Rafa Benitez chose to rest Jamie Carragher in midweek with one eye on the number of upcoming fixtures for Liverpool. In the end the number of potential fixtures was reduced with Liverpool dumped out of the Carling Cup. Perhaps Rafa was wishing he’d got that centre-half he’d promised us all summer (along with a right-winger). Central defence is traditionally a position for older players, and Zak Whitbread still has time to mature into a first-choice centre-back, but Rafa won’t want to use him for Premiership games yet unless injuries force his hand.
In fact Rafa feels short of quality in depth in a number of places on the field and now says he wants to address that in the January transfer window. Speaking yesterday, Rafa said: "In some positions, we don’t have enough players. You can’t change things that happened in the summer now, but we can put it right in January. We know we need to think about the future. When you’ve missed a player you need in the summer, you must make sure you fill the position in January. Our scout department is working hard to find at least the two players we need, a right midfielder and centre-back."
Once again, the right-winger and centre-back are mentioned. Liverpool were close with a number of signings, but it seems were used by some players to engineer better deals with either their own clubs or other clubs that had shown interest. Rafa still thinks that he’ll be successful with his new year dealings: "I’m confident we will sign the players we want in January because Liverpool are an attractive club to top players. If it’s possible to sign more than two players, I will. I still hope Mark Gonzalez will be able to join us in January. The four players we signed in the summer give us more quality. We have done some good things, but we know we needed to do more. We’ve made two mistakes by not signing a right midfielder and a centre-back, but we got four things right with the players we brought in."
Rafa may also be regretting letting some of Liverpool players of last season move on. Vladimir Smicer made a significant impact in his last game in the Red shirt – scoring the second goal as Liverpool turned the European Cup final round into their favour. After the last home game of last season, a reflective-looking Vladi took a last walk around the perimeter of the Anfield pitch as he said his own goodbyes to the club that he had been part of for so many years. If Rafa had realised how much trouble he’d have with his signings, he could have got Vladi to stay another year, and probably for very little money. Vladi was always willing to work hard on either wing or in the centre. Unfortunately though Rafa had no crystal ball and so no way of knowing how things would turn out. Maybe Antonio Nunez, the right-winger that joined as part of the Michael Owen deal, would have been given another year to try his luck. Rafa still thinks the squad has improved on last year though: "We have a better squad than last year, but I think recent results show we don’t have the balance. In some positions we know we need to do something for the future. We are preparing now for the transfer window. We tried hard to sign players for the right side and centre-backs, but when you try for one month for one player and then he says no, as in the case of Luis Figo, you have less time to go for the next name on your list. If that player isn’t sure if he wants to join you either, you move to the next. You have a responsibility not to spend more than the player is worth."
Luis Figo was a signing that would have excited a lot of Reds fans had he signed. With the Portugeuse start coming to the end of his career though was the worry for many that he may have been only coming to Anfield for the money. As the saga dragged on and on, his comments that Anfield was "a dream move" were seeming to be shallow words. Ultimately it was clear that he had his mind made up: he passed up the chance of playing for the European Champions and some of the most passionate fans in Europe to play for the team that were knocked out of the European Cup by their local rivals and who had seen their supporters banned from home games for actions in that game. Rather than being part of a European night in front of forty-odd thousand passionate Reds watching their side defend their Champions League title, he chose to play in an empty stadium. Liverpool need players willing to fight for their place in the side, and now it’s clear that Figo perhaps would not have been the right type of player to wear that Red shirt.
As for Rafa, he’s not revealing any names, but maybe the delays just meant Liverpool ran out of time. There’s nothing to stop negotiations continuing behind the scenes, and it seems Liverpool might just have some deals lined up for the new year: "We had a lot of names in the summer, but they all proved difficult. I’m confident it will be different in January."