25th May. It was nearly six years ago to the day, that a certain ‘Istanbul’ happened. Dumbfounded, flabbergasted and appalled we stood as Sheva failed to put his kick past a goalkeeper who has started fewer games for Real Madrid in his four year spell than the number of saves he made in that shootout. Football is a great leveller, they say. And that day the gods of fate divined you lesser than Rafael Benitez, of all people.
But, to the disbelief of many, you reclaimed yourself, calmly collected the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle left scattered about and emerged a hero a couple of years down the lane in Athens. Up against the same group of players, your boys had it in them to exact revenge in the historic land of the mighty Greeks. European glory had returned and the bragging rights were back with us. The gratifying feeling of reaching closer to Real Madrid’s number 9 temporarily took our attention off your obvious shortcomings in delivering excellence in the league too. Perhaps your European ambitions were way too unyielding, that the idea of domestic success never seemed all that appealing to you. The team still meant business in Europe and we were content with it.
There was something very peculiar about you those days, Carlo. You were never the most animated guy in the dug-out and trash-talking the opposition into submission never suited you. Regardless of the state of affairs, you never lost your head and even while exulting, you knew the correct code of conduct. Not many of us expected the team to even survive one full season in Europe let alone win the highest glory in season right after the Calciopoli scandal. While Juventus were serving their time in lesser leagues, you could actually take us for an inconceivably delightful ride at the end of which we reigned supreme in Europe. We could not have possibly cared less about the fact that we barely did justice to our reputation in the league the same year as we were completely drenched in victory.
2008 was the year Carlo, when you perhaps began to lose your grasp over where the team should have headed as we treaded along mindlessly. Agreed, Europe hasn’t been kind to defending champions but even that does not explain a champion side losing its place in the competition in two seasons’ time. Not even the vigor added to the squad by the big name signings of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Beckham could revamp our campaign and it was pretty obvious you were fighting a lost cause. Kaka left, Paolo called it a day and it’s safe to say you were done with us and we were done with you.
In view of your reluctance to work under constant instructions from the boardroom, your joining a particular club in West London was nothing short of perplexing initially. Of course, it is not the easiest thing to hold on to your job when Berlusconi runs the show but things certainly do not swing for the better when your new boss is someone who boots his managers probably faster than Arsenal let the oppositions neutralize their four goal lead.
Well, it was your personal quest for greener pastures and we were happy to see you were doing good. In a single season, you were able to erase the dark pall of gloom their beloved Mourinho’s unimaginative style had earned them and they were actually reckoned a threat that could wreck havoc both in England and in Europe. They were no more a side with all muscle and no flair. The swagger was there for all to see and you brought the best out of them without recommending any major overhaul. Domestic double, something that happened for the first time in their history, came their way in your debut season and yet you would hardly find any of them acknowledging that not even The Special One could achieve that. Perhaps it was too mean a feat to them and some of them still felt hard done by the victory Mourinho scored in his visit to Stamford Bridge. The same Portuguese, against whom Benitez boasts of ‘two-upmanship’ in Europe, was deemed better than you simply because Walter Samuel played the match of his life that day.
And so here you are, Carlo. The second season during your tenure in England will only, sadly, be remembered for the side’s shambolic performance against Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red army for three times in two months. The fact that they hit their worst form in a decade or so under you, inevitably means you will be the scapegoat. The European ‘project’ of Roman Abramovich – the sole intention behind the Russian hiring you – has not been accomplished.
They say, you lack multiple plans while dealing in a league competition, conveniently forgetting you managed a double over three of the erstwhile big four during your maiden spell in England. Now that things have taken a turn for the worse, they suddenly find you too ‘Italian’ to face the challenges in England. It is your tactical acumen or perhaps the lack of it, that is reckoned as being enough only to win titles in Italy where Ryan ‘not that kind of guy’ Shawcross remains kind enough to the players by not playing. It is you and only you Carlo, who is entirely responsible for not being able to stop Essien from proving that Carrick is not the worst Michael in England. So what if John Obi Mikel’s passes frequent his teammates on fewer occasions than the number of years Justin Bieber has been alive? To them, it is you who shifted the gears backwards and tarnished a legacy established in West London by the untiring efforts of Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari.
You are simply not the guy they are used to be working with. Your well-mannered demeanor is far from the ‘in’ thing in the land of the Queen. You cannot survive in a system that requires the manager to score as many points off the field as he scores on it. Perhaps if you’d called Arsene Wenger and Harry Redknapp names, this set of fans would have backed you till the point they ran out of steam. Despite spending two good years in the country, you failed to recognise that the credit points for a ‘big club manager’ are awarded on the basis of how frequently he challenges the neutrality of the match officials in the press.
Take a look back at the peninsula, Carlo, and you can see we haven’t gone very far without you. We did the worst we could to our reputation in Europe during the two years since you parted but we accomplished something that was considered ‘not your forte’. At the same time, while you tasted momentary success in their league, they no more believe you have the uncanny knack to make it big in Europe. From where we stand, we have definitely found the right man for the job and it will only be a matter of time before he translates this success in Europe. We understand and acknowledge that sometimes all it takes is time while the English do not. To be honest with you, I am a little surprised you have not already been van Gaal-ed and your future is only being ‘contemplated’. Wake up from this slumber, Carlo. You are too big a man to be assessed the way you are. It has to be you calling shots, for Roman to see what your real worth is. Sir Alex Ferguson has already hailed you in no uncertain terms, but for all you know your Russian boss might not even care to listen to that.
The Calcio is not in the best of the health and while we would certainly not prefer to go down memory lane by turning to you again, there are others who will be more than glad to have you manage their sides. It must not have gone unnoticed to you that the country does not boast of a single Champions League winning manager presently. May be it is time you take the right step – and perhaps the Capellos, the Trapattonis and the Spallettis will follow. Does Roberto Mancini still manage a football club?
Always wishing the best for you,
A Rossonero for life