When Gerard Houllier was in charge at Anfield, he was forever talking about his "Five Year Plan". The plan looked to have hit success early when Liverpool won the Treble of UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup in 2001. Liverpool also got themselves into the following season’s Champions League and Reds fans felt they were on their way back to the top. Surely it was only a matter of time before the league title was back in the hands of the club that had won it the most.
Unfortunately Liverpool’s success was short-lived. More and more Liverpool fans lost patience with the Frenchman, who always seemed to have an excuse for defeat, and always talked about the infamous five-year-plan. Talk of the five-year plan certainly helped Houllier keep the pressure off for much longer than perhaps it should have been – how can you fault a manager after four years when he told you it would take five years for success?
Now there’s a new management team in charge. The outspoken, vocal style of Liverpool’s last assistant manager is rather different to the much quieter current assistant. Phil Thompson was taken on as assistant to Houllier by the Liverpool board rather than by the manager himself. Pako Ayesteran was brought over by Rafael Benitez. And they didn’t bring a five-year plan with them.
In fact Ayesteran is desperately unhappy at what he thinks is an extremely disappointing first season. He said: "Someone who works at the club told me how fantastic it is that we’ve reached the semi-final for the first time in 20 years and are fifth in the league. I told him I don’t think it’s fantastic at all, not for Liverpool. You can’t say that, even if you analyse the injuries. " So even the injury excuse isn’t going to be used in the Benitez era.
Liverpool fans want the Championship – that’s a fact that can’t be disguised. That Houllier didn’t bring it was a great disappointment, and of course they want Benitez to do what no Liverpool manager has been able to do since Dalglish. Most fans are going to be happy to give the new team a chance. Paco says he and Rafa expected more from this first season: "I’m not happy, Rafa is not happy. We think the season has been poor. This club is not yet ready to take up the challenge on all fronts – the Premiership, Europe, FA Cup and Carling Cup. The squad doesn’t have enough. In general we know we’re not ready."
Paco continues: "How long it will take depends on important decisions which will affect the future. We may be ready in one year or perhaps six months." One year or six months? No five-year plan? He’s not saying they’ll win the league next season, but he’s saying they’ll at least be competing for it. "We are sure we will be stronger next year. Our work will be better."
Ayesteran feels that the attitude and commtiment of Benitez will stand them in good stead in this tie: "Rafa is very methodical and has a great knowledge of the game. He’s a very hard worker and likes to plan ahead. I don’t think any of us expected to get this far in the Champions League. When we played AK Graz in the qualifying round, no-one thought we’d be where we are now. But we believe we can win it. We have played three games against them and we’ve shown Chelsea we can beat them."