Saturday, 7 November 2009

Rafa Benitez is victim of a witch-hunt against foreign managers

Last autumn it was the turn of Juande Ramos to be burnt at the stake.

Well, Avram Grant's corpse had been licked clean, so we needed a new heretic. By Christmas Phil Scolari was sitting on the ducking school. Come the summer, when Arsene Wenger sold two stars to Manchester City, he was dragged into the stocks. And now Rafa Benitez lays on the rack, flames licking around his tootsies.

That's a recent history of managerial witch-hunts at the top of the Premier League, and few would shed a tear for the highly-paid men involved.

But spot the link. They're all foreign. A co-incidence? Maybe. But did you hear the one about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Welshman?

Let me fill you in. Harry Redknapp, Martin O'Neill and Mark Hughes spent the summer flashing the cash at big clubs and went into the season as the men most likely to break into the top four.

Things started well and plaudits and flattery flowed. But then mediocrity set in as they fell behind Stoke, Burnley and Bolton in the form table.

Taken over the last six Premier League games the top four are the same top four these three men were supposed to be breaking up (Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool). Hughes's Manchester City are 11th with seven points, Redknapp's Spurs are 13th with seven points and O'Neill's Aston Villa lie a lamentable 16th on six points. Yet the calls for burning stakes and ducking stools are not audible. Not a peep of criticism is in the air.

In the past three transfer windows Hughes has spent almost £200 million. Harry Redknapp's bench is littered with £10 million-plus signings. And Martin O'Neill is now into his fourth season at a very well-funded Aston Villa, but has made as much impression on English football as a wet bottom-belch in a tornado.

Yet the Englishman, the Irishman and the Welshman, escape any censure for a dismal slump in form. Were they foreigners, you can guarantee that by now, the usual suspects would be asking questions about their suitability to hack it in the cut-and-thrust of English football.

I'm not saying all three deserve to be pilloried. Hughes earns a wide berth because he's been ordered to assimilate too many big talents too quickly and Redknapp because he's only a year into his job.

But O'Neill? Aston Villa's league form throughout this year has been pitiful, yet he remains the Harry Houdini of criticism.

He's had as many seasons at Villa as Claudio Ranieri had at Chelsea. A foreigner ridiculed as a flawed, under-performing Tinkerman. But Ranieri's record of wining 53% of his games, finishing Premier League runners-up, reaching an FA Cup Final and Champions League semi-final, trounces O'Neill's record of winning only 40% of his games and achieving nothing.

The point is, we are far more critical of foreign managers than our own. We dislike them for taking our own men's jobs, are suspicious of their pedigree and methods, give far more scrutiny to any foreign players they sign, and far less credit for their achievements. In short we want them to fail.

And when the pressure is on, unlike the 'Arrys and Martins they don't have the loyalty of ex-pros to fall back on, or the protection of pundits they've shared TV couches with.

The motto is, if you want a manager who escapes a depressing and destabilising witch-hunt, get yourself a Brit or an Irishman.

The rider being, that unless his name is Alex Ferguson, chances are, he'll win you sod all.

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