The Myth of Liverpool Boss Rafa Benitez Part 1

New COS columnist Jonny Carter tries to get his head around Rafa’s continued presence at Anfield.

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Sports - September 25, 2007

Part I…

After an alarming aberration of results both domestically and on the continent, with fortune seemingly smiling the other way, and with a splinter faction of dissent canvassing support for a rebel march designed to topple the American ownership, the last thing Liverpool needed was a shambolic away defeat at mid table mediocrity.

It seems that Rafa Benítez has immortality at Liverpool that transcends rational logic. The Anfield faithful appear deliriously content with Benítez irrespective of results, performance or expenditure. The Liverpool terraces have a confidence in Benítez that those outside cannot begin to justify. When tangible gains and intrinsic contentment are to be measured Benítez fails to register on any level and yet the doting lemmings who buy the shirts and subscribe for the season tickets never deem it appropriate question.

A few pertinent facts remain baffling to those who see Benítez as a charlatan and not the maverick that Liverpool fans endorse.

The underlying current to any dispute about Rafa Benítez stops abruptly when you introduce the topic of his Liverpool trophy haul. For all his inaccuracies or for all his genius the outcome remains just two genuine trophies in five seasons. And the two wrong trophies at that. Granted, that during the first few seasons of the Benítez regime he wasn’t even trying to win the Premiership despite the desires of the club around him, concentrating rather on the European forum. But two wins in cup competitions and never more than a whimpering gesture towards the domestic league must surely be deemed less than adequate.

And while Liverpool supporters still appropriately dine out on that European night it is also worth considering that since Liverpool won the competition there have been plenty of other English teams to grace the final, some of those teams even winning it. And while those other English teams were contesting the European competition they were also competing for the Premier League title at home, some of those teams even winning it.

And though Liverpool success was not being earned certainly the expense was being paid. Despite American owners and Arabian consortiums and Russian billionaires being rife in the Premier League, there is still some remaining morality to the money; someone still has to be culpable. Liverpool have spent an inordinate sum of money on a list of players nearly a page long and totalling amounts that could support an entire lower league of English football. The revolving door marshalled by Benítez has seen the ideal of inflated prices remunerated for inadequate players becoming a staple of the club’s philosophy. Over paid and underperforming players bought and jettisoned before they can learn the drive to the training ground. This in total contradiction to established performers being allowed to leave and blossom under the consoling appreciation of another manager.

It has still not been explained to me why Lucas Leiva is now the chosen fulcrum of the Liverpool midfield though he seems to have the passing game of girl, or why Ryan Babel only gets nine minutes of football every two weeks, or why Robbie Keane was bought, never played and then sold at a loss in fewer than twenty games. And who spends £19million on an injured player? Nobody.

The departure of Alonso has been crippling for Liverpool and yet not at all unexpected. The disappointing thing for Liverpool is that Alonso was more than driven out of the club by the fumbled conduct of Benítez. The persistent courting of Gareth Barry and the stubborn lack of admiration for a truly class international player pretty much paved the way out of the door.

The carousel of players has led to a rather incoherent style of play under Benítez where pragmatism has gazumped sensationalism. Performances have lacked the elegance of some of the other top clubs both home and abroad. The constant tinkering of his early tenure removed the clarity that the team required. And since he has understood that playing the best players for the majority of the games will profit a richer revenue, he has equally understood that his depth of talent runs far too shallow. Gerrard can’t play fifty games a season.

But while the criticism of tinkering has somewhat been lost by Benítez his reputation for being the ‘master tactician’ relentlessly basks in his wake. The man for the one-off game. Aren’t all games one-off games? A league season is just thirty eight consecutive one-off games. To be prepared for one match and not another smarts of inconsistency, apathy and borderline managerial negligence. To so dramatically underestimate Fiorentina in this season’s European campaign was tragic evidence of that negligence. Lyon was worse; half-an-eye-on-United syndrome might just have jeopardised an entire European season.

Tactics remain the currency of the elite manager but it should also be recognised that on any given day any team can beat the other. That’s why we play the games after all. Football has that beautiful alchemy of just about ensuring that the best team will win on the journey while anomaly victories for inferior opposition can retain the balance. To trade uniquely on the ability to triumph in one individual game isn’t validation enough when mere chance could also explain the win. It also isn’t enough when you stop winning. To select one such example, Benítez was lauded as having the measure of a Chelsea team come the significant stages of the UEFA Champions League, yet in recent seasons that tide has emphatically turned. Master tactician seems a little obsolete today.

The most seminal moment of the Benítez reign has to be the Rafa rant. An embarrassing public display of contrived mitigations designed to explain away the conspiracies that were sabotaging the Liverpool charge. All bogus, of course. I have respect for the manager that faces the camera and fronts the questions with dignity and medicine at the conclusion of a heavy defeat. Blame shifting I will not condone. And if you’re going to pollute the media with slanderous tripe then it would prove prudent to be winning games off the back of such adventure.

From The Writings Of Jonny Carter

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