Rafa needs to know where he stands

When Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez does his press conferences at Melwood, more often than not there are two separate conferences held – one for the TV and radio, one for the printed media. Yesterday he spoke to the TV before the papers.

Video coverage of Rafa’s TV conference has been shown on LFC TV, the club’s channel, and on Sky Sports News, as well as being widely distributed around the internet. In the TV press conference Rafa was clearly not quite himself, but did answer a number of questions. It was when speaking to the media that he closed up completely, clearly not in the mood to answer questions. Here’s a transcript of that conference:

Press: Do you know how much you will have to spend from the American owners in January?
Rafa: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Press: Have you had any assurances you’ll have what you want?
Rafa: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Press: What about your long-term plan?
Rafa: My plan is training and coaching the team.

Press: Is there anything upsetting you?
Rafa: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Press: Do you have anything to say?
Rafa: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Press: It’s clear something is up…
Rafa: You have my answer.

Press: You’re very different from normal…
Rafa: You have my answer.

Press: It’s clear that something is up, though. How can you focus on your training and coaching?
Rafa: I was preparing the training session before this Press conference. So I am always focused on training and coaching.

Press: It’s not always possible, though…
Rafa: Yes, it is for me.

Press: You said after the story linking you with Bayern Munich you were happy to stay here for a long time, is that still the case?
Rafa: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Press: We’re not going to tease it out of you, are we? You’re not normally late for a Press conference. You were obviously preoccupied by something…
Rafa: Because as always I was focusing on the training session.

Press: Is there anything you would like to say?
Rafa: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Press: You always say you are focused on training and coaching, but you usually give answers to our enquiries, so how come it’s changed suddenly?
Rafa: Nothing. I’m just focused on training and coaching as always.

Press: You did kind of suggest to the TV people that you were open to possibility of the England job. Is that something we should treat seriously?
Rafa: It’s your decision. You never know what will happen in the future.

Press: Were you serious when you answered it?
Rafa: I was serious.

Press: It would be dereliction of our duty not to point out that one day you say you are looking to stay here a long time, then the next day you are saying who knows about England for the future. Isn’t there a contradiction between the two?
Rafa: The future is the future. Now, as always I am focused on training and coaching my team, so I cannot say anything else. Just to keep preparing for the next game.

Press: You’ve always said you wanted to stay here for years and years and talked about the future here?
Rafa: That is true.

Press: So, what you’re saying suggests that perhaps the future here is in question?
Rafa: I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Press: So who knows?
Rafa: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Press: Are you being allowed to do that as you wish?
Rafa: I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Press: Does everyone associated with the club share that opinion?
Rafa: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Rafa’s frustration is to do with transfer funds. But it’s not all about being unhappy with the amount he’s to be given – it’s also to do with the way the owners are not communicating with him about how much he’ll get. They did this in the summer, and they’re doing it again. Rafa wants to know now just how much he can spend, if anything, this winter. He wants to see a permanent deal for Javier Mascherano sorted, and needs another defender. One defender that seems to be in Rafa’s sights is Ezequiel Garay, the Racing Santander player said to be valued at £10m. Mascherano’s deal can be made permanent for around £17m, which is believed to be for a five-year-deal, including wages. But Rafa still does not know if he’ll be given any funds, and so just like in the summer is worried that potential targets will be moving out of his reach as time ticks on. To keep Mascherano he might have to sell players – if he doesn’t sell players he might have to choose between Mascherano and another defender.

So an annoyed Spaniard pushed and pushed the indecisive owners for a decision – and got told to concentrate on training and coaching the players he’s already got. The owners will speak to him next month about what funding – if any – he’ll get. Nobody in the UK can make a decision on funding. Foster Gillett, George Gillett’s son, was supposed to be the representative on behalf of the owners based in Liverpool and ready to deal with transfers and other issues. He left the country after the Arsenal game and hasn’t been back in the month since. Rafa has tried desperately to get the owners to commit to a budget, but they are unwilling to do so. Yesterday’s “joint statement” was issued on Thanksgiving Day in the US, and perhaps being interrupted on a “holiday” annoyed the owners more than it would on another day.

A lot of faith was placed in the new owners when they arrived. Fans’ doubts were put to one side in the hope that the duo really were as interested in seeing Liverpool win things as the supporters were. Nobody expected them to do it as some kind of charity, and the stadium won’t be cheap. But without investing more money in the squad than the club’s rivals are investing, Liverpool will not find it quite so easy to win the league. Of course if the owners are really just here to make money – as many warned would be the case – then they don’t need Liverpool to win anything. A good run in the Champions League and a top-four finish every year will probably be seen by them as sufficient to fill the stadium and bring the money in. Maybe it’s time they owned up to that.

Some of Rafa’s critics claim he should have done better with the resources he’s had – but others say that he should have had better resources. He won the Champions League with a poor squad, and won the FA Cup the following season with a squad that he’d had relatively few resources to improve, and has also managed to get to another Champions League final last season. This season has seen a poor start to the Champions League but the 8-0 win over Besiktas showed that the team are capable of more. In the league they are still unbeaten, six points off the top, and have managed this with a pretty bad injury list.

Rafa’s allies in the media will reel off his side of the story, but the two Americans won’t find any trouble making their own allies, certainly with journalists who normally deal with other clubs. The duo did not add any funds to the summer transfer budget, yet it’s often reported that they did. Progression to the group stages of the Champions League does not guarantee quite the fortunes it’s made out that it does, because progression only guarantees two extra games. But the owners are not going to be here until December 16th, for the Manchester United game, by which time Liverpool will know their Champions League fate. They’ve got to beat Porto next week, and Marseilles on December 11th if they are to progress. It doesn’t take much for the media to turn on Liverpool, as witnessed by Rafa Benitez ever since he arrived here, and elimination from the Champions League will make the pressure almost unbearable. That’s why the owners should be backing the manager, not making statements that draw attention to their lack of action in authorising funds.

And if Foster Gillett doesn’t want to work in England, it’s time they found someone who did, or have Rick Parry the authority to deal with issues himself.

The official club website has today got Alex Miller talking about the next match, against Newcastle, rather than Rafa.