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I hate to agree with Michael Owen but he is right on Rafa Benitez – Up to a point

4 years ago

One of the downsides of featuring on BT Sport, is that Michael Owen comes as part of the package.

So far we had avoided BT Sport, despite being Sky Sports’ regular diet this season.

That has now changed with Manchester United v Newcastle United going out at 5.30pm on BT Sport.

In advance of that, Michael Owen has been doing a lot of pre-publicity for the broadcaster, stirring up interest with his irresistible patter.

One interesting point he has come up with though, is about how Rafa Benitez treats players.

Michael Owen understands that Rafa can be ‘quite cold towards players’ and that if you are ‘part of his immediate plans, he will defend you to the hilt, but if you are out of form or injured, he ignores you’.

Owen adds that Rafa Benitez ‘Does not appear to be a manager who puts his arm around players and gives them that kind of emotional support when they night need it’.

I think there is some truth in what Michael Owen says, though it pains me to agree with anything he utters.

However, I don’t agree with it all AND even the bits that I agree with, I don’t think are necessarily bad features of what Rafa Benitez actually does.

With what we have seen at Newcastle United, I don’t go along with the suggestion that Rafa Benitez doesn’t at times put the arm round the shoulder and/or gives ’emotional support’.

To hear the players talk, he has done exactly that – the United boss supportive of his players, or at least most of them…

Where I do agree with Michael Owen, is that Rafa can be brutal and push people to the sidelines and be ‘quite cold’.

To be honest though, at times that is exactly what you need with certain players.

When players cross the manager then you don’t want the boss to be a soft touch, quite clearly Rafa has his reasons for sending Jack Colback to train with the kids, the same with him totally sidelining Chancel Mbemba for much of last season, then suddenly dropping him from the squad this time, despite doing ok.

We don’t get to hear of why they things have happened but as everybody says ‘In Rafa we trust’ to make the right decisions, or at least make them for the right reasons.

The same with the glut of players who didn’t fit into the manager’s plans in the summer. We have had far too many well paid players hanging around the club for years, picking up their money but having nothing to offer, and showing no hurry in finding another club.

Once more, Rafa Benitez took no prisoners, making clear who wasn’t wanted and not including them in first team training, sending them to train with the kids, not including them in the open training session in front of fans at St James Park, and so on.

Like any other manager, not every signing that Rafa makes will work out, we have already seen that with a number of them.

However, he is buying the best he can with the money available and selecting them for the good of the club, not some daft idea of them having to only be a certain age, or only buying from certain countries, or only looking at what a future value might be.

If Rafa Benitez has total control over playing matters and transfer AND gets realistic backing from whoever owns the club, then things will get better and better.

He knows what he is doing and isn’t a soft touch, which is more than enough for me.

Michael Owen speaking to Yahoo Sport:

“There is no question that both Benitez and Mourinho are outstanding tacticians, two of the best in the business, but they also have personality traits that are hard to like.

“Benitez is a master at setting at team up that will be tough to break down and Mourinho has shown time and again down the years that he knows how to take a sting out of a game as well, but you also hear a lot of stories that suggest the two men are also quite cold towards their players when they want to be.

“I didn’t work with Benitez for long before I left Liverpool to join Real Madrid in the summer of 2004, but speaking to friends like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, they would say that Rafa is not the warmest of characters around his players.

“Benitez gets the best out of teams and he has done well at Newcastle, but he does not appear to be a manager who puts his arm around players and gives them that kind of emotional support when they night need it.

“You hear similar tales about Mourinho being distant with his players and maybe that is a personality trait that has changed in him in recent years.

“When he first came to Chelsea, John Terry and Frank Lampard were telling us how great Mourinho was when we met up with them in the England squad.

“They said he was a great laugh, got close to the players and was wonderful to work for, but we have seen a few examples of the opposite from him in recent years.

“It seem that if you are in his team and part of his immediate plans, he will defend you to the hilt, but if you are out of form or injured, he ignores you.

“That kind of approach means some players will not be happy, but that is how football has always worked. When I look back at my career, I loved the managers who picked me and wanted me and didn’t have much time for those who didn’t. That’s natural I guess.

“It is a real problem for Mourinho that his old rival Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City team are playing such fantastic football this season.

“It means that United have to win week after week, even though it is clear that cannot match City in terms of the way they are playing their football.

“United have to beat teams like Newcastle and hope City slip up at some point, but that looks unlikely from what we have seen so far this season from both of the Manchester clubs.”


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