Listen to this week’s Soccerlens Podcast, where Adrian Clarke and Iain Spragg discuss Liverpool’s problems in detail, preview the Liverpool v United game and also talk about why Rafa Benitez is safe in his job regardless of results in the next couple of games [podcast link].
Ian McParland and Gareth Southgate’s sackings have surprised people in recent weeks, although for both managers the tell-tale signs were there from the start of the season. McParland would have had to go if Notts County didn’t achieve a rip-roaring start to their campaign (and they didnt) while Southgate, having taken Middlesbrough down, was keeping the seat warm and the ship stable until Gibson found a manager capable of taking the team back up at the first time of asking (which he has in Strachan).
It might seem easy to be wise ‘after’ the fact, but for both managers the signs were there.
Now we’ve already seen 13 sackings in the Football League this season, 5 of them in October, while in continental Europe 4-5 Serie A clubs have sacked their managers since the start of this season. Managing is a tough job (especially since you’re accountable for misfiring players rather than the misfiring players themselves) and in times of financial uncertainty you’re likely to find chairmen and owners more and more ruthless in their approach to hiring and firing managers.
And while there are some clubs who just can’t seem to hire a decent manager to replace the ones that left last season (Portsmouth and Newcastle), there are others who look set NOT to fire their manager despite a string of bad results.
Rafael Benitez (where else did you think this was going?) has been priced at ridiculously low odds – with some bookies picking him as the second favourite to get the sack next.
There was a time when Rafa’s position was considered tenuous – especially two seasons ago when the Liverpool owners were in talks with Jurgen Klinsmann to have him replace Benitez. The last three seasons – the Champions League final appearance in 06/07, the strong league showings of 07/08 and 08/09 – have helped build up a tremendous amount of goodwill for the Liverpool manager amongst the fans, and at the start of this season the couldn’t have been in a stronger position unless he had actually won a title.
4 consecutive defeats, 6 in 13 and now everyone has their knives out and sharpened, including the fans who are as sick of the negative reporting in the press as they are of Rafa Benitez refusing to change his tactics to suit the situation (and his players).
To be fair to Rafa, his stubbornness is not dissimilar to that of Arsene Wenger, who, upon deciding that his team are going to play a specific way and everything else be damned, has stuck to his guns through thick and thin (and look where that’s gotten him). Rafa doesn’t have league titles to boast of at Liverpool, and he doesn’t have the lifelong support of the board either – crucial factors in Wenger’s ability to ‘do his thing’ at Arsenal without facing the intense criticism that Rafa is facing.
But to think that Rafa is close to being sacked in nonsense. Hicks and Gillett are seasoned campaigners and they know that stability at the club, coupled with closing ranks in the face of adversity, is the best way to pull Liverpool out of this slump. The only way the owners make money here is by selling the club, and to do that they need Liverpool to be a stable environment with good performances on the pitch. Firing Rafa, especially so far away from the transfer window, makes no sense.
So expect Rafa to stay on, at least till December, and then re-evaluate the situation. There are several variables – is the club close to being sold, is there a suitable replacement available (certainly not Klinsmann and not after Bayern), and can Hicks and Gillett secure enough funds for the new (or current, if Rafa stays) manager to reinforce the squad.
Rafa Benitez has tried his best to stay out of trouble in the last two weeks, refusing to criticise the referee at the Sunderland-Liverpool game (even though Rafa has made several comments on referees in the past when things go against Liverpool) and he refused to ask for a re-match. Nothing to upset the cart, nothing to mark his territory. The performances on the pitch just aren’t matching up, and Rafa knows this.
I wonder if Hicks and Gillett are backing Rafa not just to present a united front and give an air of stability to the club but to also gain leverage over the manager come transfer window time. Rafa played a pivotal role in having Rick Parry leave the club last season (so that Rafa could have more control over signings) and while we’ve just had one summer to judge, there hasn’t been much difference or improvement.
Perhaps the owners can get their way and exert some control over Rafa in winter, and bring in resources where they are most needed?
Although by then, with Aquilani expected to settle in and Gerrard / Torres hopefully fit, Liverpool could be back to their bullish ways of last season (you don’t forget thrashing Real Madrid and Manchester United that convincingly in a hurry) and Rafa can afford to look back, laugh, and maybe even start on another list of ‘facts’.