Rafa Benitez and Liverpool. What a story, eh?
Man gives club best years in last two decades. Man loves club. Fans love the man. And then, poof. In one bedraggled season where everything went wrong even when it was going right, the fans turned on him, former players stuck their boots in and the press, having built Liverpool up one season, tore him down the next (to save face, to sell papers, who knows? they’re a vicious bunch).
Once people have accepted an outrageous lie, they are likely to believe it even if they’re told it’s not true. So was the case with Rafa’s facts, so was the case with the press telling Liverpool fans that they could ‘kick on’ from their 2nd place finish and so was the case with this caricature about Rafa that showed him as a self-obsessed, controlling man who couldn’t enjoy the success of his team nor could he bond with his players.
The truth is simpler and less stunning – he cared, for Liverpool and his players, a lot, maybe too much, and while his methods brought about positive change he ended losing the battle once he had too many enemies to fight against.
Was the decision taken by the board to be done with Rafa a good one? Yes, because he had taken the club forward but given the circumstances around the club he wasn’t the right man to get them out of that crisis. Liverpool needed a tactical genius at one time, and they got the right man in Rafa. Now they needed a motivator, and Rafa is not the greatest at man-management. If anything he was replaced a year too late – change should be made at a peak to minimise the fall, not when you’ve already fallen.
But the man still cares for the club, and if you read his latest comments and pack away the cynicism for a bit, you’ll see that it’s true – he never gave up at Liverpool, he always fought and whether it was because he didn’t want to be seen as a quitter or because he’s not a quitter is irrelevant. We can only judge him on what he’s done, and if we are to talk about his mind-games with Fergie and Jose, and if we have to talk about his transfer dealings, tactics and man-management, we must also take stock of the man who led Liverpool for some of their best years in recent history, and was as much a driving force behind their success as any single player.
We’d made fun of him, we’d criticised him, but now it’s time to make peace. Good luck Rafa.