Benitez faces unenviable task at Inter

TIM KEEBLE, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 3:52 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- The Rafael Benitez era at Inter Milan got off to a good start this past Saturday, as the Spaniard claimed his first piece of silverware in a 3-1 win over Roma in the Italian Super Cup.

Benitez will have the chance to add another trophy to the cabinet on Friday, when the Nerazzurri faces Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, a match that pits the Champions League champions, Inter Milan, against Europa League winners Atletico.

However, Benitez is only in position to win that title because of the work done by previous Inter boss Jose Mourinho, a fact that the Special One was all too happy to point out.

In fact, the two longtime rivals have had a nice little verbal sparring match going on since last season ended, with Benitez claiming that Mourinho is not the right man for the Real Madrid job that he currently holds, while Mourinho has made it quite clear how large of a shadow he has left behind at Inter.

The two have had their share of battles over the years, with Benitez and his Liverpool team twice eliminating Mourinho's Chelsea in the semifinals of the Champions League.

But things have changed dramatically in the past few years, with Benitez wearing out his welcome at Anfield, while all Mourinho did last season was help Inter become the first Italian team to ever win the treble, claiming the Serie A title, Coppa Italia and Champions League in the same season.

So it is ironic that Benitez would be the man to replace Mourinho at Inter, placing himself firmly in the shadow of a man whom he used to hold the upper hand on.

Inter president Massimo Moratti believes that Benitez is one of the few men who is able to take the place of Mourinho, although that still remains to be seen.

"Only someone like Benitez could take the place of a coach like Mourinho," Moratti told Corriere dello Sport.

"I know Benitez has a good record against Jose Mourinho. That's a sign he does his research, works well, and above all does not get the big games wrong.

"It is also important that he has already made his mark in Europe. We want to achieve more in this area."

While it's true that Benitez has had European success, winning the UEFA Cup with Valencia as well as reaching the final of the Champions League on two occasions with Liverpool, he was never able to duplicate that kind of success to the league with the Reds.

Liverpool consistently finished behind Chelsea in the Premiership table while Mourinho was there, and now that the Special One has raised the bar even higher at Inter, there is a distinct possibility that Benitez will once again come up short.

He inherits an Inter side that is nearly the same team as the one that finished last season, minus talented but troubled striker Mario Balotelli, making Inter once again an overwhelming favorite to win the league as well as the Coppa Italia.

Inter is among the favorites in the Champions League, but no team has retained the title of European champions since AC Milan in 1989 and 1990, and with heavyweight sides like Barcelona and Mourinho's Real Madrid among others, winning that competition again is not likely.

Basically, if Inter fails to win another treble - which is about as likely as Benitez and Mourinho sitting down to Christmas dinner together - the first season of Benitez at Inter will be viewed as a step in the wrong direction.

During his time at Inter, Mourinho clashed with everyone from rival coaches to media members as well as the football federation itself, so that is one area that Benitez can possibly do better than his nemesis.

But this is not a popularity contest, and once Benitez slips up for the first time, those same media members will likely be the first ones in line to offer up criticism about how Benitez is no Mourinho.

At Inter, there is a very large shadow indeed.


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