The difficulties between Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and the club’s current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett continue to dominate the thoughts of Reds supporters, the vast majority of whom are 100% behind the manager.
Liverpool are fifth in the table but with a game in hand on most of those above them. In fact a 1-0 win in that game in hand, were it to be played now, would put Liverpool second. They’ve won their last three games in a row scoring thirteen goals and conceding none.
Yet Rafa’s job is under threat. This has been leaking out in hints and rumours since Rafa’s angry press conference on Thursday, but today it was reported in the News of The World by Chris Bascombe. Rafa is to be sacked.
Former Liverpool Echo reporter Bascombe took a lot of stick for moving to the Sunday national. Whether he was right to move there is not the argument for here and now, but when he went he didn’t leave a little black book of phone numbers behind him, his contacts didn’t suddenly decide they wanted nothing more to do with him, and any friendships built up didn’t disappear with him. He might have times when his stories get given sensationalist headlines by the sub-editor, but read his stories carefully and you will be reading what he believes to be true.
And today Chris Bascombe believes Rafa is looking likely to be sacked. And worse than that, one of the names on the list is arguably the most despised opposition manager in Liverpool’s history, Jose Mourinho. Short of employing Alex Ferguson, there’s little the owners could do to upset the supporters more.
There’s no “ifs” in Bascombe’s article – he is sticking his neck on the line and saying it is only a matter of “when”. He writes: “Rafa Benitez will be sacked following his latest tirade against Liverpool owner Tom Hicks. And former Kop hate-figure Jose Mourinho is the shock front runner to replace him.”
If Bascombe writes that then Bascombe has been told that. If he only though it was a possibility (as Rafa would put it) then he wouldn’t have worded it in such a way. His editor didn’t ask him to beef a story up. He wrote the story from information given to him. Chilling information.
According to Bascombe, the manager’s departure had been lined up before this week’s press conference. Rafa himself referred to things changing after the Arsenal game (which is around the time Foster Gillett abandoned ship and left for the States) – and to take away a manager’s right to negotiate transfer deals is not a good sign in this country. Rafa wasn’t asking for more money, he was trying to sell players so that he could buy others. He was told to stop, and to leave it to the Chief Executive Rick Parry, renowned for forgetting to fax offers to clubs or even to switch his phone on.
That clearly set alarm bells ringing for Rafa, and perhaps the spineless duo expected him not to notice. According to Bascombe, “It’s now a matter of when not if the Spanish boss leaves Anfield and that’s expected to be sooner rather than later.”
Mourinho is being linked elsewhere with the England job this weekend by the Observer, in an article that also mention his family is desperate to return to England, with his daughter being bullied at school. Chances are she’d continue to be bullied if her father was forced onto supporters of England’s most successful side in history – if even fans of his own team didn’t like her father, he’s hardly going to be popular in the area.
Reading into Bascombe’s words, at least he is less sure that Mourinho would be coming to Anfield, implying that no approach has been made yet: “An approach will be made once Benitez’s departure is confirmed.” And the arrogant Portuguese man’s severance agreement with Chelsea is believed to include a proviso that he does not manage another English club this season, which means he would not be stepping into Rafa’s shoes just yet.
The owners know that to sack Rafa would mean the end of their days of being able to come to Anfield wearing scarves and pretending to care about the club, rather than the money. In fact to most Reds those days are now over. Hicks has shown his true colours, and they are not red white and yellow. Gillett has been very quiet in all of this. In fact Gillett seems to be getting pushed out of the way by his richer partner, which might suggest why Foster Gillett disappeared.
Rafa did try to get his own views forward after yesterday’s convincing 3-0 win over Newcastle, which saw him praised regularly throughout the game by the travelling Liverpool supporters. Rafa explained how he’d not even been asking for additional funds, just asking to make use of funds he had left over from before, along with money from the sales of players he no longer required.
Rafa was quite calm in the interview, and tried to be diplomatic. He basically tried to explain that he didn’t feel Hicks was aware of the differences between European football and the fairly insular sports of the US: “It is clear Mr Hicks wants the best for the club and we want the best for the club. Because we have been here for a long time, we know what passion means in football in Europe. We know what the transfer window market means – it’s not a draft system. We know what it means to sign free – and I insist free – players now. I was not asking to spend money, I was asking to do things with free players.
“They know the manager needs to manage the squad and prepare the squad for this year and for the future.
“We had a meeting the day of the Arsenal game and the meeting was really positive, but after this meeting something changed. I tried to explain my ideas, but they said to me ‘Rafa, keep focusing on coaching and training because Rick Parry will be in charge of buying and selling players’. I’m sure Mr Hicks knows what I want. I have passion for this club. The fans who were with me in Istanbul know what it means to me.
“I tried to explain to them and now, it is simple. They say, ‘Keep focussed and Mr Parry will keep working in the transfer market’.
“I have a very good squad and want to improve the squad. I didn’t talk about money – I was thinking about bringing money back in. I am trying to do my best as a manager for the club. I have not been talking about spending but doing the opposite. We have brought money back. We brought in £26m this year and you can see the value of the squad.
“I am the manager of this club, and the team and the squad is my responsibility. I think everyone involved wants the best for the club, but the Americans do not understand how the transfer window works as well as I do.
“They don’t understand what the transfer window means in Europe. They need to understand how difficult it is to sign a player and, when the possibility comes, you must do it or you will lose him.
“I was trying to explain, now we try to keep focus and win games. We are trying to do the best for the club. We have targets we need to tie up now, we need to talk to agents and sign players now. If we don’t we will lose targets and need to do something in the summer, which would be far more expensive. Hopefully it will be resolved because we want the best for the club.
“I have been told to concentrate on training the players, and that Rick Parry will be in charge of signing people. I have three targets for January, so we shall see.”
It can only be hoped that Chris Bascombe’s article came from information fed to him to help the owners test the water. Well they’ll soon see that the water will be boiling if they try to sack the best manager the club has had since Kenny Dalglish was here. Fans are already talking of boycotts of games and of products that make the club money, in some cases even of giving up on football altogether. No matter what kinds of issues the owners have fought through in the past, they’ve really no idea of how firm Liverpool supporters can be in their resolve. Perhaps they think the true Liverpool supporters can be replaced, by the so-called “Sky generation” supporter, who will be willing to spend more money to watch a game in their expensive clothing bought from the club’s new superstores. That’s a big gamble to take – but it’s not even their gamble. They are as we speak trying to negotiate new finance deals, which will not only cover the cost of the new stadium, but also the costs of their purchase of the club. Money they promised would not be secured on the club will be secured on the club.
By the time the duo arrive here, finally, to take in a big game (Manchester United at Anfield) we might already have lost Rafael Benitez. If so they’ll already have lost a lot of their supporters.
If they can put what seems to be their stubborn side behind them, perhaps they can try to see just what they will be throwing away by sacking Rafael Benitez. Even if they don’t sack him, the trust in them has gone as they’ve allowed rumours about their changes of plan over financing to go on unchecked, only speaking out to criticise the manager that most fans of our club are proud of. Their silence, distance and inaction needs to end.
Instead of sacking Rafael Benitez they need to look at the amount of upset Rick Parry caused in the Athens ticketing debacle. David Moores relied on him far too long, and now – rumours say – regrets selling to the Americans. (If he does, he ought to speak out instead of hiding). Rick Parry is either the cause of a lot of Rafa’s woes through his laid-back approach to getting off his backside in transfer dealings, or is just doing as he’s told. If he’s doing as he’s told, and cares about Liverpool FC even a small amount, it’s time he resigned. And if he’s just doing his job badly, the Americans need to see this and appoint somebody else.
Maybe if Hicks can take time out from the Hockey this weekend, he’ll have the decency and courage to admit that maybe, just maybe, he’s judged all this wrong. Maybe he’ll have the conviction to actually change his mind. But nobody here is holding their breath.