Fresh quotes this morning blaming Liverpool’s on-field mess on the owners’ off-field meddling have been attributed to Rafa Benitez, in an “exclusive” by Rob Beasley. But can we believe them?
Rob Beasley is a journalist working in London for the News of the World. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to have seen him speak on the Sky discussion show “The Sunday Supplement” you’ll probably take much of what he says about Liverpool with a pinch of salt. Especially if what he’s talking about somehow relates to Chelsea, who happen to be the Reds’ opponents today.
Beasley is the one who claimed he had been kept informed of Jose Mourinho’s intentions with regards the England job, right up until the moment he was told that Mourinho wasn’t going to take the job because he’d got a better offer from a club side somewhere. He claimed he got regular texts off Mourinho.
Beasley is also the one who knew about Ashley Cole’s dodgy discussions with Chelsea when still an Arsenal player, he knew about this tapping-up incident before either Arsenal or the authorities did. Considering that the only people who would have known about it then were the player, his agent and Chelsea, it narrows down the possibilities of who tipped him off, and of who wanted to make it harder for Arsenal to hold onto their player.
Reading most of his articles, listening to most of his comments, his apparent love of Frank Lampard and Chelsea jumps out of the page at you, his comments often seeming clouded as a result. The only time he seems to have had a pop at Chelsea was when he claimed – exclusively – that Avram Grant would be gone by Christmas, Steve Clarke within two weeks. That was at the end of September, after a run of four (he put it in caps) games without a win. Both are still there of course. Beasley got it wrong. Did he make it up?
It’s rather strange, therefore, that Rafael Benitez would give an exclusive to Beasley of all people ahead of the game against Chelsea.
First of all, Rafa’s exclusives generally go to those he trusts in the press. Beasley’s colleague at the paper Chris Bascombe is the man he’s used many times in the past to give exclusives to, or to leak information through. Last week’s News of the World featured some heavy criticism of Rafa from Bascombe, mostly written when the scores were level and the Reds were still struggling in a game that followed five without a win. He spoke of discontent from Carragher and Gerrard, and wouldn’t have been surprised had he upset the Reds boss.
With that in mind, perhaps Rafa wouldn’t be willing to give an exclusive to Bascombe. But why would he instead give one to Beasley? He’s got plenty of other allies in the press: Paul Joyce, Oliver Kay and Tony Barrett to name just three. There simply is no reason for him to speak exclusively to Beasley.
Beasley proves this with his “exclusive” article, headlined: “It’s your fault – Benitez in new blast at owners.”
Beasley starts off with his intentions pretty clear. He wants Rafa to get an ear-bashing from the owners, saying Rafa has “again risked the wrath of Liverpool’s American owners by blaming them for ruining his team’s title hopes.” Beasley claims Rafa told him that the owners’ Jurgen Klinsmann moves in November “de-stabilised the club and undermined all hopes of winning the Premier League.”
Still without a quote from Rafa, Beasley then tells us that Rafa “chose his words carefully” and that this is “hardly surprising after receiving a rap from Tom Hicks and George Gillett for earlier outbursts.”
Finally some quotes from Rafa, if indeed they are genuine quotes: “What is evident is that back at that time we were in a great position and the team was in shape to win many of the games which we eventually drew,” Rafa reportedly said. “So the entire process is what allowed the gap to open between us and the leaders.”
There’s little doubt in the minds of even the most anti-Rafa Liverpool fans that the owners’ meddling has undermined the boss. Players at any club underperform when their manager’s future is in doubt – look at Manchester United in the season where Ferguson planned to retire. Rafa had to abandon hope of beating Reading away because he knew that a few days later a defeat in the Champions League would have ended his time as Liverpool boss, he was blocked from negotiating transfers, blocked from appointing a new assistant to replace Pako Ayesteran, had to endure taunts from opposition fans that he was about to be sacked and saw the owners denying just about anything other than their plan to sack him. He was mocked and criticised publicly by Tom Hicks, and knew that both owners were looking at selling up. Whether he said it or not remains to be seen, but it’s certainly correct: “If I wanted, I have the perfect excuse,” he reportedly said.
Beasley closes with this alleged quote from Rafa: “The only solution I have is to try to bury myself in my work. And it is vital we win today to enable us to fight at least for that fourth-place spot.”
Back in January Beasley was on the more-often-than-not nauseous Sunday Supplement when he had a dig at Rafa. Again the News of the World had run an article attacking Rafa, again it didn’t have Chris Bascombe’s name against it. It was headlined “Rafa: I’m a dead man walking”. This was the article carrying quotes allegedly from “a close friend of Benitez”, but which could be seen easily to be untrue by the way the referenced Mascherano refusing to sign, when in reality there was no deal on the table for him to sign. All the Sundays covered the story, but it was the News of the World that carried the quotes, designed to sound as if they’d come from the man himself. Rafa strongly denied the following day that they had come from him, or from any friend of his.
It didn’t stop Beasley from taking the opportunity to attack Rafa on the Sky programme. “I think this is classic Benitez,” Beasley sneered, “he behaves at times like a petulant spoilt brat. One of his favourite ploys is to give these secret little briefings where he asks journalists to turn off their microphones and he then gives them a bit of inside information.” And of course Rafa is the only manager to do that is he Beasley?
He went on, clearly enjoying the chance to attack the manager that twice sent his beloved Chelsea and Mourinho crashing out of the Champions League: “He’s certainly got a problem with the new owners, he’s spent a lot of money and now he wants more. The thing about Benitez that annoys me is not just his petulance, but nothing is ever his fault.” This coming from Mourinho’s friend! He went on: “But when things go well it’s always to his credit and nobody else’s and I don’t like that in a manager.”
He wasn’t stopping there: “He’s made a classic mistake of believing his own publicity. He’s had a degree of success at Liverpool – nothing in the Premier League – they haven’t won the championship since 1989-90 and that’s a long time for Liverpool not to be the dominant force in English football.”
His hatred dripping from his mouth, he carried on sticking that knife in: “Yes he’s had Champions League success once and they won the FA Cup under Benitez, but that’s not the success that is expected at Liverpool.”
And then: “People try and make him out to be some sort of tactical magician, well he wasn’t a tactical magician in the 2005 Champions League final because they were being trounced by Milan and so his tactics were quite clearly wrong. And if anybody says ‘well he was a tactical genius because he turned it around’ well when you’re in that sort of a mess it doesn’t take much tactics to say ‘we’re in a mess, let’s just go and attack and try and get back and turn it around’.”
But that wasn’t enough, so on he went, the bloodlust getting the better of him: “And again against West Ham in the 2006 FA Cup final, they were out thought, out manoeuvred and trailing. It was the last throw of the dice – ‘let’s pile forward’ and Steven Gerrard got them out of jail in that one as well. Both finals they won on penalties.”
Who did Liverpool knock out on the way to that FA Cup win? Chelsea of course.
Unbelievably, he thought he’d better point something out: “I’m not a fan of Benitez the manager and Benitez the person.” Really? Gosh Rob, you hid it so well, we’d never have guessed. Why? “Because I think he’s a bit snide and secretive. He tries to use the press to then ignite the fans – who adore him at Liverpool – to try and put pressure on the owners.” Again, Mourinho’s mate comes out with this!
Although this programme was on before Hicks admitted he’d lined up Klinsmann to replace Rafa in readiness for sacking him, Beasley will have known well enough that the plan had been there to sack him. He’ll have known why Rafa was so upset at the infamous press conference. But facts shouldn’t get in the way of a gutter journalist on the attack. Beasley went on: “He’s made the classic mistake, he’s called it on with the owners and they’ve said ‘no, we’re in charge, not you, get your head down’. If you remember not that long ago there was that classic press conference when Benitez showed his petulance and stupidity to the extreme where he’d had a tiff, they’d rapped him across the knuckles and said ‘keep your head down, focus on coaching and training the players – that’s your job’. And in the press conference Benitez was asked 25 different questions. 25 times he said ‘my job is to focus on the coaching and training of the players’.
“Now after you’ve been wrapped across the knuckles by your boss and you go and do that, you are effectively saying ‘sod you’ and the owners have come back to him and said ‘no, sod you!'”
Well sod you Beasley – you say all this about Rafa and then weeks later expect us to believe he’s given you an exclusive? Something doesn’t add up – I’d guess that either you’ve twisted words spoken off the record (and to someone else not you), or you’ve made all of this up.
Seriously – would anyone in their right mind believe that Rafa would go to such an agenda-driven reporter who has attacked him so often?
Rafa didn’t speak to Beasley. Beasley wanted to stir up trouble. And what a day to do it on – the day your favourite team face Liverpool. The team you saw knock your beloved blues out of the Champions League twice and the FA Cup once. The team who’ve not done quite so well in the league against you, but were only denied three points earlier in the season thanks to the dodgiest refereeing decision outside of Italian football. The team based in Liverpool, city of the Scousers you so dislike.
Liverpool aren’t the team they were at the beginning of the season though, the team that had Chelsea on the ropes. Rafa’s not completely devoid of blame, but he’s certainly had the stuffing knocked out of his plans by owners who have done more to set the club back than any rival manager could hope to. Liverpool’s confidence-shattered squad has only a slim chance of winning today, and that was the case even before Fernando Torres suffered a hamstring injury. Despite his best efforts, Rob Beasley’s continuous attacks on Rafa are little more than midge bites on the battered and broken body of a manager who has been betrayed.
UPDATE: We now know where Weasely Beasley got his words from. An interview in El Mundo.
The interviewer said that a few months back the owners didn’t trust in Rafa’s work, even though the team was six points behind the leaders with a game in hand. Rafa was asked if he thought the controversy had negatively affected the team’s progress since. Rafa’s reply was rather different to Beasley’s twisted wording, Rafa actually saying: “As coach I could say yes. It would be the perfect excuse, but I do not want to use it. What is clear is that at that time we were in a good position, the team was close to winning many of those games that we drew, and that is what saw us go down in position.”
It’s had to be translated from the Spanish (which explains why the words in Beasley’s quote didn’t sound like Rafa’s words – ‘evident’ and ‘enable’ for example). But Beasley’s proved quite conclusively in this article that nothing he writes should ever be taken at face value, and that’s the kindest way I can put it.