Liverpool’s 4-1 win over Porto was supposedly being watched in the States by the club’s co-owners, with Foster Gillett watching in the stands. How much of the game they understand is open to debate, but they can’t have failed to understand how the Liverpool supporters felt. Hearing the manager’s name sung over the top of You’ll Never Walk Alone must be unprecedented, and with it being sung throughout the night, starting over an hour before kick-off as a march in his honour began, they wouldn’t have had a chance to forget how the supporters feel.
Given the demonstration of feeling, the owners now have no excuses for their next steps involving the manager. When they arrived they claimed, or implied, that they understood how the club worked, how it was here to make people happy, and how any money-making had always been a bonus. They were going to let Rafa do his job with their full support, buying him players called Snoogy Doogy if he asked for them, so that by the time the new stadium was built the club would be winning or challenging for the league title every season.
Whatever changed that, they’ve never had the decency to own up. They’ve never explained why. Well the fans were careful last night to hold back in their criticism for the owners. To once again give them the benefit of the doubt – to open a door which would allow the owners to get back to running the club the way they promised they would. And that didn’t include sacking the best manager the club have had since the eighties for non-footballing reasons.
Rafa clearly appreciated the support from the fans, which he said was one of two reasons it was a moving occasion: “It was an emotional evening for two things. One, because we needed to win and it is important to go through in the Champions League and also for all the support for me and for the team. Somebody asked me if the past few days have been difficult. Not really difficult, because it has been something I was not expecting.”
His message for the fans: “I want to say thank you to all of our supporters. They were, as always, magnificent. I knew what was going on before the match, but I was focusing on the game. I knew something was happening but I was not really worried about this. I was thinking about the game because I knew that was my responsibility. I was preparing for the game with the players but all I can say is thank you, because they were fantastic.”
Rafa’s English has improved immensely since he arrived in England, but translations of any interviews he’s done in Spanish show how much more he could say if his English was perfect. It seems to be something that frustrates him, and he was struggling again in finding a way to truly express his gratitude to the fans that have got so firmly behind him: “The problem is I don’t have too many words in English to say how I feel. To say thank you. I could say something in Spanish but you would not understand.”
Communication has been the biggest problem for the managers since the Americans came in. He’s now trying to get the message across to the owners that he doesn’t have issues with them personally, he clearly just wants to sit down with them and make sure they understand what each other is looking for. It doesn’t make sense to Rafa to have his rights to negotiate deals taken away from him. “I don’t have any personal problems (with the owners). We were talking about different issues and we don’t have the same opinions at this moment, but I am sure that we will talk and they will understand and I will understand their ideas.”
Those who want to keep hurting Rafa, and perhaps want him sacked, have tried differing methods to put Rafa in a bad light: “I was reading something about my ego, but this is not about my ego. This is about my responsibility. It would be easier for me to stay and pick up my wages at the end of the month, but I don’t want to do this. I want to improve my team, my squad and I was trying to do this.”
Rafa didn’t want to allow the owners to miss his point – he’s not got an issue with them, he just wants to know, from them, what the problems have been about: “I repeat again: I do not have a problem with them. My relationship with them was good before and now we need to talk about what the problem was. Maybe we need to talk now and analyse the situation.”
During the game he really was focussed on coaching his team: “The most important thing is the team. I could hear the crowd but I was thinking about solutions because Porto were playing well and controlling the middle so we needed to find solutions and I was thinking about the players in front and the changes we needed. We needed to change something. We needed to keep the ball and we needed a target man.”
That target man was Peter Crouch, one of those tipped to be on his way out of the club to help Rafa fund the purchase of Javier Mascherano. The owners’ stance now is that Rafa can’t even do that, but had they fulfilled their earlier promises Crouch could well have been staying. Rafa didn’t expect he’d have to sell before he could buy, and he does rate Crouch highly, if not as highly as Crouch would like. Rafa knows that without funding from the owners he’s got to try and make the most of potential sales, and perhaps bring in a mixture of Bosmans and players close to the end of their contracts instead: “When you bring players in it’s not so much the price. Voronin was a Bosman transfer and he has been really good so the money is not important.”