Drowning in Vigo
Rafa Benítez never just goes through the motions but is totally dedicated and immerses himself completely in the task
Friday, 1 December 2023, 17:26
Friday, 1 December 2023, 17:26
Rafa Benítez can rightly claim to have taken his place amongst Europe's elite football managers over the years. Yet the only thing keeping him in a job at Celta de Vigo is his name and previous standing in the game.
His appointment was an indulgent act by the Galician club. A treat for the supporters in the centenary year. They couldn't afford a headline signing, so they opted for a marquee manager instead.
Benítez is a big name. He led Valencia to La Liga titles as a young coach, became a hero in Liverpool with Champions League success in 2005 and won silverware in Italy with Napoli. He's been a winner.
But it's fair to say that his impact at Celta has been underwhelming. He's overseen just one league victory, and the mission is to keep the club in the top-flight rather than chase for a European place. The record would mean a swift dismissal for most coaches, yet Rafa remains in office simply because he's Rafa.
It could be the blind faith of the club's president; or it could be a clause that means a huge payoff if he's sent packing...
There are mitigating circumstances. The club cashed in on their star player. Most of the leading European clubs were wooing Gabri Veiga - but, strangely, he chose to head to Saudi Arabia. I'm sure Rafa was on the Arabian hit list too and must regret taking that romantic option rather than following the money trail - as he did when he headed for China.
This is more like the Everton experiment. He was an unpopular choice at the rivals to his glory club.
He's experiencing similar issues in Vigo. He's trying to motivate and shape an average bunch of players who have become accustomed to fighting relegation. In previous years, they've relied on the goals of club legend Iago Aspas. Alas, he's now 37 years old and the legs are weakening. He's failed to convert two penalties this season and has only scored a single goal.
You know Rafa is in trouble when he starts babbling gobbledygook in press conferences. He once did it when Sir Alex Ferguson took him on at mind games in the Premier League days; now, he's waffling something about science to explain Celta's poor results.
This is a club that once disrupted the Spanish football hierarchy, finishing 4th in 2003. That was in an era when Rafa was winning titles with Valencia.
You can see why the president took the nostalgic option. He was dreaming that the club and coach could relive the glory days of the noughties.
For Rafa, it's no longer tilts at titles. His stay at Real Madrid was short, he took Newcastle down and then up again. I bet he wishes he could erase Everton from his resume of appointments.
Anyone who knows him will appreciate that he never goes through the motions. He dedicates himself to the task at hand and becomes immersed. The problem is that he's drowning in Vigo.
It doesn't look good. He must know that the Saudi moneymen would be interested in enticing him to the fledgling league if he became available. Maybe he needs to swallow his pride, knock on the President's door and plead "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here".
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