship with the players. Jokes can be shared and banter exchanged but when it comes down to working then it’s time to be serious. Ferguson, on the other hand, will involve himself more with his players, showing an interest in their personal and family life, also in part to ensure they are making the correct decisions. His man-management skills have always been at a high level, becoming, as some players have described, a father figure to them. He has always been one able to recognise when a player needs praise or encouragement. He equally knows who his best and most influential players are and will manage them accordingly. Ferguson has lavished praise on the likes of Wayne Rooney and previously Cristiano Ronaldo, recognising their importance to the team’s ability to succeed. Rafa Benitez is not one for such high praise but instead maintains distance between himself and his players. The relationship is to remain professional, based purely on football and on the team. Benitez is reluctant to praise standout performances on the pitch from the likes of Gerrard and Torres, preferring instead to concentrate on the team effort. This arguably can be seen as a wise decision, indirectly encouraging the other lesser players around of their worth and contribution to the cause to hopefully help them to improve.
Both managers retain the need and desire for control. Benitez’s desire for control is there for public viewing at any Liverpool match. A permanent fixture in the technical area, Benitez prowls the touchline, appearing to be orchestrating his team’s performance. Grand hand gestures and constant communication with his players is a hallmark of his management style, placing each player in a position throughout the entire match. At times this appears to be to the detriment of the team performance, stifling the players, concerned more with their defensive positioning than playing their own game and imposing themselves on the opposition. Ferguson, arguably, chooses to let his team express themselves more than Benitez.
One of the more common accusations levelled at Rafa Benitez is his tendency to select his sides based purely on the strengths of the opposition, seemingly setting his team up not to lose rather than to go for the win. Many fans argue that he over thinks situations at times and chooses to make the unusual and surprising choice rather than the obvious and seemingly simple one.
This may explain his reluctance thus far to sign enough wingers of genuine quality, skill and pace during his six years at Anfield. Benitez prefers players who are going to work hard for the team and prevent those of the opposition from playing. Players like Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez, although both quality players are not the kind of wingers other teams will necessarily fear. They instead work very hard for the team, willing runners yet who lack the pace and, at times, the skill to go beyond full backs. Since joining Liverpool, Benitez has signed a number of players and then chose to play them out of their natural positions, making changes for what he believes to be to the benefit of the team. Ferguson on the other hand, whilst obviously remaining wary of opposing teams, sends his team out for the win, and lets the opposition worry about Manchester United.
Two men with such different personalities and styles of management and it is perhaps little wonder that they dislike each other. With the doubt surrounding the future of Rafa Benitez it remains to be seen if the pair will lock horns once more. Rafa’s Rant Part II? It would certainly be a good watch.
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