Last week, it was Diving. This week, the debate is whether or not Rafa Benitez will be the man to take Liverpool back to the top.
If the Liverpool sheikhover goes through as planned, then recent Chelskification history suggests Rafa Benitez may have reason to worry. When Abramovich took the reigns at Chelsea he demanded the best, and Claudio Ranieri, despite his relative success (2nd in the Premiership, Champions League semi-finals) didnâ€™t quite fit the bill. There was plenty of sympathy, and maybe a little outrage when – following an agonizing stay of execution – Claudio got the boot (at the very least, neutrals were sad to say goodbye to the Italians madcap press conferences). But in hindsight Abramovich did the right thing hiring Mourinho. You canâ€™t argue with back to back Premiership titles.
As always here are two sides to the story, and we want to hear yours:
BENITEZ SHOULD STAY: Do you know how hard it is to win the Champions League? Benitez did this with a squad that probably wasnâ€™t good enough (it had Djimi Traore in it) using tactical nous, beating Juventus and a seemingly invincible Chelsea along the way. In the final he turned around a three goal deficit. The only man to achieve such an unlikely European Cup win in recent years was Jose Mourinho.
Benitez has won a trophy every season heâ€™s been at Anfield. It’s a little tough to fire a man with that kind of record. With some sort of takeover looking inevitable, Rafa has demonstrated a strong ability to recognise Liverpool’s needs in the transfer market and address them. No midfielder to dictate play and take pressure off Gerrard? Xabi Alonso. No midfielder to break up play and take pressure off Gerrard? Momo Sissoko. Lack of variety of quality strikers? Crouch/Kuyt/Fowler/Bellamy. No Wingers? Gonzalez/Pennant. No centre Backs to replace Hyypia? Agger and Palleta. Benitez has played the players who have done well, and sold those who haven’t. That kind of cutthroat attitude will serve him well once the purse strings are opened.
Imagine what a man this shrewd in the transfer market could do armed with some serious money. If all goes to plan the next wave of quality twentysomething, the next Petr Cechs and Arjen Robbens, will be heading to Anfield.
BENITEZ SHOULD GO: While the last two results have been good (tonking Wigan and Fulham 4-0) itâ€™s a bit late in the day now. Benitezâ€™ spell at Anfield has been pretty shaky. Yes, he won the European Cup in his first season, but it could also be said that Gerrard was more responsible for that victory than Rafa. Same with the 2006 FA Cup final. Thereâ€™s a reason itâ€™s called The Gerrard Final. His reliance on Gerrard for success has been highlighted further this season as Liverpool’s struggles have matched their captains. The Premiership is the true gauge of a manager, able to get his team to perform consistently across an entire season. Cup wins are great, but they often come on the back of a few inspired individual or team performances (see Porto, Liverpool) rather than truly being the best team in all of Europe. But if you win the Premiership over 38 matches, you are the best team in England.
In terms of transfers, Benitez has basically gotten everything he wanted in the summer. New wingers, a new defender, two new strikers. Even a work permit for Mark GonzÃ¡lez. While we’re not highly paid experts, it would seem logical that with that many new players the best strategy would be to get a settled 11 and bed them all in when they’re ready. Yet he still screwed up the start of the season with all that squad rotation business. If it takes a man until the season is ruined to realize what heâ€™s doing wrong, then perhaps thatâ€™s the wrong man to trust with millions of pounds.
But the problem is not that Rafa is not a good coach, it’s that there is no sign that things will change for Liverpool. Does anyone think Benitez is a man who will suddenly change strategy? Change direction? What you see is what you will get, he believes his way is the right way and will continue as such. Maybe he’s right and it’s just a matter of getting in the right players, but if you line up Liverpool’s squad man-for-man against Chelsea or Manchester United it would be difficult to argue that playing staff or squad depth is the problem. The club has shown little improvement in the league and sticking Gerrard on the right wing is always a contentious issue, especially when things don’t go their way.
CONCLUSION: We’d keep him, but it’s not up to us. Like with Ranieri, pressure on Benitez will only intensify. Keep in mind the squad has undergone a virtual overhaul under Rafa and with new money to spend one expects yet another round of signings before the current squad has even had time to settle with the last batch. Benitez will need to be at his best to get them firing on all cylinders, but his quality can not be doubted and as long as the new owners are patient enough to give him time he should come good with at least a strong challenge for the title in the next season. You could argue he needs more time, but Mourinho didn’t need any in the same circumstances and we imagine that’s the same theory Benitez’ new employers will be applying. We’re not talking about new investment at West Ham, Portsmouth of Aston Villa that raises expectations to a UEFA cup place. Liverpool were expected to win the title before, and it will be demanded of them post-takeover.
The ‘Five Year Plan’ could soon become just one.