Where did it go wrong for Rafael Benítez at Inter Milan?

After the end of the Spaniard's six-month reign in Italy, Kieran Beckles looks back at his troubled tenure

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
rafael benitez
Rafael Benítez lasted just six months in charge of Inter Milan (Photo: Martin Caparrotta)

rafael benitez

Rafael Benítez’s turbulent six-month tenure at Inter Milan came to an end on Tuesday when the Spaniard’s contract at the San Siro was terminated.

When the Spaniard took charge of last season’s treble winners he was faced with the daunting task of emulating Jose Mourinho, who had just led the Nerazzurri to five trophies during his two years in Italy.

It was clear Benítez had numerous obstacles to overcome: a squad that appeared to display fierce loyalty to Mourinho, an owner who had become tired of pumping personal funds into a club that had finally achieved European dominance and a sceptical set of fans who had just experienced a near flawless season under the self-proclaimed Special One.

On 3 June 2010, former Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillette agreed a payout of £6m to finally end Benítez’s spell at Anfield, paving the way for Inter owner Massimo Moratti to appoint the 50-year-old as Mourinho’s successor just seven days after leaving Merseyside.

The first test of his Inter reign came in the Italian Super Cup. Relying on the players inherited from his predecessor, Benítez masterminded a 3-1 victory over Roma to add another cup to the San Siro trophy cabinet.

However, six days later Benítez’s new side failed to win the European Super Cup after enduring a disappointing night in Monaco. Goals from Jose Antonio Reyes and Sergio Aguero sealed victory for Europa League holders Atletico Madrid. It was an opportunity missed as it denied the club a potential clean-sweep of titles in 2010.

Benítez’s Inter then stuttered on the first day of the season when his side were held to a goalless draw in Bologna. The Spaniard’s first league victory came on the 11 September against Udinese courtesy of strikes from Lucio and Samuel Eto’o.

That win saw Inter embark a four-game unbeaten run until before Benítez’s side were faced with the first real test of his fledgling career in Italy. And a trip to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome ended in bitter disappointment when a 92nd-minute goal by Mirko Vucinic secured a 1-0 win for Roma.

However, Inter bounced back from the defeat and navigated through October unbeaten in all competitions. The run included back-to-back victories in the league and in Europe – the highlight a 4-0 demolition of Werder Bremen.

But the tide began to turn against Benítez on 2 November when Inter were humbled by Champions League debutants Tottenham. Gareth Bale sparkled for Spurs as the Champions League holders were beaten 3-1 at White Hart Lane.

More misery was heaped on the former Valencia coach in the 164th Milan derby when AC snatched an invaluable 1-0 win against their bitter city rivals. The defeat marked the end of Inter’s 46-game unbeaten run at home and propelled AC Milan further clear at the summit of Serie A.

And matters worsened seven days later when Inter succumbed to a 2-1 defeat against mid-table Chievo. The loss led to speculation over Benítez’s future at the San Siro with Moratti unhappy at the poor start to Inter’s season.

But Benítez gained some valuable breathing space with a narrow 1-0 win over FC Twente that secured Inter’s passage into the last 16 of the Champions League. That was then followed by a 5-2 victory over Parma in league to momentarily quench the bloodthirsty Italian media.

But the respite barely lasted a week. Inter lost their final two games ahead of their trip to Abu Dhabi to compete in the Club World Cup. They suffered a 3-1 loss against Lazio before Bundesliga relegation candidates Werder Bremen beat Benítez’s side 3-0.

Benítez’s future hung in the balance. The 50-year-old led Inter to successive victories at the Sheikh Zayed Sports City stadium to see Inter win the Club World Cup for the first time in their history with a 3-0 victory over TP Mazembe on 19 December.

But Benítez, who is no stranger to political struggles with club owners, responded to growing speculation surrounding his position at Inter by issuing a “back me or sack me” ultimatum to Moratti.

And it appears this was the final straw for Moratti after having grown tired of Benítez’s disappointing start. The Spaniard came out fighting on Monday and denied he had been dismissed but it is understood he was told he would be sacked via email later that night.

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