Friday, 15 January 2010

Benitez Hangs On

Roughly this time last year Rafael Benitez gave a press conference prior to an away game against Stoke famously stating ‘facts’ about Liverpool and, more prevalently Manchester United’s, season. At the time Liverpool stood proudly 2 points clear of the chasing pack in their best ever start to a Premier league season. Today with another daunting trip to the Brittania Stadium looming Benitez provided a more sombre précis of Liverpool’s increasingly failing season with a heartfelt apology to the Liverpool faithful. Renowned for their patience and loyalty, Benitez’ message conceded, “We are not playing well and we all feel sorry for the fans”. The man is under fire; head up in the trenches and anyone and everyone is firing. Unquestionably his job hangs by a thread. Many believe defeat at Stoke tomorrow will spell the end of his tenure. A win? The same fate, only slightly delayed. But let’s spare a thought for a man whose showing the first sign of emotion after such intense scrutiny and, criticism in some parts, must have left him feeling ostracised.

Benitez is indisputably overseeing an immensely unsuccessful and frustrating period as manager of Liverpool Football Club. Though doesn’t it seem more justifiable given that off the field the club is in the sort of turmoil that only Pompey and QPR can relate to? West Ham maybe; and of course we’ll chuck Notts County in there. My point is this: how long did people expect the team to prosper while the club itself represented uncertainty and unwanted controversy? In no other job would a manager be expected to achieve previously unattainable targets with the organisation crumbling around them. Success brings expectation and the relative success of last season (trophy-less but not without meteoric improvement) has brought its own expectation. However, in a period whereby the club has endured much change and inner squabbling, with American owners George Gillet and Tom Hicks causing more trouble than their worth (literally), Benitez should be commended for the job he’s done. Up till now he has overseen one of the steadiest ships in the league, writing himself into the history books with the Champions League in 2005, while producing a team closer to winning the title every year.

Of course Benitez has made some bad mistakes. His record in the transfer market is dubious with the likes of Morientes, Babel, Lucas, Pennant, Dossena and Voronin all failing to make any sort of impact. The stubbornness he displayed over the signing of Robbie Keane now seems to be to the team’s detriment. Many point to the enforced loss of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid this summer as a turning point in Liverpool’s form, as his creativity has been missed. However, Benitez was practically pushing him out of the door the previous year as he pursued Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry, and therefore can’t site Alonso’s exit as an excuse. The gamble to buy the unfit talent of Alberto Aquilani has not paid off and Liverpool now find themselves ever more reliant on the two superstars, Torres and Gerrard. Benitez will be bitterly frustrated with the fitness woes both have incurred and can count himself unlucky on this front, but sadly for Liverpool fans without them is a team that would finish closer to the middle of the table than the top.

So as we potentially see the end of an era at Anfield, a new one beckons. And that man will be a big name; the current demise of the team is hardly going to be a deterrent for the likes of Hiddink or Mourinho, to name but two of the names being linked with Benitez’ job. Personally, I’d give Benitez at least until the end of the season to turn things around. Harry Redknapp today described Benitez as a “top manager with a fantastic record” and explained that Liverpool are “suffering the sort of blip that every team has”. Replacing the word “blip” with “minor crisis”, I’d agree wholeheartedly and I cannot see the value in sacking him now. The circumstances of the club will not change overnight and any manager coming in will be faced with the same lack order, lack of money, and a squad desperately thin on quality. Based on his record, I believe Liverpool can still finish fourth and save their season. Rafa described Stoke as his ”future” at the end of his press conference; however, after tomorrow, he could well be history.


  1. You'd imagine that while the current crisis might not put off the likes of Hiddink or Mourinho - the financial woes certainly could.

    Another point, and to some extent to adopt the role of devil's advocate- Benitez's time at Liverpool, although markedly unsucessful this season, has arguably raised the club to a level noticeably above his three predecessors. Souness was an unreserved failure, Evans' side contained talent but never lived up to their billing and while Houllier's cup treble was exceptional, but after that the club stagnated in a similar fashion to the current predicament. The difference being Rafa is living off a Champions league victory and final appearance and an FA cup, whereas Gerard based his reputation on 2 league cups, an FA cup and a UEFA. I suppose you could point to each man's transfer policy, and while I am no advocate of Rafa's, (you missed out Josemi, Kromkamp and Nunez!), I don't think it is as bad as Houllier's. Voronin is an exceptionally poor player, but no worse than £5m Diao of £10m Diouf!

  2. to be quite honest i'm sick of all the grief that benitez has been getting this season. i can totally accept that this season has been nothing short of a nightmare for all liverpool supporters and i can also accept that the traditional conduct is to lay the blame on the manager. however, i believe that benitez is simply not the problem.

    this season has been the first where so many clubs have been given lots of spending power to invest in their squads. almost every team in the top half of the league seems to have spent a fortune last summer. none more so than spurs, villa and of course, man city. and how have liverpool spent the fortunes that were promised by their american owners for this season? they haven't. why? because the americans refused to give benitez any financial investment at all. the only players we bought in the summer were simply replacements of the ones we sold. therefore, not strengthening the team to the standard needed for the top 4.

    so add to the fact that we've not spent a penny on strengthening the squad with the unluckiest number of injury problems in the league and your never going to have success. torres, gerrard, benayoun, johnson, riera and of course, aquilani have all experienced injuries that have affected them all season. not one of these players have been fully fit during this campaign and they are all key players for the team. i cannot think of another team in the league (accept maybe chelsea) that could seriously cope with such a plague of injuries that liverpool have had to endure. agger, skrtel and aurelio have also been fighting for fitness.

    all these factors aside, our problem on the pitch is the midfield. rafa has to play aquilani with either mascherano and lucas in order to have some creativity going forward. putting lucas in with mascherano only slows down our attacks due to the defensive mentalities of both players. and of course, the zonal marking of set pieces does certainly need revising.

    however, in the last few seasons under benitez we have the best liverpool teams in decades, last season espcially and as soon as a crisis turns up everyone jumps on the 'manager bashing' bandwagon. his transfer policy can be questionable at times but lets really think about it. all managers have their successes and failures. we have had a lot of failures but i don't think you can blame rafa for all of them. he has bought many players (especially strikers) that have joined the club with huge expectations and let the club down; eg morientes, keane, bellamy, pennant and babel. and what about his successes? arguably the best striker and goalkeaper in the world, selling (even if regretfully) a midfielder for £30m when we bought him as a 'nobody'. players like garcia, kuyt, agger, aurelio, mascherano and benayoun who have been crucial for our success domestically and in europe over the last few years.

    for a manager that inherited a poor team, to win the champions league and reach another final two seasons later, win the fa cup and become the closest liverpool manager to win the premier league, (a league that is still totally new to benitez)all in five seasons, needs nothing but commendment. like i said, i can understand people's frustrations but they have to look at the bigger picture and regardless of form, get behind the team, no matter what.

    in rafa we trust

  3. Paul its refreshing to hear the other side of the story - i cant claim i completely agree with it all (I would question whether one FA Cup in 5 years qualifies as "success domestically", its as much sucess as Portsmouth) - but I do think there are people out there who are too quick to shrug off Rafa's achievements. Remember the state of the squad when he came in? Traore, Kewell, Smicer etc.

    However, I do think Rafa's transfer record is unacceptable, and the blame cannot be solely laid at the door of the Americans. No-one forced Benitez into valuing Andrea Dossena at £8m, and high profile strikers who let the club down, like it or not, are the responsibility of the manager. Of course they don't walk away from the club with heads held high, but the man who brought them in cannot simply turn and say, "they let us down", essentially whoeves at the top of the pile takes the responsibility. I also think most Liverpool fans would take Keane, Bellamy or Crouch right now, while Rafa sold them without replacement.

    Anyway, as I've said on here before I am to some extent playing devil's advocate - I personally dont want to see Rafa go, although if we fail to finish in the Champs Leagues places, I would bet my bottom dollar he'll be out.