What a difference 22 years makes

Liverpool Football Club lost their fourth game in a row on Tuesday night, for the first time in 22 years.

The snipers who’d gone into hiding when Liverpool thumped Manchester United 4-1 last season, staying there throughout the run that saw Liverpool finish second, seemed somehow glad to be able to show their faces again. More and more have come out of hiding as the season has gone from bad to worse.

As well as the snipers who only seem to appear during the bad times, seemingly unable to enjoy the good times, a lot of those fans who are there regardless of the results are starting to get restless. Somebody needs to be blamed for the problems, and for many of those now shouting about the situation the answer is as simple as swapping Rafael Benítez for another manager.

Ironically a lot of those who are recommending this ‘simple’ change justify it by comparing Rafa to his predecessor Gerard Houllier. But if swapping Houllier for Rafa hasn’t worked, why would swapping Rafa for the latest flavour of the month work? Especially if that flavour of the month finds he’s had to take a drop in his own wages to manage a club with expectations like Liverpool’s fans have – on a budget of a little less than nothing.

It’s understandable that people are looking at Rafa when they’re trying to find blame. Why is the Liverpool machine still not working like it used to? Is it as simple as swapping out that big component marked “manager” and installing a new one? Or should we first of all be looking at what is stopping that component from working as well as it did before it was installed here? Do we want to go the expense of changing it only to find the new version faces all the same problems and our machine still fails to work as well as we expect it to?

Comparisons with Houllier are easy, lazy almost, but don’t particularly help anyone. Those who go into hiding during the good times started to make that comparison as soon as they realised both Houllier and Benítez were foreign.

If you’re trying to fix a machine you don’t usually compare it to a broken one. You compare it to one that works, you find the differences and you hopefully find what needs to be changed, tweaked or reset.

The last time Liverpool lost four games in a row was when the manager was Kenny Dalglish. Liverpool had been a well-oiled machine since Bill Shankly first turned them into one in the sixties. When he stepped aside Bob Paisley stepped into his shoes and because the rest of the machine worked so well he was able to not only continue what his predecessor had done but improve on it.

Paisley stepped aside for Fagan, Fagan stepped aside for Dalglish. In Dalglish’s first season as manager he won the double, winning the FA Cup – a trophy Bob Paisley never won during his time as Reds boss.

But Kenny’s second season wasn’t quite as good. Liverpool fans stood by him, but the press and fans of other clubs were suggesting he’d only won the double in his first season because he’d inherited a squad that could more or less manage itself.

The Reds found out early that they’d not be retaining the FA Cup after going out in the third round in controversial circumstances.

They were held to a goalless draw on Luton’s awful plastic pitch and so a replay was required at Anfield. Luton’s supporters travelled up to Liverpool in bad weather to watch the replay – but their players weren’t quite so dedicated and simply didn’t make it. They’d left it too late and were stranded in Luton because of the snow. The game was called off.

Liverpool were unhappy with the arrangements for the rearranged fixture. Two days after playing a league game on the Saturday they had to play Luton in that replay. It was another goalless draw and at that time it meant another replay would be required. That was scheduled another 48 hours later, down in Luton, and a tired Liverpool side were beaten 3-0 and sent out of the cup.

Of course Liverpool fans directed their anger at the FA for allowing the situation to develop that way; it never really crossed anyone’s mind to criticise Kenny.

It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to picture how that kind of defeat would be received today. Liverpool had failed to score in 270 minutes of football against Luton, and then got hammered 3-0 in the last game. Luton were in the top flight then but hardly a major force. It would just be an excuse to blame fixture congestion, after all both sides had the same amount of time between games. And if those players can’t play on a plastic pitch in front of only home fans why is the manager even picking them? Why did he buy them for that matter?

The next game for that side wasn’t great either. It was the first-leg of the League Cup semi-final and it ended goalless away to Southampton. Again Liverpool had failed to score. 360 minutes without a goal.

But Kenny was the manager at the time, and of course Kenny had earned a huge amount of respect thanks to his exploits on the field let alone off them, so by and large any criticism was constructive and venom was mainly reserved for the managers and players of other clubs, not our own.

Liverpool won the next game 4-3. Today that might be classed as a lucky win, but at the time it was enjoyed for what it was. All those games without a goal were forgotten. Liverpool got four in one game, three of them from Ian Rush.

Even mention of the scorer of the hat-trick would lead to criticism in today’s climate. Rush was in his last season before leaving for Juventus. Such an important player, yet he was going to be allowed to leave. The critics of today would put that down to the manager, for forcing the player out or for not trying hard enough to keep him.

The 4-3 might have ended the goal drought, but it didn’t lead to a run of wins. Liverpool drew the next game 2-2 at Villa Park and again, in today’s climate, the complaints about the dropped points would be heard long into the night.

The patchy spell did come to an end a few days later when Liverpool won what would be the first of six wins in a row. It was a 3-0 win at home to Southampton, a win that sent them to Wembley for the League Cup final. Not quite as glamorous as the FA Cup, but a trip to Wembley for some silverware nonetheless.

In today’s climate those snipers would be mysteriously silent – if there’s nothing to complain about there’s nothing to say.

That run of six wins ended when Liverpool lost at White Hart Lane late in March. That defeat was the first of the four defeats in a row, the run that has taken 22 years to be repeated. The second defeat was at Anfield against Wimbledon and was hardly the ideal preparation for the next game – the League Cup final.

That final was against Arsenal, and when Ian Rush scored after 23 minutes it looked like a formality for the Reds. Everybody knew that whenever Ian Rush had scored in a game for Liverpool they had never lost, a record that had lasted for seven years.  Unfortunately that was the day that record came to an end.  Arsenal won 2-1.

At the time it was of course disappointing, it was a long and subdued coach journey home after losing, but eventually fans would stop feeling sorry for themselves and sing about winning the league (again) instead – “and now you’re gonna believe us”.

Unfortunately a week later those hopes were dashed again. Rush’s special record was now gone, and as if to prove the previous defeat wasn’t just an exception to prove a rule he scored – and lost – against Norwich.  That was four straight defeats for Liverpool.

Kenny still got support from the fans. Nobody accused him of jinxing Rush’s record by making him leave at the end of the season. Rush was respected for his decision to move on. Kenny was respected for his decision not to stand in his way. Would that be the same today?

After that run of four games Liverpool had six more games left, of which they won three and lost two. They dropped eight points in those last six games and ended the season in second place, finishing runners up to bitter (not quite so bitter then) rivals Everton.

There was no prize of a Champions League place for finishing second in 1987. There was no European football for English sides then anyway. The FA Cup’s stay in the trophy room was over; the League Cup didn’t come back. Liverpool had ended the season without a trophy, only the second time since 1975. And perhaps worst of all, they had to endure a year of boasting from the blue lot.

But, of course, nobody was angry with Dalglish. He’d done his best. Sometimes it didn’t quite work out, sometimes he’d made mistakes and sometimes he’d had bad luck; but he had the complete trust of the fans, people who recognised that games are sometimes lost because the other side are good, not because your own side is poor.

That meant Kenny was still in place in time for the following season. No public hints from major shareholders that suggested they would like a change of manager. No public spats or hints of rifts between any members of the board. And the support from the hierarchy at the club was only outdone by the support from the fans, who were firmly behind “The King”. They trusted him to sort things out; they let him get on with doing so.

And Kenny repaid that trust and that faith the following season. Almost 12 months to the day of that fourth defeat in a row against Norwich, Liverpool beat Nottingham Forest 5-0 in a game widely regarded as being a master class in how football should be played. It was one standout moment in a season they ended as champions, thanks in no small part to the 26 league goals scored by Rush’s replacement, John Aldridge.

They lost in the FA Cup final to underdogs Wimbledon, but as big a blow as that was it would never eclipse the delight of winning the league. To this day it remains the one prize that Liverpool fans want above all else, and that’s why so many fans feel so unhappy when Liverpool have bad spells in the league.

But if the fans of 1987 had been as venomous as the fans of 2009, would Kenny have been there to win it in 1988 (and 1990)? Would 1987 have been seen as just not good enough?

What did Kenny do to put it right in 1988? How did he turn a patchy season and second place into a season finishing top with only a bit of bad luck stopping it being a double?

As 1986-87 ended Liverpool fans would be wondering how it could be any better the following season if Ian Rush wasn’t going to be there to rescue them. Kenny came up with the answer.

He signed John Aldridge for £750,000 as a more or less straight replacement for Rushie – but had he left it at that the squad would not really have been an improvement on the one that had stuttered during the previous season.

He didn’t leave it at that though, he made two more signings that turned out to be two of the most important signings Liverpool have made.

John Barnes was signed for £900,000 and Peter Beardsley for a then-British-record of £1.9m to make sure that Aldridge would have the service and support he needed. The board had backed Dalglish by letting him make those signings, signings that added up to more than the £3m Juventus had paid for Rush at a time when TV rights were almost given away.

In some ways Rafa Benítez faced a similar situation with his squad in the summer of 2009. Xabi Alonso had left for Real Madrid, the side had finished second in the league the season before, Rafa needed do something to push that bit harder if he was to go one further and win the league.

And listening to comments from Benítez earlier this week, perhaps he’d tried to something similar to what Kenny did in the summer of 1987.

His replacement for Alonso was Alberto Aquilani. Unfortunately Liverpool signed the player knowing he’d not be available immediately as he was recovering from surgery, but the suggestion was that in return for having to wait until he could be used, Liverpool had got him at a lower price than he was worth. Time will tell.

Rafa also bought Glen Johnson, and clearly it was his attacking abilities that had caught Rafa’s eye. The deal was also done partly from funds that Portsmouth had still owed Liverpool and had been struggling to pay. Liverpool had needed a new right-back in any case with Arbeloa leaving in the summer.

Greek centre-back Kyrgiakos was signed as cover, at £1.5m he is handy to have in the squad but isn’t seen as anything more than the fourth-choice centre-back.

And that was the end of Rafa’s summer signings – but he spoke this week about a fourth target they’d been looking at buying. He never elaborated on why the player wasn’t signed, but all the signs are that Rafa just wasn’t given the funds to do it.

He’d had discussions with Valencia about buying David Silva earlier in the summer, and with Xabi Alonso eventually going for such a high fee many expected that Silva would be signed before the transfer window closed. But something seemed to change at the club, and despite statements to the contrary there remains a sense that Rafa’s funds were pulled at the eleventh hour.

For the first time ever, discussions about transfer funds were now including the costs of players’ improved contracts. But purely in terms of transfer fees Liverpool had more or less broken even, and that’s without taking into account any money left over from the previous summer’s budget as a result of selling Keane back to Spurs.

Silva was targeted as a player who could happily play in a number of attacking positions, a player who was highly rated by Rafa. A player who might have made the difference in some of those recent defeats.

In 1987 Kenny lost Rush but got Aldo, Barnes and Beardsley. He won the league.

In 2009 Rafa lost Xabi and got an injured Aquilani, Johnson and that was it.

Despite attempts to claim otherwise, it’s clear that at least one of the club’s owners is no fan of Rafa; recent comments attributed to him during a conversation with a supporter would do little more than undermine the manager.

Whatever their intentions individually or as a partnership, it seems clear that last summer the current owners were unable to deliver what Rafa needed in terms of funding. Public statements have been made to try and portray that everyone is happy, but Rafa seems more to have just accepted the situation than to have been happy about it.

Had Silva been in the squad at the start of the season Rafa might have put him into the position where Gerrard usually plays, dropping Gerrard deeper in place of Xabi until Aquilani was fit. Voronin had seemed set to leave the club, yet found himself retained having spent the previous season out on loan.

Liverpool’s owners need to find a way as soon as possible to get the money flowing in a way that gives the manager more than a break-even budget for transfers. If that means issuing new shares to in effect dilute their own share, or one of them selling his half and letting the other take control, or both of them selling up to new owners, something has to be done.

But in terms of the season we’re in, no amount of money will make a difference this side of Christmas. And with that in mind the support Rafa needs now is from his players and from the supporters.

If Kenny had been let down by the club’s owners in 1987, he’d still have had the fans on his side and he may still have pulled off the successes he did. Without the support of the fans he’d have struggled, he’d have felt demoralised and Liverpool’s decline could have started much sooner.

Rafa, and his players, need support from the fans. Constructive criticism where needed and praise when it’s due, but overall they need support.

24 thoughts on “What a difference 22 years makes”

  1. A great article. Balanced, well thought out and without the usual histrioncs of some other articles.

  2. I’m not sure that the attempted parallels are even vaguely valid, Especially since Kenny won the double in the season before the 4 losses? When last did we win anything. Surely a manager who wins the double in his first season, then ends second in the next season should be supported? Your suggestions that Rafa’s results over the last two seasons are comparable to winning the double are, at best highly debatable. The concerning thing that we are facing here is the way we are losing these games. Dreadful Formation changes, Defensive attitude when playing Sunderland!! inability to man manage and get the best from players and bad, match losing substitutions and team selections. Not only has Rafa consistently sold good players (Crouch, Keane, Alonso) and kept weak ones (Voronin, Ngog and Lucas), destroying the depth at the club, he compounds this with crazy selections, playing players ot of position (eg. Yossi, Kuyt, Aurelio) and ignoring the quality players Riera, Mascherano and Babel. Lyon was a perfect example – two international players who have performed superbly for their country and other clubs (Voronin and Babel) are left on the bench so that Ngog, a 20 year old who’s record shows 1 goal in 18 games for PSG can play in a must win CL game?? Instead Voronin and Kuyt could play up front, fed by Babel and Yossi on their correct wings. And Carra could play RB with Skrtl partnering Agger. Why does Rafa debut youngsters in vital games?

    Sadly the biggest problems are unhappy players, bad selection, bad tactics and formations and debilitating substitutions. All of these can be placed squarely on the managers shoulders. In many situations it is simply a case of people no longer being right for the job. Bill gates is perhaps the best example. He built one of the greatest companies ever, but he knew when he was no longer making the decisions that were best for Microsoft so he moved on. It is time that Rafa was moved on or that he reinvents himself. We are facing another trophyless season and now it looks like we will have to fight for a CL place not to mention crashing out of this seasons CL with dire financial implications for our beloved club.

    The discussions shouldn’t be about what Rafa achieved, rather about what does his conyinuance as our manager lead too. In truth we should be focussing on finding his replacement, not trying to extend his tenure

  3. One last comment, It is 56 years ago since we lost 5 games in a row and the Bookmakers are clear on who they favour on Sunday. Assuming then that Arsenal can put away the Hammers, that would leave us 6 points off the 4th place spot… Note how suddenly fourth place looks like an acceptable target… If you still question what a change of manager can so for a club, just ask Spurs who now sit comfortably 4 points ahead of us with that “useless” Robbie Keane sitting at joint 5th in the Goalscores table while we sit with Ngog. Would Kenny have been playing Ngog after selling proven international strikers Crouch and Keane?

  4. Anyone that thinks Kenny could come in and manage the club now is living in the past! Barnes and McAteer are free shall we go for them aswell??

  5. First of all, let me say that anything in life has its good and its bad sides. Nothing, and no-one, is perfect. Football is not exempt. Every good player will have bad games, and every system a manager deploys will work sometimes and fail on others. Football relies on skill, and judgement, but also luck, run of the ball, force majeure, and the many facets of cause and effect.

    A player making a great overlapping run is instantly a fool if the ball to him is cut out. A striker can miss with a technically brilliant effort but score with his arse. A goalkeeper can make 15 brilliant saves but be written off upon his first slip up.

    For anyone who paints my viewpoint as one in which Benítez can do no wrong, let me make it clear that this is bullshit.

    However, he deserves to be judged like all managers and that clearly isn’t the case with the British media, who seem to distrust his standoffishness (he’s not their mate), his foreignness (he doesn’t do things in the traditional way) and his intelligence (he uses technology, stats, etc).

    Personally, I don’t feel that the media is biased against Liverpool; big clubs are big news when they’re doing well, and even bigger news when they’re not.

    But I do think that many of its more vociferous members are biased against Benítez. Andy Gray seems obsessed with questioning every Benítez method that he sees as failing, without praising the ones that work. Gray loves players like Gerrard and Carragher, but seems set against Benítez.

    Henry Winter, who has written for the official Liverpool site and who is generally one of the better journalists, recently said that “Unlike Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger, Mark Hughes, Martin O’Neill, Harry Redknapp, Carlo Ancelotti and David Moyes, Benítez is an incredibly difficult person to warm to. Too detached, too cold.”

    I found that stunning, but it did explain why journalists are rarely in a hurry to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Brian Reade, famous Liverpool fan, columnist and author, believes that there was an agenda against Benítez from the start. His face didn’t fit.

    So I’ve compiled a list of what I see as the myths used to malign the manager, and given my explanations as to why they are untrue. The aim is to eventually create more in-depth articles on each subject that link from those listed below, in the manner that the ones on Rafa’s transfer record and zonal marking do.

    Myth: Benítez rotates too much.

    Truth: In 2008/09, Benítez rotated quite a bit less, on average, than Alex Ferguson: 115 changes compared with 141. The same applies as a whole between 2006 and 2009: 364 by Benítez to 376 by Ferguson.

    Myth: Ah, but Benítez rotates his key players too much; United keep a settled core.

    Truth: Again, the facts don’t bear this out. Benítez has a core of players – Reina, Carragher and Gerrard – who start pretty much every league match when fit, and several others, including Kuyt and Johnson (Arbeloa before him), who are not far behind. Torres is also entering this category.

    Myth: Ah, but Benítez rotates too much given that his squad isn’t as strong as United’s.

    Truth: This season Liverpool are being accused of having a weaker squad (although admittedly when several big names have been injured), but then so too are Manchester United, having lost Ronaldo and Tevez. However, Ferguson has made six and seven changes respectively in games United lost away and drew at home. By comparison, Liverpool’s team sheet has been more consistent.

    Myth: Rotation simply doesn’t work.

    Truth: Rotation does work. United have won the league by making the most changes. However, simply making changes means nothing in itself (drop your striker for the tea lady?), and there are thousands of factors that go into any single result. Sometimes fresh legs and a desire to impress mean that more can be gained from squad players ahead of tired stars, while sometimes a changed side will look disjointed and miss its main match-winners. In these cases, wisdom is easy after the event.

    What is true, however, is that most players cannot play every minute of every game, and if they do, they cannot maintain their highest standards throughout. Any sports scientist working within the game will tell you as much.

    The top-six team that was rotated the least last season was Aston Villa’s; also known as the team which collapsed in the run in like Mary Decker.

    Myth: Liverpool are a two-man team, relying on Torres and Gerrard all the time.

    Truth: No-one was saying that Xabi Alonso would not be missed when he left this summer, yet Liverpool were still a “two-man team” last season, when it suited pundits (even though those particular two men, Torres and Gerrard, only played 14 games together, and Liverpool had their best season in two decades).

    Why is the league’s best keeper, Pepe Reina (a Benítez signing) not considered worthy of addition to this “two man” team? Why is the league’s best defensive midfielder, Javier Mascherano (a Benítez signing), not considered worthy of addition to this “two man” team? Why is Jamie Carragher, who so often has been heralded as someone Liverpool would be lost without, not considered worthy of addition to this “two man” team? (When just a couple of years ago, the two man team was him and Gerrard.)

    Why is Dirk Kuyt (a Benítez signing), who scored 15 goals mostly from midfield last season, and who created countless others and worked like a dervish, not considered worthy of addition to this “two man” team? Why is Yossi Benayoun (a Benítez signing), who was arguably the best player in England in the final months of last season, not considered worthy of addition to this “two man” team? Why is Glen Johnson (a Benítez signing), who has already scored two and created several other goals, not considered worthy of addition to this “two man” team? And for me, a fully fit Daniel Agger (a Benítez signing) is as good as anyone in the world in his position, and certainly worthy of addition to this “two-man” team. (Also, Skrtel is a top-class defender, when he hasn’t got a broken jaw.)

    All last season, the general consensus was that Liverpool had a title-winning spine, but not quite enough in wide areas. While Alonso has left, the other six spine members are still present, with Johnson added to the wings (albeit from full-back). Yes, Torres and Gerrard are the best two players, but take the best two players out of any top side and of course they will lose something. It shouldn’t take an IQ of above 50 to realise this. (Unfortunately, some ex-footballers fall below that mark.)

    Myth: Zonal marking doesn’t work.

    Truth: Liverpool have finished top of the set-piece defending league under Benítez (2005/06) using zonal marking, and did very well again a season later.

    The truth is that Liverpool are on average now over two inches shorter than in the days of Sissoko, Crouch, Hyypia, Traore, et al, and therefore will always be more susceptible to good delivery into the box. Insua is a far better player than Traore, but the latter was about eight inches taller. Riise was 6ft and good in the air defensively, but his form fell away in his final season. Insua is a better footballer, but the inclusion of such players will always come with a slight downside.

    Experts who have used both methods (such as Gordon Strachan) can attest to the particular pros and cons of zonal and man-marking; neither is perfect, but you use what suits you. Such people agree that players “get a run” to attack the ball no matter which system is used. After all, has a man never lost his marker to win a free header?

    It doesn’t help that penalties are being included in figures damning Liverpool’s set-piece defending this season. Who marks zonally from a spot kick? (Actually, everyone! – the keeper is the ultimate zone defender who doesn’t mark up but positions himself to deal with the ball.)

    Myth: Benítez has spent £250m.

    Truth: The current squad costs £140m, with four rival squads currently costing in excess of £200m. Benítez has spent a lot if you ignore how he’s had to sell players to buy better ones, making profits on many of his signings to reinvest. Sissoko led to Mascherano, Bellamy to Torres, and Crouch, indirectly (due to transfer fees owed), to Johnson. Surely the only gauge is what the current squad costs, as a manager will almost always put every penny available to him into the set up.

    Ronnie Whelan said on Irish TV last month that the Liverpool eleven sent out to face Debrecen cost £250m. How many people will believe that? Quite a few, unfortunately.

    It actually cost £78m. In what other profession would an “expert” get away with such utter mindless bollocks? Great player, but a total fool of a pundit. It’s a bit like a film critic claiming that a low budget indie film cost more to make than Titanic; he’d lose his job and credibility in an instant.

    What’s clearly true is that Benítez has never been able to get anywhere near the British transfer record, whereas someone like Alex Ferguson has smashed it several times.

    What’s also true is that the more Benítez has spent on a player, the better on average the signing has proven to be; but the majority of his signings have been due to a compromise of one kind or another, and many of his main targets were deemed too expensive, even though players like Alves and Simao would not have cost even half of the British transfer record (and both went on to be sold for far higher fees, suggesting they were the ‘real deal’). There is no doubt that Chelsea and Manchester United could have afforded these two players, and that was a key difference; instead of Simao, Benítez only had enough money for Pennant.

    Liverpool also lag seriously behind in terms of wage bill, and a club’s wage bill heavily correlates to success; in other words, 90% of the time the biggest payers win the prizes. Transfer fees can be arbitrary, but only the richest clubs can afford to keep a large group of top players on the payroll.

    Myth: Benítez has a poor record in the transfer market.

    Truth: Well, if you only list a manager’s flops, then of course that’s the case. By my reckoning, if 50% of a manager’s signings succeed to any degree, he’ll be onto something. And only around 10-20% need to be very special indeed.

    What’s strange is how Benítez’s flops get scrutinised, and yet those of Wenger, Ferguson (and Mourinho) get totally overlooked. Some of that is due to the success those managers have had, although often that success was stymied following some really dodgy signings. In truth, Ferguson could only excel from his 7th season onwards, Wenger has been unable to excel since the Premier League went über-rich, and Mourinho only succeeded with the help of a expenditure that puts Liverpool’s in the shade.

    Myth: Benítez’s teams are too defensive.

    Truth: They are attack-minded, and always have been, but not at the expense of balance. There’s no point attacking too freely if your defence and midfield isn’t yet capable of withstanding the counter-attacks. In his early big games, this was especially true.

    A lack of enough goalscorers was also an initial problem, with Benítez struggling to find a centre-forward he could rely on prior to 2007 – he certainly didn’t inherit one – but last season six players got into double figures, and that can easily be replicated this season.

    The Reds finished last season as the league’s top scorers, without Torres starting half of those games, and have already have an even better goals-per-game average this time around, moving up from 2 per game to almost 3.

    Myth: Benítez prioritises Europe over the Premiership.

    Truth: Undoubtedly the Spaniard struggled in his first season with English football. Obviously he was more comfortable with the Champions League, and winning that competition set in stone this particular myth, meaning that despite posting improved league showings, including the club’s two highest points tallies for 20 years (plus its fewest ever defeats in a season!), and a to-be-expected levelling off in Europe (still regular semi-finalists, but winning again would have been the ultimate miracle), the belief still persists.

    There have been times when he’s rested players in the league ahead of a big European game, but there have been European games, such as Marseilles at home, when he did the opposite (and he got slaughtered for that, too!). Once the Champions League becomes a knockout competition, there is no margin for error, but league games are rarely the be-all-and-end-all. Most managers will field a stronger team against Barcelona, Inter Milan or Real Madrid than against Hull, Stoke or Wigan if there is not sufficient rest time. That’s how football works at the top level. Doing the opposite would be suicide.

    This is especially true when teams are out of contention for the league title; both Arsenal and Liverpool fielded reserve sides in the league at the Emirates days before the two met again in the Europe.

    Benítez was also widely castigated by Neil Warnock for fielding a weakened team against Fulham when the Reds were focusing on Europe in 2006/07, yet Warnock had fielded a largely reserve side at Old Trafford earlier in the season, effectively “throwing” the game, to use his own logic.

    The truth is that without the money generated by the club massively overachieving in Europe, even a 2nd-placed league finish would have been unthinkable. Liverpool generate far less money, and don’t have the rich benefactors that other clubs rely on to buy players. Benítez must have generated approximately £100m in Champions League runs, when a UEFA Cup team would have had to perform miracles to get £10m in that time; and remember, for most of the decade prior to his arrival, Liverpool were a UEFA Cup team.

    Without a master tactician in Europe, Liverpool would be screwed in the Premiership. This is the obviously logic that too many fail to grasp. One feeds the other, but unfortunately, in terms of the added games and the extra resources needed, it can hinder, too.

    Myth: Benítez can’t man-manage.

    Truth: While he’s not a cuddly, buddy manager, he has a way of working that separates the personal from the professional. That is his method.

    While there may be some similarities with the goatie and the tubbiness, Benítez is no David Brent: “I’ve created an atmosphere where I’m a friend first, boss second. Probably entertainer third.”

    Ultimately, Rafa tries to keep the same distance from all players. That way there are no accusations of favouritism.

    However, there have been plenty of occasions when he’s given very public support to young players, or those under heavy flak from the press and fans, because they need extra protection.

    To quote myself on this issue: “What’s Benítez been doing with Lucas? How many times has he defended his own players in public only to be criticised for being blind to their faults? Can he not win? How many times did he stand by Ryan Babel, only to finally lose patience at the start of this season? And even then, he rehabilitated the Dutchman after an outburst when many people felt the player was heading for the exit. Since then, Babel has been ten times better. If Harry Redknapp had been as generous with playing time and compliments with misfiring strikers like Crouch and Keane, when each went what felt like a year without scoring, he’d have been knighted. Was that not great man-management by Benítez?”

    I do get the impression that Benítez doesn’t inflate the egos of the journalists who cover him, and has little time for pressing the flesh. His interpersonal skills, outside of those he trusts, may be lacking; especially as a man for whom English is not his native language, and who therefore has to be extra wary. He doesn’t play the media in the perfect way Alex Ferguson does, which they lap up, even when he turns on them and calls them “fucking idiots”.

    Myth: Benítez manages by numbers/makes substitutions too late.

    Truth: This is a dig at those who study the game, and use data to aid their decision making, such as Benítez (although Wenger, who does the same, is exonerated); indeed, it was a comment made by Andy Gray about Benítez only making substitutions around the 60-70 minute mark.

    Against Chelsea, after 60 minutes, Gray notes that Rafa is right to not want to have changed things; two minutes later Chelsea score, and a couple of minutes later, after getting ready to come on and receiving his instructions, Benayoun enters the fray. Gray says “it’s almost as if Benítez is managing by numbers”. How can a manager be right one minute and a robot following data the next simply by reaction almost instantaneously to a goal?

    Two things here. First, a half-time team-talk is a chance to motivate and instruct anyone under-performing in the first half. Giving someone 10-15 minutes to put in every last ounce of commitment or risk being hauled off upon no improvement is hardly revolutionary thinking.

    Second, Liverpool have a brilliant record of scoring late goals and winning games in the dying stages, which suggests that the players Benítez has on the pitch, whether brought on or kept on, are generally the right ones.

    Oh, and a third thing. Benítez changes tactics during a game, switching players, and so on. So it’s not like the only way to change a game at half-time is to bring on a sub. But when someone is truly hopeless, such as Salif Diao at Fulham in 2004, he will make an alteration at the break.

    Myth: Benítez doesn’t trust British players.

    Truth: Benítez can’t afford British players. This started when he wanted to sign Jonathan Woodgate in 2004, but was priced out of the market. The same applied with Gareth Barry four years later.

    When he did buy Crouch, Pennant, Keane and Johnson, he was mocked for paying over the odds. Meanwhile, the best English players (albeit in very small clusters), were already mostly at Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United, and therefore out of bounds (with Liverpool having their own untouchable pair in Carragher and Gerrard). Any England internationals at Everton will never head this way, either.

    Clearly a manager knows a certain market best, and for Benítez in 2004 that was Spain; which also happened to be the world’s best league at the time. Benítez has raided his homeland for its top talent, and internationals in the making – Alonso, Reina, Riera, Arbeloa and Torres – in the way Wenger did with France.

    Unfortunately, the comparisons Benítez suffered with Houllier were not helpful; while his predecessor had success in other markets,unfortunately he raided France for also-rans.

    Myth: Benítez doesn’t trust youngsters, especially local kids.

    Truth: The Academy simply hasn’t produced the players; maybe the rare gems never existed on Merseyside in order to develop, just as there haven’t been many Geordie or Mancunian sensations of late.

    These days, a top four squad is full of internationals, and the first-team full of world-class players. So it’s inevitably harder for a young player to break through. Only now does Benítez have full control of the Academy, after it produced good teams with a great attitude, but no special players.

    It could be a long time before any overhaul bears fruit; when Dalglish did so in 1986, it wasn’t until between 1993 and 1998 that the big stars emerged (with the exception of Steve McManaman in 1989). When Ferguson overhauled the United youth system, also in 1986, it was also around 1992/93 that the likes of Beckham, Scholes, Butt and Neville first started to emerge; only Giggs, a rare prodigy, broke through earlier.

    Critics should ask themselves this: of any home-grown Liverpool players to emerge since 2004, who has gone on to look good enough for the first team? Nearly all have left, and aside from Stephen Warnock, which of them has looked even remotely worthy of a place in the match-day squad? Danny Guthrie has Premiership experience, but that’s about it, and he played in the Reds’ strongest area of the pitch. Instead, there are lots of good Championship players who will never get near the top four in the top league.

    Therefore, would people rather have Neil Mellor, who will never be star, or a French 20 year old who, though far from the finished article, has internationally recognised talent for his age group? Some of Benítez’s alternatives may not prove much better in the long run, but at least they have the potential to be. At 26, Stephen Warnock was called up by England; at 20, Emiliano Insua got his first full Argentina cap.

    Myth: Benítez’s goatee hasn’t brought any luck.

    Truth: Okay, I’LL GIVE YOU THAT ONE.

    Goatee gotta go.


  6. Obviously i am not taking the credit for the above piece, too many positives to be mine. Just thought it was a decent article.

    Alot of it does make sense, but i still find all the comparisons a little weary. We cannot compare today to the past as so much has changed.

    Looking forward to Sunday, should be a good game, Fergusons mind games have started and I’m pretty certain Rooney will be fit and start. I hope he does because we know how to keep him quiet.

    Keep it real, keep it red. YNWA

  7. Lol Cantos I nearly fell off my chair! I genuinely thought you must have been visited by the ghosts of Liverpools past to write such a pro Rafa piece.

    Of course in the end it all made sense, super article, who wrote it?

  8. @ juan

    No kwnowledge mate, had it e-mailed to me this morning. Thought it was a superb piece and that the regulars on here would admire it. It is extremely well written and the author does deserve a 10/10.

    Butterflies already ahead of Sundays big game. Cant wait.

  9. jim,

    fantastic article, and im glad to see that cantos is being positive too. maybe that half full glass isnt full of piss after all 🙂

  10. Cheers Jim – I thought as much.

    Cantos Im thinking a 2 nil win on sunday and for the league to be blown wide open

  11. Fair play Cantos!

    Like him or not when the gaffer is getting stick from all sections of the media we should sing his name the loudest!

    I’ve no problem with the fans hissing a bit when Benayoun is substituted. Right or wrong, fans of the club are more than entitled to voice an opinion. However a constant negative agenda in the media about the boss of our club to sell newspapers is unacceptable.


  12. While I agree with the what is said in this artical I do have questions about certain aspects of the teams grossly inaderquate performances when it comes to corners which raises questions about Raffa’s management .
    When was the last time the team scored from a corner?, last season the corner count for many matches got into double figures, mostly the draws which cost the team the championship, without a goal being scored.
    Liverpool don’t score from corners anymore and its getting that way for any set peices in front of goal. That is a question not for the owners but the manager.

  13. Didnt Gerrard score with his head from a corner at West Ham? I personally think you should judge a manager at the end of a season. No knee jerk reactions and fully support the team and manager throughout. But for some its easier to criticise than to get behind the team.

  14. Hi guys what i did not like is the boooing to Voro whan he was coming in, maybe yes he is not a great footballer but i am sure that did not help him nor the team i totally desagree with fans booing ther own team. booing your own players is like shoting yourself in the leg.

  15. Kopite999 is right they were booing the decision. Voronin is a poor centre forward, but on top of this his confidence is rock bottom because he knows he is out of his depth, which really isnt his fault.

    I mean he’s better than me, but if i was offered a contract to play for the reds i’d take it, even if i was going to get laughed off the pitch.

    When he does play he does not want the ball, he gives the ball away with so much ease and for a centre forward he spends little or no time in the penalty area.

    Ive got a real funny feeling that we are going to beat Utd tomorrow and then go on an awesome run of form which will leave us challenging for the league.

    Come on you reds.

  16. Kopite 999 the inaffectiveness at corners has been a feature of the last 3 seasons, to talk about it is not a knee jerk reaction against the manager nor is it getting on the teams back it is a statement of fact.

    It is also the main reason in my view Liverpool didn’t become champions last season.

  17. How come you werent moaning about this at the end of last season then when we were brushing teams aside?Including wins over Man U and Chelsea. We overachieved last year with our squad not underachieved.

  18. Boys, its 9am here in the North West.

    Quick update for those not in this area, its very windy but there is not a cloud in the sky at this time and the sun is shinning.

    Perfect weather for giving Utd a hiding.

    Quick bit of breakfast and im off. Anfield awaits. We are going to beat these today, i can feel it. Love him or loathe him, Benitez will get an overwhelming amount of support today and he deserves it.


    Im like a kid at christmas, by far the greatest league fixture in the Premiership calender.

  19. What a result!

    I’ve had my head down for a few weeks looking for any excuse not to read the site daily for fear of all the Rafa kicking, hoping that we’d get a result that would unite all the fans. Todays result has to be the one.

    From front to back, the lads were awesome. Lucas in particular, given all the flack the young lad takes.

    Hard to believe that after the run we’ve had we’re still ‘only’ 6 points behind Chelsea and 4 behind United, with key players to return and many more to hit top form.

    The future looks better than it did this morning. Long may this continue!

  20. well now we know that the referee’s uniion will punish fergie even if the f a wont; was that a statement of intent; or a corrupt ref dispaly? macherano had commited ten tech fouls before his first yellow; carragher conceededa pen[or maybe he ddint! and at least a yellow]
    ref stops play for an head injury to kuyt that breaks up a united attack; but doesnt stop play for an injury to carrick; they go onto score! carragher last man fouls owen a straight red…nope wrong again; slap wrist fergie and keep it shut…or else

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