After the 1-1 draw in the FA Cup at Luton, Rafa Benitez was asked by Sky Sports for his thoughts on the game and also about reports he thought he was soon going to be sacked by the owners.
On the game itself he said it was no surprise to find the game was difficult: “I think we knew that it could be a tough game, so the first half we had some chances, they had some chances. After, when we scored a goal, you need more experience, we conceded a goal three minutes later.”
He was asked if he was happy with the result, but rather than admit any relief at drawing a game that had ‘upset’ written all over it, he said he was certain that the replay would play out quite differently: “I am happy because we will have another game in Anfield, so that is positive, and we are in the cup and will continue trying to win. And I have confidence that at Anfield it will be different.”
Various reports today claimed that Real Madrid were lining Rafa up to join them in the summer. There were also claims that “friends” of the boss had said he doesn’t expect to be at Anfield next season. The latter is hardly something new, Rafa’s felt that way since at least November and the owners have done nothing to contradict that fear or the reports about it.
Asked about the reports, Rafa said: “That is not true. I love the club, I love the fans, I am really happy here and I want to stay for a long time.”
Next he was asked if he felt the owners still had confidence in him and that he’d still be with the club next season: “I think so,” he replied.
Hicks has been the most vocal of late, and in an interview last month with the US press he tried to make out that his differences with Rafa were in the past. “We like Rafa. We think Rafa’s terrific. We put all that behind us,” said Hicks. But that’s a long way short of a denial of the Rafa-to-be-fired stories.
Rafa was asked if a statement from the owners to confirm he was there for the long term would help the situation, but of course he’s not exactly able to answer that on live television. He said: “To help with the situation is just to keep working hard and keep winning.”
That’s what Rafa has to say, but in reality it’s obvious that the only way to help the situation now is to end the uncertainty one way or the other. For most fans that would mean the owners need to back Rafa or move on. And if they decide to stay, whoever they choose to manage the club next season needs to be backed in a way that allows the club to compete with its rivals. Failing that, at least an admission from the owners that transfer backing of that level won’t be done until the stadium is, one day, finally opened would show some respect to the fans.
Liverpool, pre-takeover, fought hard to prevent Rafa from leaving when Real Madrid were asking him to join them, but that was in the days when Liverpool was a very different football club, rather than a distant franchise.