‘Arrogance is one thing. You cannot forgive contempt, which is what he showed Sam Allardyce last week-end’. Sir Alex Ferguson, describing Rafael Benitez’s attitude, after Liverpool opened up a two-goal lead against Blackburn Rovers, at Anfield.
Benitez, apparently signalled with his hands, that the game was as good as won, well before time, in a manner that has riled Ferguson and Blackburn Rovers manager Sam Allardyce.
It’s another heightening in the intensity of the ‘mind-games’ that have been played out this season between Ferguson and Benitez. Mind games that seem to work perfectly for Ferguson, but not for the Liverpool manager.
For Sir Alex, all this falls beautifully into his well honed strategy of ‘US v THEM’. ‘THEM’ being, The FA, the BBC, Referees and rival managers, such as Arsene Wenger and Benitez. Enemies who constantly ‘threaten’ his football club.
The bigger that ‘threat’ is magnified by Ferguson, the stronger the ‘US’ needs to become to protect itself from that ‘threat’. Vital for team-spirit and morale of a high achieving team. A strong US prevents cliques and comfortability from taking hold.
Benitez on the other hand, would be well advised to stay away from the ‘mind-games’. On each of the occasions that he has been seen trying to get under a manager or players skin, it has back-fired. Think of Didier Drogba and the 2008 Champions League semi-final. Or last week, when Benitez had Ferguson on his mind, ahead of the quarter-final against Chelsea. There are other examples. Often, when the pressure is on.
It doesn’t work for Rafa, because it simply doesn’t suit his character or style. He would be best advised to focus only on his own team and their strengths. Ferguson has the edge over him in the mind-games. And he will be delighted if Rafa keeps trying to get under his skin. For it will reinforce his powerful and effective US V THEM strategy. It has worked for twenty years. And it shows no sign of failing him now, when he most needs it.