It’s Sir Alex Ferguson, being interviewed by Sky Sports Geoff Shreeves, after United’s defeat of Chelsea. Shreeves, asks the United manager about Rafael Benitez’s comments at his Friday press conference. Ferguson says that Benitez appears ‘disturbed’ and ‘angry’.
Sure enough, the papers the following morning, are loaded with pictures of Benitez, with the headlines ‘disturbed’, written above him. It’s now appearing, as if Benitez’s attack on Ferguson, is looking like a very bad idea.
If Liverpool had followed up his words, with a stunning performance at Stoke, then everything he said would be quickly forgotten. But, there’s was a stuttering display. Not one brimming with confidence and belief. Perhaps his players weren’t convinced by his press conference either.
He could have given the dressing room, a massive vote of confidence. When asked the question about nerves undermining their title bid, he could have said, ‘Look at my players. Torres, Euro 2008 winner. Carragher, Hyppia, Gerrard, Champions League winners. Mascherano, Keane, Kuyt, played in World Cups. Why would these players get nervous? They love being top of the league’.
Benitez has previous in this area. His attack on Didier Drogba’s theatrics, before the Champions League semi-final, backfired on him. It caused Drogba to become so focused, that he lifted his game to a new level, and scored the goals that eliminated Liverpool.
Like Arsene Wenger, Benitez is not a natural at verbal repartee. He is a strategist, planner and organiser. He has now made himself the story, and loaded the pressure on his team, at a time when they least need it. Going for your first title, in twenty years, is pressure enough. Now, the football world will be watching, to see if nerves do derail their title aspirations.
Ferguson, on the other hand, exudes an authority, which his players feed off. The more superior he looks, against his managerial rivals, the more their confidence grows. And right now, the United manager is king of the mind games