March 25th, 2009


Vassily Utkin. Benitez Le Phare

Those are thoughts of eternal. Of course, they had been fussed by my head ahead of ruthless final figth of Liverpool and Real Madrid on Tuesday night. But this is simply an occasion. Those considerations have nothing to do with its correlation of forces.

They say Benitez is the best manager of the world in preparation for given match. I cannot say I disagree. It's plain truth - his teams are splendid in cup competitions. It just seems to me you cannot apply 'best of the world' term to this skill, because for me the manager's ability lies in the range of his operations, in the multitude of means he can use. Managers's art is to choose. I doubt whether Rafa Benitez is worth 'best of the world' title in this case, because preparing to the cup game he does not have really difficult tactical problem to solve. It would be difficult had he to pick up from different means - and pick up faultlessly (as a great boxer decides in fractions of second which punch would finish his exposed opponent - while opponent himself had not realized yet this exposure). But Benitez's task seems to be different.

By the highest standards, he builds a trap each time. Yes, he plays 'from the opponent', but such adaptation is not variative, only creation can be variative. Destruction, quite the contrary, is uniform. The buildings are variative, whilst the pig-iron crushing them is always the same, and the swing is always equal. The same for explosives. The main thing is the force of the booooom initiated, the substance is irrelevant. The force of destruction!

I do not compare neither Benitez nor his teams to pig-irons. No, this metaphor had very narrow meaning. In general, Benitez's place in the history is unshakable. He sees his aim; he is not even Rafa - il est le phare, he is the headlight producing thick beam of light strictly on his aim. We do not discuss Benitez's place in the history; we discuss the filling of this legend hardening before our eyes. Benitez is the trapmaker. To organize the play so as to prevent opponent from playing his trump cards you do not need fine decisions. You do not need fine players for this task also (though you do need fine players for another purposes). Destruction is not simple (especially such a stable destruction distinctive for different teams trained by Benitez), it is just not the task demanding fine tactical organization. No! And it is not here where Rafa is the best.

He is excellent in other way. He can grasp at X-Day which players in his squad give the best fit for this hard task. Who is trained enough, and of those who are trained enough - who are ready to give maximal strength. This ability is also very important. But this is not the tactics. And this is not the game.

As soon as we realize it, we realize another thing. We see the solution of the so-called mystery of the best (by some criteria) manager of the world, Rafael Benitez. Namely, why he achieve great success in play-off games but can achieve nothing in English Premier League. Well... Not 'nothing', of course. Place in the top four which he missed only once is quite an achievement. But - it is not the title. You know, when the team year after year laying claim to european supremacy does not claim national title, it is the cause of thoughts. And those are many who tend to see mystery here.
But there is no mystery. This very play practised by Benitez is not good for winning match after match during eight months. It is insufficient to play 'from the opponent' here. You can play from AC Milan, you can play from Atletico Madrid, but you cannot play from Fulham, from Stoke City, from Tackle City, from Tipple City, it is impossible. And Benitez is not good at another things - where you have to search the ways and imagine fine moves. And his team is not good here too. So there is no contradiction: the reasons of his dullness in the league are the same as those of his excellence in play-offs.

Of course, I speak of dullness here not comparing him with mediocrity. Dullness - comparing with those who do gain champions titles. So - it is in no way nonentity, it is simply the absence of greatness. And even: applicability of 'best of the world' term.

Please do not suspect me of forgetting Fernando Torres, Gerrard, Carragher, who will adorn any team's play with either feints or shining eyes so that you will not call it lacklustre. I do remember. And Benitez have all these players in his team. But they are what they are; and his will as a coach is shown in the play 'from the opponent'. It seems sometimes that the main task of Liverpool midfield is to give the ball up and then to start immediately taking it off catching the opponent on tactical counter motion: throw the ball onward to Fernando, and he will do the rest. I exaggerate, of course. But only slightly. Excuse me.

It would be interesting to compare Benitez with Wenger. They are antipodes. Totally. It is not an accident that Wenger by no means can achieve the aim near which Benitez walks free and easy every year - the League title. Because as soon as they start to critisize Rafa's favourite football - the argument appears: does he have the budget to take those players who... Well, you understand.

Wenger does not have the budget, too. They had built their stadium for years economizing on everyting. Nevertheless he picks up the players for football which cannot be confused with anything else.

You would tell me that Benitez is placed invariably better than Wenger in the League table. But I do not discuss who is better. At this level 'who is better' is idle question, the question of taste. And really interesting is to examine the borders dividing there uniqueness and self-sufficiency, not the tags we are giving them.

So who will surpass whom does not matter. And what matters is that Wenger is closer to League victory in the future from his today's fourth or fifth place than Benitez because his football is victory-oriented. It is evident that something does not add up but when it will accrete this very football will bring the English champions title. Whereas Benitez's Liverpool will never be the champions. Only if all contenders would flop out and title would lie in the dust to take (such seasons happen). I exaggerate once more, of course. But only to make my idea clear. Good luck to all of them.

Maybe you are waiting for some conclusion that football moves forward not owing to benitez-like managers because their lot is mediocre, and not to managers of big clubs - but, on the contrary, owing to little clubs managers who just combine their trapmaking skills and ability to find the common language with the stars. Maybe you are waiting for such a final from me... Hm.

But no.

Vice versa - Rafa Benitez is an important constituent of game progress. He is the obstacle on its way. He should be surmounted. He is the frontier, the troublemaker for managers who are real tactical pioneers. Without such Rafa innovators would take it all too easy. And their ideas would not gain flesh and blood on the path to victory.

And now they do gain flesh and blood. And spill the blood. And do not win always. And this is justice., March 9, 2009

In the space of few days two my favourite journalists published two articles upon two managers of my favourite team - the real one and imaginary-though-not-so-special one. It had been a great pleasure to translate both ways. Criticism would be deeply appreciated especially for this English text.

Псалом 1, версия 2009

Не ходи, свет мой ясный,
к негодяям, гляди,
не греши понапрасну,
от разврата уйди.

О заветах небесных
размышляй день и ночь.
Слабой воле, как в детстве,
Бог способен помочь.

Расцветёшь ты как ива
у прозрачной воды,
и плодов твоих диво
станет светом звезды.

Словно вечная зелень,
будешь юн и красив,
прозвучит в каждом деле
твой победный мотив.

Негодяям не светит:
их, как брошенный прах,
разнесёт вольный ветер
в опустевших полях.

Им в суде не отмыться,
им от честных бежать.
Бог для честных - как птица,
негодяям - как тать.