Moyes & Benitez: Gracious and Grumpy

Rafa Benitez, probably shouting at the referee.

Rafa Benitez, probably shouting at the referee.

When you’re a really passionate football fan, defeat hurts. I know it and you know it, and sometimes it can be easy to react badly to it and come as a sore and bitter loser. You know you’re being a twat, but you just can’t help it. However, I like to think that most of the time I’m able to be gracious in defeat. Looking at Everton’s 1-6 hammering against Arsenal, I can freely admit that we were shit and so though bitterly disappointed, I didn’t throw a strop.

Of course, when you’re a manager, a defeat can hurt just as much. Few managers will have quite the same emotional bond with their side as the fans, but they will feel the defeat. It reflects badly on them, suggests they’re doing a poor job and can even threaten their employment. So it’s natural that they too will get pretty wound up when they lose, but I think that this opening weekend of Premier League fixtures has given us a perfect comparison of how a manager should go about reacting to defeat.

I’ll say now that this article will compare the reactions of David Moyes and Rafa Benitez to their opening day losses at the hands of Arsenal and Tottenham respectively. The two managers would have had hopes of getting a win to start the season but both suffered disappointing defeats, albeit in fairly different fashion. Moyes though, reacted with far more dignity than his Spanish counterpart.

I of course, am an Everton fan, but despite that I want to state now that this article is not motivated by bias, and that these two managers simply provide, in this circumstance, the perfect point of comparison. While I fully admit that some bias may creep in as a result of my allegiance I feel my argument is valid and well reasoned and I hope you’ll consider the arguments in a similarly objective manner before accusing me of being biased.

I discussed Everton’s heavy defeat yesterday and I like to think I was quite fair about it. I didn’t point out for instance, that the first three goals that Arsenal scored came from free-kicks that were, in my opinion, questionably awarded to Arsenal. Instead I simply acknowledged that we were utterly terrible, but attempted to gain some perspective, as the first game of the season isn’t the be all and end all. I wanted to moan about the referee, or find something else to pin the blame on, but that would have been stupid. We lost because we weren’t good enough.

It’s a tough thing to admit, because in my heart and in my head Everton are the greatest team in the world, but it’s true. And that’s why it’s so refreshing to see Moyes make the same admission and to shoulder his share of the blame. He has built a squad that he is proud of and that he feels is a good one, that is close to breaking into the top four and he desperately wants to achieve that too. Accepting ones own flaws and admitting that we are not good enough is a difficult thing to do, and takes a lot of honesty and integrity.

Moyes clearly has plenty of both qualities as he admitted in his post-match interview that he will “take responsibility” and “need[s] to do better with the players” he has available to him. He acknowledged that “the defending was terrible from set pieces” and that it was a “disappointing day all round” but insists that he is determined to “coach them better and train them better” in order to prevent anything like a repeat of that performance.

This is good to see coming from Moyes. While obviously the manner of the defeat was a shock, an opening day defeat to Arsenal would usually be no disaster as they are one of the ‘big four’ sides and have a good record at Goodison. Add to that the ongoing furore surrounding Joleon Lescott and Manchester City which some would suggest could have the squad unsettled, the key players still missing through long term injuries and the lack of financial power to add to the squad over the summer and there is plenty to suggest that Moyes could be feeling hard done by.

Instead though, he took the defeat on the chin, admitting that he needs to improve both his and the team’s performance in future. It’s a shame that the same can’t be said of Rafa Benitez. Liverpool too had a tough opening fixture away to an improving Tottenham side, but the Reds – who many have tipped for the title – were clear favourites for the win. They had a few injuries of their own but had their key players ready and raring to go and new signing Glen Johnson keen to make his mark.

However, Tottenham pretty much outplayed them for most of the game, Ekotto scoring a magnificent goal and Bassong wrapping up the victory with a fine header after Gerrard had equalised for Liverpool from the spot. Spurs were hugely impressive, taking the game to Liverpool and they could have had more goals, with Harry Redknapp rightly noting post-match that they could possibly have wrapped it up by half time.

On the other hand Liverpool looked well below par, they never got going and rarely threatened to find the sort of form that made them such a danger to Manchester United last season. They certainly didn’t deserve to get anything from the game and it took a clumsy blunder from Gomes to give them a lifeline at all. However, Benitez was fuming after the match at the officials who he felt denied him and his team two clear penalties, though I think the officials were right on both counts.

Whatever your take on the appeals though, I think Benitez’s reaction has been over the top. On the highlights programme screened here in New Zealand he was extremely angry to the point of being downright rude to the interviewer and snapped that ‘of course they were penalties’ (I don’t have an exact quote I’m afraid). The BBC reports that Benitez criticised Phil Dowd’s decisions as being “very poor” while he claims that “Everyone could see the first one was a penalty. The second one was handball but we knew it would not be a penalty.”

He also criticised the fourth official Stuart Atwell for being “too young” and suggested that “he has to calm down a little bit” after he sent (Liverpool assistant coach) Sammy Lee to the stands after the penalty appeals were both turned down. I think, having seen the footage, that Sammy Lee is the one who needs to calm down and that Rafa Benitez needs to stop criticising everyone else and take a look at his team.

The penalties were worth a shout but both were contentious, while Liverpool played quite poorly for much of the game. Benitez can have no control over the performance of the officials (though such ridiculous criticisms could actually make them treat him worse) while he can have an influence over the way his team performs in future so I think it would be altogether sensible if he were to focus on his team’s shortcomings rather than flinging at anyone and everyone else.

While he did admit that they “have to improve” he spent far too much time looking for an excuse for the defeat and even suggested that the clash of heads between Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel was a major factor in the defeat. If it affected their performance, surely it fell to him as manager to replace them and thus prevent any ill-effects? No, overall it seems to me that Benitez is far to quick to look to external factors to justify the shortcomings of himself and his team.

As Michael Caine playing the role of Batman’s butler Alfred famously tells us, the reason we fall is that so we can learn to pick ourselves up again. David Moyes knows this and so he is focusing on putting right the mistakes from the weekend in time for Everton’s next outing in their Europa League qualifier. Rafa Benitez though, hasn’t accepted any responsibility for his team’s fall and so don’t be surprised to see them stumble again if not in their next match against Stoke then sometime in the near future.

So even though Everton’s opening day defeat to Arsenal was perhaps far more demoralising than Liverpool’s narrower loss to Tottenham, I think that Everton fans have more reason to be optimistic for a positive change in the near future. These two managers have been proven in the past to operate very differently and though Liverpool continue to dominate in terms of league position, I happen to think that is a result more of financial resource than of the quality of the respective managers. Their reactions to opening day defeat speak volumes about them as people and managers so I’m sticking with my Premier League Previews: Everton will reach their target while Liverpool will fall short of theirs.

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10 Responses to Moyes & Benitez: Gracious and Grumpy

  1. k says:

    and this is not BIAS!!Liverpool will always be on top of everton How can you take a 6 1 defeat lightly!!:) lol

  2. Daz says:

    Great article and hits the nail on the head. Something I have thought for many years. I go back to Everton’s 3-0 win at home of Liverpool a few years back and instead of statting that Everton were simply too strong on the day, he picked faults with the refereeing and claimed that ‘for sure’ should have had a penalty. I understand you have to protect your team to a degree, however wrapping them and yourself up in cotton wool, will only be your own downfall!

  3. James says:

    Yeah I am amazed Moyes was so gracious because if the ref would have given your lot a pen that you had deserved you wouldnt have been murdered 1-6 oh no actually thats wrong

    I can remember Moyes being very gracious when Batterburg didnt give you a pen when Carragher hauled down a player in the derby – oh, hang on, no he wasnt.

    The fact is that that after being humiliated at home, playing a want-away defender that really doesnt want to play for your club any more, hearing your fans booing him and realising that its all gone dangerously wrong, the only possible reaction Moyes could offer was a gracious one. One that wouldnt make him look like an even bigger TOOL.

    • A. Howard says:

      I certainly didn’t hear any boos from Everton fans towards either Lescott or Moyes and Lescott was one of our better performers and looked genuinely pissed off when his teammates folded around him, so that point is contestable.

      But you’re right, Moyes did criticise the referee after that derby match. However, the difference is that Everton played well and matched Liverpool that day and were arguably undone by refereeing.

      Against Spurs Liverpool were undone by their own performance and could have been rescued by refereeing.

      Moyes criticised the referee when his team had done everything they could to win and were undone by something out of his control. Benitez criticises outside factors first, and I think that’s the wrong way to go about it.

      You are welcome to disagree though, thanks for your comment.

  4. Steve says:

    Spot on. I’d much rather have a manager who says he’s going to have to coach his players better in the wake of a hammering than one who would typically say that he isn’t going to be able to compete unless he’s given another 20/30/50/100 million pounds. What he’s really saying is “I can’t coach my players to the title but I could buy my way to it.” Maybe this goes some way to explaining why Moyse has been voted manager of the season 3 times by his peers.

  5. enko says:

    I am a reds fan but have to admit the ref in your game against Arsenal was terrible, I couldn’t find any rhyme or reason for some of his decisions and in fairness although you did have a very bad day, if the ref had been better I don’t think the scoreline would have been half as bad.

    As to our game, we were bloody awful, but hopefully will have learned something from our thrashing. Must say El Nino didn’t look up for it at all which worries me.

    As to the best manager, don’t think theres a lot in it, but hard to say until the board let Moyes have some money.

  6. Steve says:

    Quick, before anyone notices that I spelt the name of Everton’s manager wrong. After the game there was no attempt by Moyes to put the performance down to anything other than the fact that Everton were carp.

  7. Dom says:

    I find it quite amusing how the media & everyone is worshipping Arsenal for their ‘thumping, emphatic win’.

    Really, a Championship team could’ve won by the same scoreline – we were THAT shit. We would’ve made any team to look like world beaters.

  8. ViceP says:

    So you don’t really know what Rafa said, but think he might have been over the top. And of course you’re not being biased. Right.

    Rafa acknowledged, as do we all, that our play yesterday was terrible. But that doesn’t change the fact that the hokey style bodycheck on Voronin was as clear penalty as any. And that’s exactly what Rafa said. The handball might be debatable, but the bodycheck was a clear foul and penalty. I would hope that stating the obvious doesn’t really mean one’s not gracious in defeat.

    • A. Howard says:

      That’s not what I said at all. I don’t have a direct quote of what Rafa said in his interview with ESPN (who provide the coverage here in NZ) because I don’t sit watching highglights with a pen and paper, but he was angry and rude to the interviewer.

      However, as you can see if you actually read the article, I do provide direct quotes taken from the BBC and Sky Sports in which Rafa clearly blames the defeat, first and foremost, on the penalty decisions.

      Amusingly, it is in fact you who has no idea what Rafa said after the match, because while you think the second decision was debatable and the first one nailed on, Rafa disagrees:

      “I think the second decision was especially bad. The first one you can excuse but the second was hand to ball.”

      You could at least get your stories straight first eh?

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