Rafa planning for Anfield future

Talk that Rafael Benitez is set to leave this summer unless he’s backed by the board to the tune of up to £40million are, as we said earlier in the week, wide of the mark. Rafa wants to stay and continue the job he started when he took over in 2004. Rafa is an honest man and doesn’t want to lie, even to the newspapers that often twist things for their own needs. Benitez will leave Anfield one day, and if the board lie to him or go back on promises without giving good reasons then that day could be sooner than expected. For now though the Spaniard is very happy with life in charge of the Reds, and is concentrating more on improving the squad than on answering questions.

Rafa told a press conference at Melwood yesterday that money for transfers is just part of a bigger picture when it comes to improving the side: “Rick Parry and the board are working on solutions for the future, and I have confidence in them. I do not know if we have more or less money – but we are working on new ideas, working with the players we have and thinking about who we have out on loan, then we will consider the transfer market and making use of what we already have here.”

Benitez has been working for the long-term as much as the short-term, with a new squad of youngsters working together in the reserves. He cites this as a reason for those who doubt he intends to stay too long: “We have signed Antonio Barragan, Gabriel Paletta and Daniel Agger, while Mark Gonzalez will be here in the summer – all very young players for the future. If as a manager you are thinking about your future then you cannot sign players who are 20 and 21-years-old. It would be better for me to sign players who are 28 with experience. Then you can work with them for one year, two years and then finish. We are thinking about young players for the future, not for just one season.”

Liverpool’s search for investment is probably different to how any
other club would look for it. David Moores could have sold his shares
in the club very easily some time ago, but he doesn’t want to. Whether
that’s because he enjoys being able to control his favourite club, or
because he wants to ensure it goes into good hands, it’s impossible to
say. What is true though is that it won’t just go to the highest
bidder. This search for the ideal investor is taking time, although an
announcement is expected before the end of the season. Rafa says he’ll
make the best use of whatever resources he is given: “The club are
working to improve, they have been working for a couple of years trying
to find some more money, I know they are looking and trying to find
solutions. If they cannot I will try to do my best, for sure. It is
difficult to say if you lose the Champions League whether things will
be more difficult. As a manager you must work with the players that you
have. We will try to improve the squad and the players with the money
we have at this moment. If we had more money, yes it would be better.”

The fact remains that as boss at Anfield, Rafa gets to choose how to
spend the transfer budget. If one player is more expensive than
expected it is Rafa’s decision whether to buy that player and sacrifice
in other areas, or to let the player go. In Spain he would ask for a
particular type of player and then have to make use of whoever the
club’s president chose to buy. As things stand, Rafa is more than happy
with his role at Anfield, and wants to get on with the day-to-day work
of winning games now: “I am only concerned with winning the next game
and working as hard as possible for my club. I do not have a problem
now; I want to improve my team this season and in the future. If you
continue winning in the Champions League you will earn more money. We
do not have that any more so we need to work with the players here and
try to find the best solution in terms of money. Sometimes it is not
just receiving a big amount of money that solves things; it is how you
use your imagination with how you spend what you have.” Rafa’s
imagination has worked quite well so far.

Rafa was also not going to fall into a trap of a knee-jerk reaction to
the Benfica defeat: “In football everything can change after one game.
Now we need to think about the future but you cannot say we are worse
than one day before playing Benfica. We are the same team and we need
to think about the Premier League and FA Cup now.”

He was asked if he was likely to make signings in the summer and if
current players – especially the strikers – were playing for their
futures. He wouldn’t be drawn: “If you want to improve you can do it by
working harder or by signing new players. We are working on buying good
players for us; every big club is doing that. Everyone needs to improve
and change things if needed, but this is normal, it is nothing new,
just the same for every club when you finish a season. It is the same
every year. The players are not thinking about what happens in the
future, they are only thinking about winning, we are professionals.”

Liverpool have scouts out looking for talent, and Rafa says they need
to keep up those efforts: “We need to work harder looking for new
players because we know what the situation is and what must be done. We
are working now. The scouting department is working on improving the
team. When you lose a game as important as this one, I prefer not to
talk about new players or current players. Or what mistakes we made. I
just want to change such things.” Rafa wants his actions to speak
louder than his words; he wants the Reds to keep working hard, to keep
improving, and to keep building on what they’ve already achieved: “In
terms of our mentality, we need to be stronger. We must think about the
future and work hard now.”

One of the excellent signings made by Rafa was when he brought
midfielder Xabi Alonso to the club. Xabi was asked by the Liverpool
Echo if he thought Rafa might be considering leaving. Not a chance
according to Xabi, thanks in no small way to the support at Anfield on
Wednesday: “The crowd was superb and you can’t ask for more than this.
At 2-0 down they knew we were out of the Champions League, but they
were still singing and making us feel their support. It’s been a
disappointing night for Rafa but I know he’s really focused and
committed to the club. He realises how passionate this crowd is and how
much they adore him. It would be impossible for him to find another
crowd like this.”

Rafa himself had earlier spoken about how proud he was of the crowd,
especially when they applauded the opponents and winners Benfica. Xabi
loves the fans and the club too and he knows his boss does: “Our crowd
is so special because they react as well when we’re feeling low as when
we’ve had success. I’m not worried about the situation with Rafa and
the rumours. I know how he feels about the club.”

Xabi thought Liverpool had a good chance to win the European Cup again,
but in the end missed chances meant they would not manage to get
through this round: “The first 20 minutes we had a lot of good chances
to score. When they scored they put themselves in a really good
situation. By the end it was impossible for us and we’re really
disappointed. We wanted to repeat our triumph of last season. We feel
we have a better team than last season and could have won it again, but
in the knockout anything can happen. It’s like Charlton in that we
created a lot of opportunities but couldn’t score the goal.”

Xabi was asked how the lack of goals was affecting the players, he
said: “We have to be worried about this. To win games, obviously, you
must score goals. This is something we’ll have to analyse and work on.
Scoring is not just the exclusive job of the strikers. The midfielders
have responsibility, too.”

Rather than looking back with regret though Xabi says that the Reds are
still focussed on their two remaining targets: “We have to look
forward. We want to finish second and win the FA Cup.”