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The Curious Case of Rafa Benitez



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As Liverpool fan, by matter of routine, the familiar tune of Sky Sports News tells me of the latest bust up or disagreement between Rafa, who may or may not like Rick, but doesn’t like George, although he definitely likes Tom (not sure if he likes George or Rick, as it goes). Sounds silly, doesn’t it?

Of all the managers I have seen at Liverpool, sense can be made. Roy Evans- nice bloke but never going to command a dressing room, or be a master tactician to win more than the occasional trophy. Gerrard Houllier- transfer policy often stunk, little bit defensive, and lacked the raw funds to really push further. And then we arrive at Rafa.

Winning that Champions League didn’t really set the tone, but in some ways I suppose it did- the man is a total enigma. Sure, he’s made some storming signings, but more than his fair share have been terrible. His team selections are often impossible to predict (not in a creative, positive way) and fans simply cannot work it out (neither can the players). Just look at his treatment of Robbie Keane.

In one sense, I genuinely admire his single mindedness, and the fact that he will do it his way. But it’s deeply frustrating to be honest. His haphazard selection policy serves to isolate all but the likes of Dirk Kuyt. Like many of our sporting figures, Rafa’s strength comes from the same source as his weakness, and it is this single mindedness, and the insistence that he can control everything. This results in a greatly functional side, not conceding too many goals, but not cutting through sides, and not clinical.

Liverpool are an well-organized side, forcing errors in their opponents by being difficult to break down and attack. I guess this is why Rafa would choose to pick a player like Dirk “work-horse” Kuyt ahead of a more maverick-type player like Keane, because he wants to know what he’s getting. And so they lack an ability to altogether cut through side with disdain, in the fashion of Man United, which is precisely why Liverpool, in my opinion, can not win the league title this season. I honestly think Rafa would rotate, rest, and do anything but unleash Ronaldo if he were at Liverpool (perish the thought…)

The signing of Robbie Keane was simply incredulous. If Rafa was insisting in sitting two midfielders in deep, how would be envisage putting him with Torres, without pushing Gerrard to the right. A big, mobile, powerful figure was needed, and he brought a player who needs someone to play off (i.e. Berbatov, Viduka) as an absolute key to his game. He would surely have been better of keeping Crouch for that position. Troubling indeed.

I accept that he simply hasn’t had the money beyond this to build a squad of players to come in and out and keep scoring goals, but from what he has had, it’s not been fantastic- has Babel proven himself (or been given the chance to), is Benayoun really up to it? But I also believe that his insistence on impressing his unadulterated influence on tactics and transfer policy is what is holding the club back.

The latest dispute was control of all aspects of the club. I have to say I agree with the board. It’s good to have vision, but all the great clubs have gifted individuals with responsibility all over the place. The modern Football Club is not a club, but an organisation, and an institution. Managers should manage and team, and no more. Emilano Insua is the only player to have come through the youth academy of note in the last 5 years or so. Why heed Rafa’s request to maintain control, after getting rid of Steve Heighway, the man who bought through Gerrard, Owen, Fowler, and McManaman? Come to think of it, two players of note, such as Stephen Warnock and Danny Guthrie, who are both good premiership players, are as good as, if not better, than what Benitez spent £14m replacing them with (Lucas and Andrea Dossena). Add that to £20m for Keane and I give you Dimitar Berbatov or Robinho.

Sadly, I think I am beginning to see Rafa how I saw Houllier- stunted by his own vision, and kicking against the tide to keep afloat. He needs success to justify his actions, and it hasn’t been forthcoming. He’s turned Liverpool into a top 2 or 3 club, and done well, but maybe it’s time for a freshening up. Maybe it’s time for a new man to breathe a bit more creativity and attacking instinct into the players. Maybe even the board would back such a man with more funds. But I wouldn’t hold my own breath for that.

Without a doubt, the whole gridlock between owners, Chief Exec and manager serves only to compound the situation as it is. As a fan, not just of Liverpool, but of the Premiership, I hope Rafa’s team pushes United to the brink, and keeps this genuinely fascinating title race competitive. But I wouldn’t bet on it.