Before we start, I’m not joining the parade or campaign to oust Unai Emery. This is a reflective piece that takes the reader back to April 2018, when it was announced that Arsene Wenger would leave at the end of the season after 22 years in charge at the North London club and how Arsenal missed on appointing a like-minded coach Rafa Benitez.
It wasn’t a major surprise, although the timing of the announcement was odd, I doubt there’s anyone who believes that the move was by mural agreement and was more of an organised dismissal.
The search was on to find a replacement but not as a manager with limitless control, the Arsenal board had decided that they would take back the majority of the day to day running of the club and look for a coach.
CEO, Ivan Gazidis conducted a search for the candidates and gave a expansive criteria for the role. He said that Arsenal’s priorities for the ideal candidate were the desire for “progressive, entertaining football, a personality that fits with Arsenal’s value and a record of developing players through detailed tactical construction and through cultural demands; pushing players.”
Eight candidates were on the short list including former Gunner Mikel Arteta and Unai Emery but the names of the remaining six was never revealed by the three man panel which included Gazidis, Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi.
Eventually Unai Emery was installed as coach by unanimous agreement but closer to home, was a candidate that had premiership and European experience at the highest level and one that would have been able to hit the ground running from day one.
We can only assume that Rafa Benitez didn’t get the call and wasn’t one of the missing six, but it’s obvious that Arsenal missed a trick back then. Anyone following the weekly woes of the Geordie faithful at St James’s Park, would have jumped at the chance to get the services of a man who managed to take Newcastle back to the premier league and even more impressively, keep them there on a diet of goodwill and football savvy.
Arsenal should get Rafa Benitez🔴
They need a manager that can organise their team that also has a proven record of winning trophies🏆
Their current objectives are to get back into Top 4 & win a European trophy that’s what Rafa Benitez did for Chelsea(3rd & won Europa League) pic.twitter.com/OEKHswmy5e
— Rafa Facts (@FactsRafa) September 17, 2019
Benitez had managed to fashion a reasonably ordinary side without credible investment, into one of the biggest banana skins in the premier league. He had managed to create a great team spirit which often overcame their flaws and shortcomings, by injecting belief and by using what he had at his disposal to maximum effect.
There would have been compensation, none of which would have been made available for Newcastle’s nonexistent transfer kitty. Arsenal would have gained a ready made replacement for Wenger in the form of Benitez, who would have presented a united front and navigated the mess left behind by Arsene’s departure.
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Benitez conducted himself well during his association with Newcastle and even though he was betrayed and felt desperately disappointed by a sequence of events, he never shared those feelings with the media, he soldiered on loyally for the club and it’s supporters but certainly not for Mike Ashley.
Benitez has a way of engaging players, of getting them to play to a game plan no matter how alien to them. His man management is second to none and although some will be critical of my suggestion that Benitez would have made a fine Arsenal manager, he had experience in every level.
A la Liga winner, a champions league winner with FA and UEFA cups to his name and a FIFA club World Cup, Benitez has been there and done most things in football, whilst maintaining huge respect from his fellow professionals. I’m not saying Arsenal made the wrong appointment, I’m just saying that if he wasn’t in that list of 8, why wasn’t he ?
It’s all speculation of course but I’m convinced that Arsenal had the right man under their noses all along but for whatever the reason Benitez was overlooked.