Has there been a softening of attitudes in the war at Anfield? Rafael Benitez is now said to be backing down somewhat in his anger towards the owners, but Tom Hicks has already set his heart on sacking him. George Gillett has all-but disappeared, along with his son Foster who departed these shores a month ago without explanation, handing over his duties to Rick Parry, chief executive of the club.
Yesterday News of the World journalist Chris Bascombe saw his article on how close Rafa was to the sack attract massive attention. Hackles of supporters were already up amongst Reds in the wake of Rafa’s recent hints that he was being told to concentrate on coaching not transfers, and those hackles were raised further when the man himself explained more about it after Saturday’s convincing 3-0 win over Newcastle. But on Sunday Bascombe confirmed the rumour that had been spreading – the owners want Rafa sacked.
The outcry was unbelievable – certainly on internet message boards – and today sees fans without the internet back at work and able to discuss a story they may not have heard yet. Does Hicks want to do the unthinkable, and sack Rafa?
Today Chris Bascombe spoke on TalkSport about the situation, and in his view the owners are still planning to sack Rafa – the question still not if, but when. But later in the day Liverpool Echo reporter Tony Barratt quoted a source as saying Rafa was ready to offer an olive branch.
It seems also that there is just one of the owners behind this move to sack the boss. Tom Hicks is the man George Gillett brought on board when he realised he couldn’t buy Liverpool on his own, but stories in recent weeks of bust-ups now match up with the unilateral actions of the Texan. Gillett’s son Foster was getting on fine with Rafa, as far as anyone can tell, until after the Arsenal game when he called it a day and quit his attempts at being a part of the Liverpool set-up.
RAFA BENITEZ is ready to hold out an olive branch to Liverpool’s owners – but his gesture of reconciliation may have come too late to save his job.
Today saw Liverpool Echo journalist Tony Barratt put his latest information forward. He says that “sources close to Tom Hicks and George Gillett insist no decision has been made to sack Benitez,” but without an outright denial it’s pretty obvious who their thinking is going. And those “sources” are almost certainly going to be Rick Parry.
Barratt also talks of Rafa’s wishes to call a truce on the situation. He quotes a “source close to Benitez”, which of course could even be Benitez himself. The “source” says: “Rafa loves it at Liverpool. He loves the people of the city, he loves the fans and he loves the club. All he wants is what’s best for the fans – he gets frustrated when he feels he’s not able to do that.” And the fans know that, give or take a couple that even now are regretting their unnecessary and over-the-top complaints whenever Rafa didn’t win a game convincingly. Sometimes you don’t miss something until it’s gone, and the events of the past few days have made many Reds realise just what they’ve been missing.
The source explained that Rafa got frustrated because he missed out on a transfer for a particular player. In another article this target is named as Kahka Kaladze of AC Milan, who was to be signed to help the crisis in Liverpool’s defence which has seen the squad with only two recognised centre-backs available for most of the season. Despite this, the source says there’s no problem with Rafa working with Rick Parry, and he’s happy with the owners, but he wants to “continue the job that he’s started so he can continue improving the squad in a bid to deliver the title he knows Tom, George and Rick want just as badly as he does. The manager has got a few transfers that he wants to get done, one in January and two Bosmans in the summer but it looks like he is going to miss out on the first one now.”
The move for a centre-half frustrated Rafa most, and that frustration is exacerbated by the time differences between here and the US. The source said of the centre-half that it’s “a position Rafa feels we really need back-up in. The frustration stems from the fact that communication has been so difficult with everyone being so far apart and in different time zones. But the fans should be reassured Rafa has no plans of walking away. He loves it here and his family are settled on Merseyside.”
It’s reassuring to hear Rafa saying he won’t walk away. Liverpool supporters will be behind him throughout this difficult period, and already boycotts and protests are being planned should Hicks allow what seems to be his temper get the better of him and sack the manager we’ve been waiting for since an emotionally worn-out Kenny Dalglish stepped down from the job.
One reason Rafa won’t go of his own accord is because of his absolute love of the city and the club, something he’s never had before. He appreciates in a way he’s probably never been able to express: “He always describes his children as ‘Scousers’ and that makes him really proud,” said the source. “And the fact that the fans have backed him so much only makes him want success even more for them. Even when he guided Valencia to their first Spanish league title in 31 years their fans did not sing his name but the Liverpool fans sing it every single game. Rafa only wants to work for Liverpool.”
Rafa’s unofficial spokesman also sent a message to the owners that it was pretty recently that he was showing his gratitude for their help in signing Liverpool’s best striker in some time: “It wasn’t that long ago that Rafa was thanking Tom, George and Rick for the work that they had done to bring Fernando Torres to Liverpool. He is still grateful for that and hopes that there has been no lasting damage done.”
It may be too late now, with Hicks said to be unmoved in his views. Whether George Gillett can step out of the shadows and resolve the situation remains to be seen, but Rick Parry again seems to be unable to see what’s happening. Either he can’t see it or he doesn’t care. He came close once to letting Steven Gerrard leave the club because he couldn’t be bothered to communicate properly with the captain, and it looks once again that Parry’s stuck with his mobile phone switched off and not at all bothered about the club’s future.
The differences in time zones mean it’ll probably be 4pm UK time before Gillett rolls up at his offices today. He needs to realise that Liverpool are still capable of qualifying for the knockout phase of the Champions League, and that even if they don’t, they are possibly nearer to being able to win the league this season than at any time in many years. If Liverpool won their game in hand today they’d be second, with Arsenal still felt by many to have most of their toughest fixtures to come. Without the Champions League to play in, Liverpool’s chances of winning the league would increase. And they’d increase all the more should Rafa be able to bring in cover for the defence to enable him to play the type of game he wants to play.
Ironically, Rafa’s intentions in striking early in the transfer market are both to avoid losing targets and also to save money.
Now Rafa is reported to be ready to keep his head down and work quietly for the next couple of weeks when Hicks brings Gillett over here to announce his decision on Rafa’s future. The duo can expect a hostile reception, even more hostile than that of the opposition, one of our most hated rivals, unless they act soon to put the record straight on what they are trying to do to our club.
They’ll get to see a hint of the fans’ support for the manager if they bother to watch the Champions League fixture on Wednesday against Porto. But if they dare turn up at Anfield wearing scarves next month with their hangman’s axe hidden underneath it they’ll get more than a hint.
There’s still a way out of this mess for the pair, and if they can swallow their pride then they’ll see that Rafa staying on as manager is by far the best option for a club they claim to be only custodians of.