When Liverpool supporters argued and debated about Rafael Benítez and whether he was the right man for the manager’s job, there was an unspoken assumption that the arguing was all for football reasons and the good of the club.
Sadly, as time went on, fellow Liverpool supporters were starting to hate each other even more than the owners.
But Rafa’s sacking saw unity start to return. Supporters looked at the sacking of Benítez and the appointment of Roy Hodgson, including the contempt shown to supporters and the legend known as King Kenny. They realised that football had very little to do with those decisions.
The club is being run like an ailing supermarket chain, and that tends to get fans’ backs up.
Save for the bleating cynics who were on Rafa’s back the day they realised he was Spanish this club has a fan base with masses of respect for Benítez. All the more so when looking back to how it was before Christian Purslow arrived and made up new rules on transfer budgets and magical “player accounts”.
Benitez won the Champions League in his first season at the club; he turned Liverpool from a side worried about their opposition in Europe to a side respected once more in Europe. He won the FA Cup in his second season and came second in the league in his fifth season with a points total that would have won the league a year later. He brought us players we’ll always look back on with fondness, including Torres, Reina, Alonso and Mascherano not to mention key players who might not attract crazy bids from clubs with bottomless pits of money – but players like Dirk Kuyt, now a World Cup finalist, are worth more than money to a club like Liverpool FC.
But it will be Istanbul we remember Benitez for with most fondness, Istanbul we will forever feel indebted to him for. Istanbul is the yardstick for everything good that happens to Liverpool supporters these days – new fathers being some of the few that actually feel able to utter the phrase “better than Istanbul”.
He left with the genuine best wishes of large swathes of the support, but we move on; we’ve got a new manager now and new targets in mind. But if we do move on, does that mean we have to forget Benitez? Do we have to pretend Istanbul never happened?
Nobody expects Benitez to have gates named after him in the way the absolute legends like Shanks and Paisley have. Nobody really expects the club to allow him a Kop mosaic for the first home game.
But surely the night described as a miracle, the night he made possible, is a night we should always remember? We sing about it – do we have to stop? They’ve made films about it, written books about it, put plays on about it. When we’re in the Champions League again, if we get in again, we’ll wear a special badge on our sleeves that lets the world know we won it five times. Are we going to ditch that?
Of course not. Are we?
From what Anfield Road has been told, some figures at the club want to erase the memories of what Rafa and the team did in 2005. At Melwood, Liverpool’s training ground, there’s a big mural of Rafa Benítez and the lads in recognition of Istanbul. Or at least there was.
Anfield Road has been informed that Paul Tyrrell, recently installed as head of press and described by some as Christian Purslow’s attack dog, has ordered that the mural be ripped down. According to what Anfield Road was told, he was acting on the orders of Purslow.
Save for a new, improved, version going up in its place – and as far as we know there isn’t going to be – there is absolutely no reasonable excuse that comes to mind for doing this. Not without using words like “petty”. Money’s tight of course, so it’s not like we can afford to go round having murals done on a whim. And with money tight, if it’s not being taken down out of pettiness is it being taken down so players and staff aren’t reminded of what we can no longer aspire to?
Is that it? The end of the Champions League years? Is that what the club meant when it slapped “the start of a new era” on the official website?
When we went to Athens in 2007 we were gutted not to win it – but we never felt we’d never get to the final again. In 2008 and 2009 we pushed hard and put in some memorable performances, pulled off some heroic victories. It feels arrogant to say it, but we should be proud – we were bloody good. Last season saw us go off the rails in that respect, is this an admission we’ll never get back on them?
If it isn’t an admission of sights being lowered then it really does smack of a petty desire to rewrite history by someone who had to fight to keep his own job after the absolute failure he made of his first year in the role.
Christian Purslow told us he was here to find £100m of investment. Yet he turned people with money away without even the courtesy of saying “thanks but no thanks”. He left the manager with the wrong impression of what his transfer budget would be last summer then spent the months that followed watching him like a hawk at press conferences just in case he decided to mention it.
It doesn’t take much imagination to work out how Benítez would feel to read in a national newspaper that he’d been warned to change his managerial style, or that he’d been given £20m net to spend on players when he’d actually brought more in than went out. Or how he felt to hear his boss had been talking to reporters about transfer discussions with Real Madrid that Rafa knew nothing about. This in a season when Purslow saw fit from time to time to invite select members of the press round for tea and biscuits.
When Martin Broughton was brought in as Chairman, above Christian Purslow, it ruffled the feathers of someone who acted like the club was his own personal empire. There was no point Rafa meeting Broughton, the would-be emperor said, because Broughton wasn’t here to deal with issues like that; he was only here to sell the club.
So the emperor kept the momentum against the manager going in the press. We saw leaks about cancelled meetings and unhappy players; he saw no problem in leaking that they were trying to ditch Rafa on the cheap before the deal was even struck – but when those leaks were later confirmed by an official announcement it would be his new boss’s name on the statement. Kenny Dalglish’s name was also on the statement – although we understand he wasn’t asked or told in advance.
When the new manager was officially appointed – after weeks of leaks claiming it was a done deal already – Purslow lurked out of sight of the press conference cameras. He left his new boss to introduce the new boss.
He doesn’t have the power all on his own to hire or fire a manager, even if he can push for the decision to be made. But he has got the power to move photos and paintings from the walls of Melwood. For “Cecil”, as he’s known to many fans these days, that’s an important responsibility. So down the mural came. A show of strength from the little man.
And anyway, it must be quite unnerving to have the eyes of the man you betrayed following you around the room every time you arrive at work.