Liverpool’s owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have undermined Rafael Benitez since they went back on their word regarding transfers last year, and in lining up a replacement for him, then admitting it, ensured he would have a much tougher task than he should have. They’ve told lies, they’ve spun the truth and they’ve shown that, as the song goes, Liverpool Football Club is in the wrong hands.
Speaking at an awards ceremony in Liverpool Kenny said: “The troubles at the club that have been well documented in the media have certainly not done the manager or the players any favours. It is time for everyone to get right behind the manager because there is only one person who should be in charge at the football club and that is the manager.”
Rafa’s had his critics since before the new owners came along, and with a few exceptions those critics are the types who enjoy the sound of their own voice on phone-ins, and the reaction they get from other supporters on message boards or at work. But every time a point is dropped a scapegoat is needed, and in the absence of John Arne Riise it seems Rafa is getting the blame more and more.
The season started with the owners trying to give the impression that their summer investment was much higher than in any of the previous seasons before they came in, yet it didn’t even match the Champions League prize money after sales had been taken into consideration. Still they used their false fee for Fernando Torres (quoting at least £6m more than they’d paid) to put the message out that Rafa should now be challenging for the league. Yet there was no reason why Rafa should be challenging any more than in the past three seasons – they’d not put the money in to help him get the squad on a par with current Champions Manchester United. A challenge was something fans could just hope for, not expect.
And the hope of challenging went out of the window when Rafa found himself having to choose between winning a league match or keeping his job. The Reading game saw Rafa receive enormous criticism for substituting key players when there was still enough time to get back from behind. But Rafa was saving the key players for the Champions League tie a few days later, a tie which would have seen him sacked had he lost. Tom Hicks confirmed this much later when he admitted that he had lined up Jurgen Klinsmann for the job.
The public admission of ‘no confidence’ from a US owner who admits he doesn’t understand the game should have been laughed off – Hicks may have the power to hire and fire as he pleases, but it doesn’t of course mean he’s right. However it still sews seeds of doubt in players’ minds. Manchester United slumped when their players of the time thought Alex Ferguson was retiring at the end of that season. The advanced announcement of an event that didn’t even happen had seen players lose enough of the respect they should have for their boss that they underachieved, and Ferguson found it hard to instil discipline. As soon as he admitted he was staying he was able to turn things around.
Now Rafa finds himself in a similar situation. He has a mixture of players who will fight tooth and nail for him, players who no longer care as long as they get their pay cheque, and players who care, but are finding it hard to work for a boss they don’t think will survive the summer.
And ideally for Tom Hicks, this means there are growing factions amongst the support that could well play right into his hands.
Hints that Jamie Carragher wasn’t on Rafa’s side any more, hints it has to be said that haven’t come from the player himself, hints that were just observations based on body language and knowing how passionate the player is, saw some shocking reactions. All of a sudden it was Carra v Rafa! How dare Carra treat the boss this way? How dare Rafa allow Carra to become so disillusioned? Yet Carra knows his manager was the one who moved him back into a central role and turned him into a massively better player. Rafa knows that Carra’s leadership qualities are a major part of his team’s make-up. Both men are unhappy with how things are turning out, both men will have their own ideas, but for fans to take sides is exactly what Hicks would love.
Kenny’s award was the Bill Shankly Memorial award from the Liverpool Echo and on accepting it one legend paid tribute to another, and spoke of how he’d nearly become a Red well before Bob Paisley signed him in 1977: “I came down from Glasgow and played in a practice game against Southport when I was 15. Shanks wanted to sign me then but I was really shy at that stage and it didn’t happen, but although I was never fortunate enough to play under the great man I know full well that he laid the principles down for all of us who have been fortunate enough to play for this great club to follow.”
It’s in Shankly’s name that the new supporters’ group seeking to get the club back on track has been formed. Named “Sons of Shankly”, their first act was to organise a stay-behind after the Sunderland game chanting songs against the current owners. It was organised at very short notice but was very successful and received a lot of coverage.
Kenny says Shanks has to be thanked for what the club became: “Without the qualities he brought to the club I don’t think the club would be what it is today. And make no mistake about it, Liverpool is a very special club and I still have a very strong attachment to it, I regard Merseyside as my home and all my kids grew up here and I regard myself as having been very privileged to have played a small part in the history of this great club.”
Kenny won silverware at Anfield as a player, a player-manager and a manager. He achieved so much in a footballing sense but also deserves massive, absolutely immense, respect for his work in the aftermath of Hillsborough.
But it was his playing days he was thinking back to last night: “I was very fortunate to play under some great managers and in teams with some great players so when I look back I have to be very grateful for everything I achieved as a player. When I first signed in 1977 John Toshack gave me two bits of advice – don’t lose your accent and don’t over-eat, so at least I got one right!”
Arguments over whether Rafa is the right man to take the club forward should now be put to one side and left there until the season is over and – hopefully – Tom Hicks has gone. For now supporters all need to get behind the boss, get behind his players and stand as one. We can debate the other issues later.
For now though it’s important that we all do as the biggest living legend in the club’s history tells us to do – back the boss: “It is time for everyone to get right behind the manager because there is only one person who should be in charge at the football club and that is the manager.”
Thanks Kenny. Yet again.