Tag Rafael Benitez

Tag Rafael Benitez

Bye Rafa and thanks for the memories

Ed June 3, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 12 comments

Liverpool last night sacked Rafael Benítez, with the Spaniard pocketing more than £3 million in compensation, according to today’s newspaper reports. Manager for six years, Benítez has taken Liverpool to the promised land of the Europa League after failing to qualify for Europe’s elite tournament with a seventh place Premier League finish.

Having spent more than £266 million in the transfer market, Benítez failed to deliver the Premier League title, with more than 20 years having now passed since Liverpool were last crowned English champions. Little wonder the club has continued to fail, with the Spaniard brining in world talents such as Lucas Leiva, David Ngog and Philipp Degen.

Predictably Manchester United supporters responded to the news with dismay amid calls to step up the now iconic Keep Rafa At Pool campaign and ensure the Spaniard remains at Anfield. Reports that United fans will now take dishes of paella to Old Trafford next season in protest have not been confirmed as fact.

Although Benítez’ contract entitles the former Valencia coach to £16 million in compensation Liverpool, £351 million in debt, hopes to broker a lower payment to the 50-year-old manager over the next 48 hours. The Spaniard has four years left on his current deal with the club and unless a severance agreement is concluded between the parties the lame-duck manager could conceivably stay on at the club. With news having leaked of the severance offer the club’s bargaining position remains incredibly weak.

Perhaps best remembered at Old Trafford for his now infamous rant against Sir Alex Ferguson in January 2009, Benítez often resembled a coach on the very edge. Not that his side played good football despite the hyperbole emanating from the manager’s Melwood training ground office. Under the Spaniard Liverpool’s creative players were often emasculated in favour of solid defence.

Ultimately though Benítez failed, despite the 2005 Champions League win on penalties over AC Milan, with United vastly superior on the domestic front in the past six years, let alone two decades. Sir Alex not only knocked the Anfield side off its perch but stomped all over the club’s rotting corpse.

Although reports of dressing room unrest may have pushed the club’s hated American owners to force Benítez out, Liverpool now faces a fight in the dressing room as well as the boardroom.

With the club up for sale, little to no money available for squad rebuilding whomever takes over as manager, leading players such as Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres may seek an exit. After all, with only the Europa League for company next season, many leading players will find the grass greener in pastures new.

Real Madrid’s new coach Jose Mourinho is keen on brining the Liverpool captain to Santiago Bernabéu, while Manchester City’s owners want a marquee signing in the brilliant but perennially injured Torres.

Early reports suggest Liverpool may look to the past – don’t they always – and appoint Kenny Dalgleish as interim manager while the owners continue to seek a buyer for the club. Owners Tom Hicks and George Gillet – almost as hated as the Glazers – have already said it may take two years to sell the club.

Whatever the many problems at Old Trafford, with the Glazer family sucking the life out of the club, ticket prices higher than ever and the Red Knights’ bid apparently dead there is always the warm glow of knowing it could be worse, we could be Scouse.

Scouse malaise deepens United’s bonhomie

Ed October 21, 2009 Tags: , Opinion 3 comments

When Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez tried to offload midfielder Xabi Alonso in the summer of 2008 at a mooted fee of £16 million, Juventus declared an interest. Alonso, reluctant to leave Anfield for Italy, turned his back. A year later and it was the midfielder – relationship with Benitez irrevocably broken – that forced a move to Real Madrid for double the fee.

Some, rather myopically, might have credited Benitez with the huge influx of Spanish cash. But while the wind of Real Madrid’s bank-fuelled spending is a huge boon to Liverpool’s indebted owners, the cost to the club’s title hopes is even more stark. For it was Alonso, not talisman Steven Gerrard, nor striker Fernando Torres, that truly made Liverpool’s heart beat.

On the pitch Liverpool’s fourth defeat in a row, this time to Olympique Lyonnais last night, marked their sixth in all competitions this season. It’s the worst run of form for the Anfield outfit in 22 years. Liverpool wasn’t champions then either. Everton was.

So long the fall from grace. From certainties for the title that so many Liverpool fans believed in the close season, to a dogfight for a Champions League place next season. The pressure exerted by both Arsenal and Manchester City in the race for fourth is already beginning to tell.

But Alonso’s departure is symptomatic not causal of failures in both club and player management at Anfield. Benitez, whose fight with the board over money has only increased the pressure on the Madrid-born coach to deliver, built a squad around the undoubted talents of Gerrard and Torres. Two world class players that regularly require attention from an equally adept physiotherapist.

Elsewhere Benitez’ squad, stocked with talent unfulfilled at the very top level from goalkeeper to strikers, has let him down. Pepe Reina failed at Barcelona, Albert Riera at Espanyol and Andriy Voronin at just about everywhere. Everybody else is failing much closer to home.

Then there are the three left-backs Fábio Aurélio, Emiliano Insúa and Andrea Dossena, whom Benitez juggles as heartily as the board its bank loans. Or the stupendously inept £18 million spent on a defensively inadequate right-back, Glenn Johnson.

Just examples of a wider problem with a transfer policy that is best described as scattergun.

It’s five years since Benitez walked into Anfield; another in a 20-year long search for the promised land of Premier League victory. Indeed, the Champions League win over Milan in 2005 is now very much an anomaly, not the start of something bigger for the Anfield outfit. Premier League victory further away than at any time in the past two decades.

Last season’s campaign – the club’s best attempt in 20 years – was not ruined by injury to Torres or Gerrard, despite the managerial rhetoric. Benitez, unlikely as it is, must take responsibility for not staffing his squad with a more balanced outlook. And the manager’s rant at Sir Alex Ferguson shifted Benitez’ focus and increased the pressure on his own players at a critical juncture.

Now, with Alonso departed and predictable fitness concerns surrounding Torres and Gerrard, Benitez finds himself at least three players short of a squad capable of challenging for the title. It’s a situation that might be fixed with money but only if the club’s American owners fire Benitez and sell off their stock first.

The Spaniard could do with some luck, of course, and Darren Bent’s winner for Sunderland, deflected in off a Liverpool branded beach ball last week, hardly helped. Hilarious as it was.

Indeed, the pressure is mounting on the former Valencia manager to the extent that questions over his future tenure are inevitable if United beat his team on Sunday. Out-of-work coaches the globe over, fired for far less than losing five on the trot, will be watching.

One saving grace for Benitez, however, is that the management structure of his club is so weak and so divided that it’s hard to know who could possibly deliver the P45 to his Melwood training ground office.

On Sunday Benitez faces his old foe Ferguson once again. The Spaniard’s team has the advantage of a day’s extra rest, while United makes a 5,000 mile round trip to play in the middle of a Russian winter on a bone-hard plastic pitch.

Benitez will hold court at Melwood this week, leading the analysis of Liverpool’s melancholy. Talk is cheap though, as the Spaniard found out to his cost last season. And short of a disastrous series of injuries to United’s playing staff it’s hard not to foresee victory for Ferguson’s men this Sunday.

Life is, as they say, a beach my Scouse friends.


Bitter Benitez lacks any class

Ed May 17, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion No comments

Has there ever been a worse loser in the history of the Premier League than Rafael Benitez? It’s hard to recall a losing manager more bitter, or buried deeper in a pit of denial than Liverpool’s Spanish coach. As United claimed a record equalling 18th Enlgish title yesterday, Benitez refused to congratulate Sir Alex Ferguson on the victory. We shouldn’t be suprised. In the final analysis class shows in defeat much more than in victory.

Ferguson has had many intense rivalries over the years. There isn’t a coach on the planet more schooled in falling out with his closest rivals. But even Arsene Wenger at his most myopic was able to grudgingly congratulate Sir Alex Ferguson on each of United’s Premier League wins. Jose Mourinho was positively gushing with praise in comparison to Liverpool’s loser. United’s manager, meanwhile, has famously sent a case of fine wine to each of the very few victors other than himself in the Premier League’s history.

Benitez? According to second-placed Benitez Liverpool are the better side, United bought the title, referees are all United fans, and the moon and the stars were out of alignment. Sounds like you’re talking out of Uranus, Rafa.

This coming from a man who  spent £7 million on a third choice left-back, and £20 million on a striker he refused to play, as part of a £200+ million splurg over the past five years. And he has the gall to claim United’s success is built on money. Perhaps the defeated Benitez would have faired better actually coaching his side, rather than choosing to pile the pressure and focus on his own team with a truly insane “facts” rant about Sir Alex. At least his scally players don’t want to beat each other up. Oh.

The truth is that Benitez, after spending a fortune, has still failed to land Liverpool the title. But he could have. United started the season slowly, coping badly with the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo through injury and the integration of Dimitar Berbatov into the side. Add to that the multiple inuries to defensive personnel and the burden of playing in the European Super Cup and the World Club Cup, and this was Liverpool’s best chance of landing the Premier League in nearly two decades. But Liverpool’s failure of a manager blew the Scousers’ chances with a consistently cautious approach at home, and his January meltdown.

United meanwhile will be even better next season, whether Carlos Tevez stays or not.  The Reds’ yougsters – Nani, Anderson, Rafael and Fabio da Silva, Danny Wellbeck, Johnny Evans, Rodrigo Possebon, Zoran Tosic and Federico Macheda – will all be a year more mature. Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo are still only 23 and 24 and still getting better. And that’s without spending a penny in the transfer market, which Ferguson will do if the right man comes along.

Beating Liverpool once against next season, to land a record 19th title, will be all the sweeter for watching Benitez melt down again. Now that’s a fact.