Former Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann has spoken out in defence of Rafael Benítez at a time when the manager is under fire from the media and a growing number of fans.
Hamman sent a message to the manager’s detractors: “People calling for Rafa’s head are being very premature. He has been there five years and has improved them every season. Rafa has got everything a top-class manager needs, he will turn it around.”
Didi says Liverpool have got better every year since Rafa arrived: “It’s almost the first time in his five-year period at Anfield where they’ve had a bad spell like this. Every year Rafa has gradually improved Liverpool, every year he has taken them forward.”
He pointed out that there is still a long way to go this season, even if Liverpool’s league hopes are now very slim: “There are still another 27 games left in the league and while I don’t think they can win it after the start they have made, there is plenty of time to get into that top four.”
Rafa had an injury and illness list that went into double figures as he tried to pick his team for Fulham, and some of those who took to the field were far from fully fit.
Didi has confidence in Rafa’s men: “The team is good enough to pull through. They were pretty unlucky at Fulham – they could have been ahead at half-time and both the sendings-off were harsh. Sometimes things just don’t go your way.”
Didi was already at the club when Rafa arrived and he won –and thoroughly deserved – a Champions League winners’ medal under the Spanish coach in 2005. He says that things will soon turn round for the club: “All they need are a couple of good results and a couple of key players to be fit again and once they’ve won once or twice everything will be fine again.”
Hamann also had some words for another former Reds midfielder, Ronnie Whelan. Whelan had made some comments on Irish TV suggesting Rafa had taken players like Torres off during the game because he wanted to save them for the Champions League, the only competition he wanted to win, and only because he thought it was good for his job prospects.
Ridiculous comments, and Hamann said so: “I don’t think you can blame the manager for taking Torres off when he’s clearly not 100% fit – maybe Torres asked to be taken off, who knows? It’s just ridiculous that people are coming out and saying these things when only the manager knows how fit people are, only he is in charge of that team. I don’t think that’s up to anyone else to judge.”
Even so, Hamann says the midweek Champions League game was huge for the club: “I think this game in Lyon on Wednesday is more important than any of the league games they have played recently. Financially for Liverpool it is vital for them to reach the last 16 of the Champions League, so at this moment in time you can see why Rafa would prioritise Wednesday’s game more than Fulham away.”
And Didi also pointed something out that the lynch mob rarely mention – other teams have been dropping points too: “There is so much time left in the league – and you saw with Manchester City drawing on Sunday that teams aren’t exactly capitalising when Liverpool don’t win.
“The big four all lost at least twice in their first 10 games so it seems more competitive at the top and this will work in Liverpool’s favour, because you won’t need quite as many points as in previous years to get into that top four.”
Liverpool have yet to field their strongest side this season, and when they do it will make a big change. And other sides might find their squads are weakened too: “With Alberto Aquilani getting fit, Steven Gerrard on his way back and the fact that they won’t lose any players to the African Cup of Nations in January, I think we’ll see Liverpool improving from now on.”