Liverpool chairman David Moores set off home from Japan as a man extremely proud of his club and the man that become manager 18 months ago. Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, Moores told of his pride in Rafael Benitez, who lost his father Francisco whilst away with Liverpool during the Club World Cup tournament.
Although we are bound to be biased towards the Reds, there has been universal agreement that Liverpool deserved to win yesterday – and that they would have done were it not for some dubious decisions by the officials. Liverpool’s defeat yesterday brought to an end a long unbeaten run, which included eleven clean sheets, a new club record. The club are starting to be feared again, and Moores says it’s all down to Rafa: "I wouldn’t swop Rafa for any manager in the world. If I had to go back and make the appointment again, I know there couldn’t be anyone better. I really believe he’s going to lead this club back to greatness, I really do."
Moores was all the more impressed with Rafa after he stayed to look after the team despite the sad loss and tremendous amount of grief he must have been feeling: "The team is progressing so well and that’s down to Rafa. Look at what he’s had to deal with in Japan because of what happened to his father. He has shown he is an unbelievable man. For something like that to happen and Rafa to stay with his team is absolutely amazing."
Moores made it clear how he felt about the Spaniard: "I’m very proud of him."
The chairman hinted at how unhappy he was with the officials at the game, but didn’t feel it was appropriate to dwell on it: "After everything that’s happened and the way we played, we didn’t deserve to leave Japan without that trophy. I’m also extremely proud of the players and all the staff. I’ve told Steven Gerrard I thought all the players were magnificent in the competition. We couldn’t have done any more other than score in the final. Obviously Flo’s goal should have stood, but I don’t want to talk too much about that. It shouldn’t take away how well we’ve played."
Liverpool are not in control of their own destiny in terms of winning the league this season. They are fifteen points behind Chelsea, but with two games in hand they could cut that gap to nine points regardless of what Chelsea do. If they beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the league then the gap could theoretically be as small as six points – but even with all of that, they still need Chelsea to slip up before they could win the league. Manchester United are six points ahead of the Reds right now, although they’ve also played two more games than the Reds.
The key now for the Reds is to concentrate on all of the positives from the trip to Japan, and get back to winning ways on Boxing Day. Moores feels that the Reds are being helped a great deal by the confidence their recent run has given them: "The way we’re playing at the moment is showing how much confidence there is throughout the team. The football is great. Everything has been going fantastically well, apart from this result. We’ll give it a good fight for the title this year. Maybe it’s too late for this season, we’ll have to wait and see. But we’ll go all the way and hopefully there will be a few slip-ups from Chelsea."
Rafa Benitez has talked often about how other sides are starting to show the Reds a lot of respect, and Moores agrees. He said: "I’m sure the others are watching Liverpool a lot closer now. I’m more optimistic about us winning the title now than I’ve ever been, even though we should have won it the season we came second."
Paco Ayesteran said during the tournament that he was surprised at how quickly Liverpool had progressed this season. It was all part of what Rafa and he had been planning, but they never expected to happen as fast as it did. Perhaps Moores was allowing for a longer transitional period before the Spanish connection started to reap rewards, but he’s not complaining: "Things have developed very quickly. Rafa has settled and the players he’s brought in have settled, which has made a big difference. We’ve quickly established a relationship where he understands us and we understand him."
Liverpool will arrive home later this evening, and Rafa will be heading for Spain as soon as he can to be with his mother and the rest of his family.