With La Liga mothballed by internationals, the Spanish media need something to poke at - which is bad news for Benitez, says Tim Stannard...
Rafa Benítez is just going to love international breaks – a fortnight-long football vacuum set to be filled by the Real Madrid manager becoming a human piñata for the local media, for want of anything else to do. So far, a solid three days have been spent whacking poor Rafa with metaphorical sticks, and there is good mileage in the attacks to last until the weekend.
The initial charge on Monday was that Real threw away the chance to beat Atlético at the Vicente Calderón by withdrawing into their shell like a turtle sensing a nuclear blast. Much was to be made of Karim Benzema being substituted for the sixth time in eight games. Of course, had the Frenchman played every single minute then the thrashing would concern Rafa causing burn-out in the club’s only striker.
On Tuesday, the press turned on the natural tendency of Benítez for being overly cautious, a little like being critical of a giraffe having a long neck or Donald Trump being an obnoxious bore. Neither can help it, it comes naturally. “The seven sins of Benítez!” was the title of a Marca hack-job on the various failings of a manager, who rather foolishly opted against getting beaten 4-0 at the Vicente Calderón like his predecessor last year, a plus-point rather overlooked in the kerfuffle. “In the end, he is a timid coach and it’s a timid team. That’s what it is,” huffed the arm-folded Director of AS, Alfredo Relaño.
Everything might have fizzled out there and then with imaginary sweets bursting out of Rafa’s imaginary body, but then Sergio Ramos opened his gob and started off another round of aggro. Having pulled out of Spain’s games against Luxembourg and Ukraine, the centre-back could have headed straight home from the training camp after his medical check-up; instead, he offered a few thoughts to the press.
“It doesn’t bother me that Rafa Benítez criticised me for the penalty I gave away,” said the Real Madrid club captain. “Just as people will talk about my mistakes, everyone will talk about the substitutions of the manager.” Ramos also noted that the team defended far too deeply at the end of the derby encounter.
In a normal universe, these comments would be fairly innocuous. But in the wacky world of Real Madrid, this has been seen as an all-out war. Marca issues a fire warning on the front cover of Wednesday’s edition, while AS publish the supposedly damning quotes from Ramos. Although it’s unfair to pick on Rafa for his natural tactical tendencies, it’s also worth understanding why the page-devouring Spanish football media leapt upon the narrative.
International breaks were formed and expelled from Satan’s bum. Pondering possible results for a collection of non-injured Spaniards against a team somewhere beyond Poland just isn’t going to cut the ketchup. Indeed, over time it could lead to mass sackings as millions of potential readers opt for staring at paint cracking off the walls of their local cafés rather than having a good old read of some spurious nonsense. Sorry, Rafa: it’s piñata time.