Rafa Benitez does a lot of things well, but when he gets frustrated and annoyed at press conferences, he has a habit of losing his mind a little bit and saying some really bizarre things.
Take his famous Alex Ferguson rant, for example. Five minutes of jaw-dropping, eye-popping, head-scratching rambling about the longtime boss of Manchester United and how he was flouting rules, stealing titles, and ruining football. While some of the things he said were certainly true, the speech on a whole left more people wondering if Rafa was OK.
Friday's press conference wasn't nearly so epic a moment as that 2009 presser was, but this one has certainly left people trying to figure out if Rafa knows how people work in terms of how they react to things -- and if he has a particularly good grasp on reality.
Rafa was doing his normal pre-match press conference ahead of Saturday's match against Roma when he was asked about how his uncertain future with Napoli was affecting his players. It's a reasonable question, with the club's form sinking as it's become more and more unclear as to just what's going to happen with Rafa, whether he stays or goes or turns in to a city-eating monster or whatever else is possible. That question, however, seemed to throw things off the rails.
Will [my status] affect the team? No.
The last team I coached [Chelsea] got third place and won the Europa League, even though they knew I was leaving. We scored in the [Europa League] final in the last minute. If you coach with a winning mentality then you transfer that to your players.
Nothing has been decided. That’s all I have to say, and I won’t say it again.
The comparison to his time at Chelsea is, in a word, ludicrous. That was a situation where everyone knew the score going in. Rafa was only ever a temporary measure, a bridge to get the club from the struggles of Roberto Di Matteo to the promise of Jose Mourinho. Club leadership knew it, the players knew it, and Rafa knew it.
The problem Napoli faces is that no one knows what's going on. We're creeping up on the mid-April date that has been long-implied to learn what the future holds, but in the meantime, uncertainty reigns. Uncertainty breeds confusion and discomfort, two things that kill squad chemistry in a hurry, something that's appeared to affect Napoli over the last six weeks or so.
With the media already running rampant with speculation over who the next manager will be, over what players Rafa brought in will leave, over the direction of the club, it's not hard to see how Napoli's players would be negatively affected by Rafa's current status. But apparently to him, none of that changes anything or has any impact on his players, because psychology and human nature aren't a thing.
His statement also highlights the disconnect that he has with some of his past accomplishments and the reality around them. What Chelsea did under Rafa was more about the squad getting healthy and actually playing more to their talent level, something they had struggled to do in the first half of that campaign under Di Matteo. The fans were never terribly happy with Rafa in charge -- thanks largely to another Rafa Press Conference Moment while he was with Liverpool that saw him go off on Chelsea and the club's fans several years earlier -- and several player interviews given since then indicated that they never really cared for him either.
Rafa has also talked at times about his time at Inter like he managed huge accomplishments there. The reality is that he burned everything Jose Mourinho built to the ground, achieving mediocre results in the league, nearly crashed out of the Champions League, and constantly fought with club leadership before they got tired of it and fired him. He crows about winning the Club World Cup, but no one really cares about that competition, which at this point is just a glorified series of friendlies.
More importantly than those disconnects, though, is Rafa's stubborn denial in seeing that his refusal to address his future in any meaningful way is hurting the club. No matter how much he says a given lead-thrown-away draw is a "decent result" or a loss comes with "an impressive fight," Napoli is suffering right now, and the shaky ground beneath the players' feet because of their manager's uncertain future is almost certainly heavily involved in that.