Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Rafa Benitez has had to steel himself for many pivotal moments in his career, and he will have to draw on every ounce of his experience this week.
The Spaniard can only save his job at Inter if he returns from Abu Dhabi with the FIFA World Club Cup tucked under his arm as the best ever Christmas present for Massimo Moratti.
It is doubtful the sun in the United Emirates will add much colour to the president's even-paler-than-usual complexion, but he will be glowing inside if his club can finally be crowned World Champions.
Juventus and AC Milan have also achieved the feat and Moratti’s nemesis across town Silvio Berlusconi never misses an opportunity to remind his polar opposite that he has overseen world dominance on three occasions out of the four times the Rossoneri have reached the summit.
The Grande Inter won the Intercontinental Cup under Massimo’s father Angelo back in the 60s, so from the moment Javier Zanetti lifted the Champions League trophy back in May, Junior was already dreaming of getting another monkey off his back this December.
The owner sent the party off with a stirring speech which ended with something along the lines off “don’t bother coming back without the trophy” which was probably aimed more at Benitez, who had plenty of time to mull over the challenge on the five-hour flight from frigid northern Italy to the warmth of the Gulf, where the squad have looked in a pretty relaxed frame of mind – well it is not as if they face the sack.
When not training, the players have been lolling around the reception area of the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel, fiddling with their iPhones and putting their feet up on the expensive upholstery – they may be two games away from becoming masters of our footballing universe but they still give off the air of overgrown school kids on a field trip.
Benitez has been in tricky situations before of course – the 2005 Champions League Final against Milan for starters - and just has he shook the Liverpool players up during the interval in Istanbul, he will need to get this underperforming lot in the right frame of mind before they take on Seongnam in the semi-final on Wednesday.
Victory will be expected against the South Koreans, but it needs to be achieved in a manner that ensures the team head into the final believing that they have finally turned the corner under their new coach.
It has not been easy for Benitez to convince the players that there is another way to play rather than defend and hit the opposition on the counter-attack. Jose Morinho’s tactics suited the majority of the team as they relied on physical power and a well-defined pattern of soaking up pressure and then breaking to the opposition area employing the minimum of passes en-route.
The new man arrived with a different mind set and wanted his team to play in the opposition half, push further out of their comfort zone at the back and basically play attractive, attacking football which unfortunately is just the way Serie A sides like the opposition to play.
There has had little time to engrain such creative thinking into a team used to performing unimaginative tasks, and maybe if Moratti had sanctioned a couple of new signings akin to the Spaniard's way of thinking that transition would have been much easier.
Injuries played their part has well, but that can only be used as an excuse up to a point; too many players had it too easy in that they did not have to think for themselves, Mourinho told what to do and they did it, and if they didn’t such as Mario Balotelli they were soon warming the bench or sitting in the stands.
Each one of those players who, in the words of Wesley Sneijder, were willing “to die” for Mourinho are available for selection, albeit in various physical conditions. Now they have to put themselves on the line for Benitez.
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