The view from Liverpool fans is that Benitez is totally composed during the press conference, not anger or emotion on show, therefore he can’t have done a Keegan. Maybe they truly believe Benitez is doing them a service in this press conference, taking some of the attention away from their jail bird captain? Or maybe they think he is playing Ferguson at his own game?
The problem with these arguments is that it is not usual behaviour to attention a pre-match press conference with a list of information about an opposing manager and team. What provoked it? Ferguson wondering whether Liverpool would have the bottle to win the league? Why did that convince Rafa that the most reasonable thing to do was to compile a list of complaints?
To quote one penalty decision that wrongly went in United’s favour, like that means anything, like it’s never happened to Liverpool, is either utterly moronic or utterly mad. To start off the rant by mentioning a time when Ferguson was punished by the FA for failing to uphold the Respect campaign, then a minute later claim Ferguson is “the only manager in the league that cannot be punished” does not make sense. He’s mad or stupid.
As for Rafa doing a Keegan, it is not the emotion, it is not the lack of composure, it’s not even really what he said, rather the fact he said it. He sat in front of a room of cameras and spouted off a list of supposed ‘facts’ which actually weren’t facts at all (as proven by his own admission that Ferguson has been punished for lack of respect) from a piece of paper he’d brought along with him. This wasn’t a case of him being suddenly caught off guard with a question. The fact that it was entirely pre-meditated makes it worse than Keegan. He actually thought it would be a good idea to do what he did!
The Guardian 9.1.09:
What Ferguson makes of Benítez’s outburst is not yet clear but, after the initial shock, it is not difficult to imagine a sunrise of a smile crossing face. Benítez may have insisted he was not taking on Ferguson at mind games but, seriously, the only question it has posed is this: are the Premier League leaders feeling the pressure?
We have been here before, of course. Kevin Keegan is always cited as the man who lost the plot because of Ferguson’s strategic psychological ploys, but the list of those who have suffered in the slipstream of the United manager stretches even further. Arsène Wenger has been left trembling with anger at times while the debonair Jose Mourinho had dark smudges beneath his eyes by the time he left Stamford Bridge; his thick plume of once-silky hair had become a greying bouffant and his glare was wild. OK, that may have had something to do with the viperous politics at Stamford Bridge, but Ferguson’s one-upmanship certainly did not help either.
In the case of Keegan, Newcastle United had fallen away in the final months of the 1995-96 season and, with hopes of the title by then slim, the manager flipped during an interview with Sky after a 1-0 win against Leeds, jabbing out his finger and embarking on that infamous “love it” rant about Ferguson and his team. “God, I felt sorry for him,” Ferguson later recalled. “At first it made me feel a bit guilty. Then I thought to myself that I had done nothing wrong. Although I was disappointed when he attacked me, I just put it down to pressure.”
The modern-day Ferguson prefers the drip-drip approach. Benítez’s temper glands were pricked by a sentence, hidden in a long interview with Ferguson in United’s club magazine, in which he questioned whether Liverpool would get “nervous” in the second half of the season. On the face of it, it seems like nothing more than a throwaway line. Indeed, an argument could be made that Benítez needs to stop being so precious. But then consider the fact it was also in this publication that Ferguson mischievously expressed his surprise about Liverpool’s willingness to pay £20m for Robbie Keane at the start of the season. A coincidence? Never underestimate Ferguson. This is a dedicated student of human nature, armed with a fierce intellect and an acute understanding of the modern media. A man like this would have known how his quotes would be turned into back-pagestories.
The really strange thing is that Ferguson has never said anything particularly detrimental about Benítez. Perhaps that is what Benítez dislikes. Who knows? Ferguson works in mysterious ways, but one certainty is that Benítez’s rant has invited more questions about his state of mind than that of the oldest, wiliest manager in the business.
The Times 9.1.09:
The phoney war in the Barclays Premier League title race gave way to full-scale psychological conflict yesterday as Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, embarked on a remarkable outburst aimed at Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Manchester United manager, whose team take on Chelsea tomorrow afternoon, took a pot-shot at Liverpool this week by questioning whether the league leaders could cope with the pressure, but Benítez responded with interest in a premeditated tirade, saying that Ferguson appears to be above the law.
The Spaniard even claimed that Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Chelsea manager, should “man-mark” Ferguson and his coaching staff at Old Trafford tomorrow to ensure that they cannot try to influence Howard Webb, the referee.
Reading from prepared notes, Benítez ran through a list of “facts” about the champions’ manager. Benítez was accused by some journalists of rising to Ferguson’s bait and falling for the “mind games” that famously drew an overemotional response from Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle United manager at the time, in the heat of the title race in the 1995-96 campaign.
In a remarkable press conference Rafa Benitez read from a dossier detailing his grievances about Sir Alex Ferguson – stressing this was not mind games but ‘facts’. He says Sir Alex is “the only manager who will not be punished” for talking about referees, claiming he “was killing the referees, killing Mr Atkinson, killing Mr Hackett”. Remarkable stuff.
The Times 10.1.09:
Benítez, in his fifth season at Anfield, must have known this week that his team were finally getting under Ferguson’s skin when he heard the United manager question — in the club’s official magazine, no less — whether Liverpool, without a league title since 1990, would have the mental strength to last the course.
This should have been music to Benítez’s ears. Instead it triggered an unexpected reaction yesterday lunchtime as the Liverpool manager produced an A4 sheet from which he read a series of longstanding gripes about Ferguson.
Shortly after his rant in front of the television cameras yesterday, newspaper journalists asked whether his reaction may have played into Ferguson’s hands. “Everyone can see that I’m talking about facts,” he replied. “I’m just saying things that everybody can see.”
So why bother responding? “Why not?” Benítez said. “He has been talking about Liverpool ever since we beat Chelsea.”
So you don’t think Ferguson will be rubbing his hands with glee upon seeing this footage? “I don’t think so,” he said.
Perhaps Benítez will be proved right. Perhaps, by suggesting that United and their manager enjoy preferential treatment from referees and from the game’s authorities, he is acting as the perfect counterweight to Ferguson’s persistent and very deliberate claims to the contrary. It is just that, coming from Benítez (rather than, say, Mourinho at his most Machiavellian in his Chelsea days), it sounded strange. Not completely out of character, but still strange.
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