Just under a month ago Anfield Road asked the question: “Is it too much to ask?”
The article referred to what Rafa was asking for from the club’s new chairman; a guarantee that he could re-use any income from any sales this summer. With strong hints that some of the big-name and more valuable players were fed-up with life at Anfield – for various reasons – Benítez wanted to ensure any cash from their sales would be in addition to whatever else might find its way into the ‘player account’ this summer.
Surely it wasn’t too much to ask.
Well we now know it was too much to ask.
Rafael Benítez is on his way out, just as soon as this dysfunctional club’s hierarchy can persuade him to let them off the hook when it comes to paying him what they agreed to pay him 15 months ago.
Is it any surprise that they are trying to renege on a deal involving the outlay of money?
As we said last month, Benítez did not want to leave Liverpool for Juventus. He’d not agreed a deal with Juventus, despite constant stories claiming otherwise. And in the time that has passed since then Juventus have got a new coach in place.
And again as we said last month, if Liverpool wanted him to leave they’d certainly not told him so directly.
The implication at the time was that Rafa was not going to deny speculation about his future until he had the perfectly reasonable assurance he’d asked for from the club, the one allowing him to use cash from player sales on new signings.
But as events of the last 24 hours prove, it was too much to ask for this year. Like it was too much to ask for last year, when the club brought far more in from sales than it spent on adding new players.
And although some supporters are celebrating – and it has to be said that doesn’t apply to all of Rafa’s critics, some of whom can see that this is certainly no time to party – most fans with the sense to consider the bigger picture can see the dangers this imminent event will bring with it. And no doubt some of those with smiles on their faces last night, as the story first hit the headlines, will slowly come to realise just what it is likely to mean.
Whoever the manager is, short-term or long-term, he will be little more than a puppet of Martin Broughton and Christian Purslow, who will be fighting with each other and with the US owners for the chance to pull his strings.
One positive might be that it brings to an end the hierarchy’s ability to keep fans attentions off them and their failures by shoving Rafa into the spotlight to take the blame for any and all failures at the club. It’s not as if he had his own failings that needed to be addressed, but what a great way it was to distract fans from that bigger picture.
One senior source in particular spent a whole season with his attention on the manager, making sure that one story was given out in public, before a range of other stories were given out in private as appropriate to the audience. In fact he was so busy in that particular endeavour that he completely failed in the one main task he was appointed for – to find £100m of new investment.
Then again, he wasn’t exactly trying very hard. Having knocked back a genuine offer of finance for the new stadium – without having the courtesy to even pretend to consider it – he later set about putting off any potential investors by reeling off a list of criticism about the existing owners to Spirit of Shankly – the LFC supporters’ union. Bearing in mind that those potential new partners would need to join forces with the existing owners when putting their £100m in, it can only be described as amateurish or devious. It certainly wasn’t designed to do the job he told us he was supposed to be doing.
That £100m was needed to appease the Royal Bank of Scotland, who we now know had been giving extensions as short as six weeks for their crippling debt facility on the club and its parent companies. But even allowing for their exorbitant charges the club should still have had money for transfers last year. They were involved in the Champions League for every one of Rafa’s six seasons and money from TV rights deals has shot up over the course of that reign. The commercial side of the club has been improved dramatically, certainly in monetary terms, so all in all Liverpool should have had money to spend on transfers in 2009 over and above what came in from player sales.
But as we pointed out last month, from the beginning of February 2009 until the end of August 2009 Liverpool made a £16.5m profit on player trading. In those six months alone player sales earned Liverpool somewhere in the region of £52.5m and yet they only committed to paying transfer fees of £36m. And since then they’ve continued to bring more in than they’ve laid out for transfers.
Despite this, Christian Purslow told The Times, last August, that the club had actually spent £20m: “We’ve spent pretty much the same as we’ve spent every year over the past four or five years. We’ve spent about £20 million more than we’ve generated, which is what we expected. We’ve bought players the manager wanted to buy and sold players the manager wanted to sell and it has cost us almost to the penny what we expected it to cost.”
It’s difficult to work out just how on earth Purslow arrived at that figure, a figure representing a difference of £36.5m on what any supporter can see was spent.
So where did that £36.5m go?
(And to add to last month’s article, where did the other agreed targets for last summer go? Rafa had named targets lined up, before the goalposts were moved.)
We also pointed last month to more evidence that something was amiss with the transfer funding of 2009. After signing Glen Johnson at the start of that summer window Rafa dutifully kept quiet about the fact the deal was part-funded by money Portsmouth still owed the club for the transfer of Peter Crouch and the loan of Jermaine Pennant. He was happy to just stick to the script put in front of him by the new temporary MD. But after being pressed on whether there would be any more signings he didn’t see a problem in saying that there might be, in saying that he had funds in place.
Benítez said: “We have a plan. We can sign one more player if necessary, but that’s without any players leaving.” At that point in time the club still hadn’t sold Xabi Alonso, Álvaro Arbeloa or Sebastian Leto; players who would eventually be sold for a total of £36.5m.
The club only bought two more players, £17m Alberto Aquilani and £2m Sotirios Kyrgiakos, at a total of £19m.
So that’s £14.5m left over, plus the money Rafa had already said was available for another signing. Except the £14.5m didn’t get handed over, and the extra funds Rafa had spoken about disappeared. So again, how on earth could the temporary MD make the claim that the club had spent £20m on players?
It’s fairly obvious what his motivation would have been. Back on August 18th a story claimed a ‘source close to Rafa Benítez’ had said: “The figures have changed since Rafa signed his contract. He has sold several players and raised a lot of money, but is not being allowed to spend it.” This quote came after Rafa himself felt he couldn’t talk about the missing funds at a regular press conference, his only response being “I do not want to discuss money.”
And it would soon become standard practice and common knowledge amongst the press that whenever Rafa attended any kind of meeting with the media Purslow would be there to shadow him; it was as if Purslow was frightened that Rafa might not stick to the Purslow version of events, the Purslow version of how things were going behind the scenes.
It stuck out like a sore thumb to many of those who witnessed it.
Purslow had showed ignorance about why the owners even got the original chance to take over our club. The need for the stadium, the one that still isn’t started, was basically to provide transfer funds to allow the club to compete with its rivals. David Moores felt he had no way of bringing that new stadium to fruition, hence the search for investment. But Purslow tried to make out that transfer spending wasn’t all that important anyway: “Spending isn’t the panacea everyone thinks it is, but we’ve spent £20 million and that’s real money.”
Despite that attempt to play down the importance of the transfer budget, Purslow had to keep trying to explain it. In September he tried again, telling the Liverpool Echo: “We reinvest over half of our profits in transfer spending. We always have done and we will continue to do so.”
Half the profits? Didn’t Liverpool make a loss?
And this summer Rafa wasn’t asking for that, he wanted the assurance he could spend whatever came in from sales. The club couldn’t assure him of that, where does that leave the club? What kind of future does the club have if it can’t even use what it gets from sales?
When Rafa leaves, having failed to get that simple assurance from the chairman, the board, the owners or whoever it is that is running this club, there will be far more to worry about than what the mouthy minority have been shouting about for 12 months, much to the hierarchy’s delight.
Those with the ability to look for themselves instead of parroting the soundbites of others will start to see what it all means.
Rafa lost the battle because Purslow has power beyond his abilities. He can slate the owners and get away with it. He can dismiss the chairman as “only being here to sell the club” and get away with it. He can go to any number of reporters and spread rumours about the manager, take steps to undermine him, and get away with it.
Anyone willing to work as manager of this club under those conditions would surely not be of sound mind. Whether that’s because they have a delusion they can work on Purslow and ensure he keeps his nose out of what really shouldn’t concern him, or worst still if they have actually fallen for the LBO-specialist’s charms, it doesn’t bode well for Liverpool FC. Failing that we face having managers with little self-respect, willing to act as little more than Purslow’s puppet, no doubt in return for a job they’d never normally have even a slight hope of getting.
Purslow has worked his charms on many already, but sooner or later people do seem to see through him, or at least they do if they care.
Purslow’s first week at the club saw him involved in Rafa getting that five-year contract the club now says it can’t afford to honour. Why offer the contract if the club can’t afford to honour it? And if the club are forced to offer £3m (nine months’ wages) instead of the £16m he’s legally entitled to, due to a lack of funds, how on earth is the new manager supposed to improve the situation with the team?
People have compared Liverpool to Leeds, but perhaps the most apt comparison right now is with Newcastle. Kenny Dalglish has his own bad memories of that place, and is no doubt aware of how his predecessor in the Red number 7 shirt was treated on his return for a second spell as manager. Hailed as the returning Messiah, Keegan soon felt what it was like to have been brought in purely in the hope his reputation and good standing would be enough to paper over massive cracks.
Whoever the next manager is, would there be any surprise to find Liverpool FC, like Newcastle before relegation, had directors interfering with the choice of transfer targets, lining players up without even informing the manager? Yet allowing their manager to take the heat for their mistakes? Well that part about blaming the manager for anything and everything already happens, and has done for at least 12 months since the arrival of Christian Purslow.
The owners are impotent in terms of dealing with this mess they’ve created. They’ve now both admitted they want out and furthermore that they hate the interference it brings to their private lives.
But their blame in this is that they allowed Christian Purslow, and now Martin Broughton, to take over the running of the club. Neither has any experience whatsoever in football, and their man-management skills are from a world very, very, far removed from the football world.
Broughton and Purslow have instigated this fight to force Rafa out without paying up. Broughton the man alleged to let secrets slip to pretty Sky Sports News reporters whilst partying at his beloved Chelsea’s end-of-season awards function. Purslow the man who was part of a previous and failed coup attempt, advising Steve Morgan on his attempt to buy the club for far less than it was actually worth.
As their talks with the holidaying manager’s lawyers went on, they had at least one board member out of the country and both owners back in their US homeland. This was all the work of the upper-crust Chuckle Brothers. The taller Chuckle Brother was leaking the story to certain individuals in the press early yesterday, but implying agreement was already reached. The short one had done his work by convincing the taller one to join him in his fight with Rafa.
There’s a protest planned tonight at 6pm at Anfield. All fans are welcome. This isn’t “just” Spirit of Shankly. This isn’t “just” about Rafa. This is for any and all fans of Liverpool Football Club, whatever your views on the supporters’ union or Rafa. This is for the club. This is for the future.
Some people can’t make it. Short notice, work commitments and travel issues make that the case. But if you can make it, please try to do so. Whatever you think of Rafa, this was not the way to get rid of a manager of Liverpool Football Club, and even if there were good reasons for him to go they weren’t the reasons he was forced out.
Whoever they bring in as their puppet, we must do all we can to ensure they never pull our strings again.
Anfield. Tonight. 6pm.