The man scornfully dubbed the Fat Spanish Waiter by Premier League fans has seen his stock drop heavily in England in recent years. From his ill-advised mind games with Sir Alex Ferguson to feuding with his own fans at Chelsea, he's come a long way from the managerial wizard who orchestrated the Miracle of Istanbul back in 2005.
For most fans, Rafael Benitez: Champions League Winner has faded from consciousness, leaving behind a rambling hermit jumping at shadows and shouting conspiracy theories at the sky. But behind this cartoon madman (created in no small part by Rafa's own actions, to be fair), remains a manager whose impressive CV should not be ignored.
Forget the media circus for now, and let's talk about facts. Rafael Benitez would be an excellent hire for Tottenham Hotspur--and this is a fact.
So what's the downside?
The fact is, the negatives aren't nearly so negative as they might appear. His transfer record may be spotty-- demanding Xabi Alonso be sold so he could sign Gareth Barry instead should worry anyone--but with a Director of Football guiding transfer decisions, it should be a total non-factor. Rafa can focus on the tactics and the organization of the team, two things he does very very well.
He also has two well-documented failures on his resume: Inter and Chelsea. Both of them not coincidentally involved cleaning up the scorched earth Jose Mourinho left behind. While Rafa was certainly a failure on his own merits at Inter, it's undeniable that the post-Jose era at Maicon's favorite taxi stand has been rather post-apocalyptic. No fewer than six managers in the past four years have failed to turn Inter back into a title-challenging side. In light of all of his other success, it's hard to pin this one entirely on Rafa.
Meanwhile at Chelsea, Rafa's massive failure marked an improvement in league form over the previous two managers, and he reached a third-place finish and while adding another European trophy to Roman's trophy cabinet. Two achievements Jose Mourinho is unlikely to better this season. His (totally accurate) trash-talking of Chelsea fans while still in charge of Liverpool made his reign untenable from the day he set foot in Stamford Bridge, and what success he did have looks even more like a miracle in that context.
So let's get back to the facts that matter.
Premier League Experience
For starters, he has Premier League experience. Hiring a foreign manager unused to the rough-and-tumble hurly-burly of the EPL is always a risk. Bringing in Frank de Boer, or even an experienced winner like Louis van Gaal, carries the concern that their particular brand of genius just might not translate to success in the Greatest League On Earth™. The list of available managers with experience managing at a high level in England is a rather short one and neither flavor of the month Mauricio Pochettino or flavor of last month Michael Laudrup come close to his level of experience, let alone his success.
Benitez has spent seven years managing in England. Whatever other problems he may have as a manager, there is precisely zero chance we find ourselves with another Juande Ramos or AVB. For Daniel Levy, and for the fans, that alone is worth giving him a long and serious look.
History of Success
Coupled with his EPL experience is an undeniable streak of success. So far he has managed a trophy at each of the last six clubs he's managed, ranging from promotion from the Segunda Division with a team you've never heard of all the way to the Champions League win you wish you could stop hearing about. But more impressive than the string of trophies he's put together is the caliber of club he's won them with.
In Spain, Benitez managed two league titles with Valencia. And though Valencia were not always the bankrupt shambles they are today, even at their strongest it was no easy feat to break the hegemony of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Since the 2000-2001 season, no other team has done so--and Benitez managed it twice. Similarly in England, he achieved phenomenal results at a Liverpool side poorer than its competitors and hamstrung by hopelessly dysfunctional ownership. For Spurs fans, this should be a huge selling point. No matter who Levy puts in charge, they're going to have a massive wealth gap to overcome to take Tottenham past its competitors. The ability to win despite financial constraints is a huge feather in Rafa's cap.
While de Boer has dominated as a big fish in a small pond, and Lous van Gaal has dominated the ocean with some of the biggest fish out there, Benitez alone has proven the ability to take a bubble team like Tottenham further than they have any right to go. In his tenure at Valencia, Liverpool, and now Napoli, Rafa Benitez has demonstrated that he can take good-if-not-great-clubs and make them dangerous.
Tottenham Hotspur once again find themselves on the cusp of being a very good team. And Rafael Benitez has the skills to take Spurs that next step. That's a fact.