It would appear that the last few grains of sand are about to run through the egg-timer of fate for Rafa Benitez at Inter Milan, with almost every news outlet in Italy claiming that the Spaniard is within a hair’s breadth of the sack – despite overseeing the Nerazzurri‘s fifth title of 2010 over weekend, albeit the utterly vapid FIFA World Club Cup bauble in Abu Dhabi.
Inter themselves are yet to release any official word, but several of the the most prominent Italian newspapers are already claiming the inside-track – with today’s Gazzetta dello Sport leading with a sensational ‘Benitez Is Out!’ strapline and Corriere della Sera‘s correspondent implying that it is now just a matter of time before the news is rubber-stamped by the club themselves.
The former have also taken it upon themselves to draw up a list of potential suitors to ease into Benitez’s wake, with Zenit St Petersburg manager Luciano Spalletti primed as favourite and former AC Milan coach Leonardo also touted as an alternative.
Speculation over his departure has been mounting since Benitez challenged the Inter board to effectively ‘back him or sack him’ after Saturday’s 3-0 of Congolese upstarts TP Mazembe in the UAE (though you could feasibly argue that speculation has actually been mounting since he first took the job in August) with club owner Massimo Moratti choosing to remain ominously reluctant to respond.
After snaring the World Club Cup on Saturday evening, Benitez took a familiarly defiant stance:
“There are three possibilities for the club. One, [the board show] 100% support for the coach and buy four or five players to build a stronger team with competition among the players, so we are able to carry on winning matches and trophies.
Two, carry on like this; without a project, without planning, and go ahead with one person to blame for the whole season.
The third is to speak to my agent to reach an [compensation] agreement if there [will not be any] support. Simple.”
Moratti initially seemed bemused by Benitez’s overtures, branding the coach’s retort as ‘out of place’ – though privately the Inter owner was said to be seething:
“I’m not going to talk about Benitez now. His words haven’t ruined the celebration for Inter, they were a bit out of place, perhaps, but they haven’t spoiled anything for now. At the moment anyone who loves Inter is happy.”
You’d be forgiven for feeling that, with Inter currently lying seventh in the Serie A standings after winning all there was to win last season, a spot of timely faux-humility may have served Rafa rather better – but, as we’ve seen in the past, he doesn’t half enjoy a bit of hierarchical friction now and then.
Of course, it’s always worth bearing this befitting age-old Spanish proverb in mind: ‘If a blind man finds a pumpkin in an old suitcase, he should never show it to the jealous dolphin’.
Tick, and indeed…tock.