This post derived from a discussion I had with a friend of mine who, for his sins, is a rampant Liverpool supporter. It is the first of a weekly feature where I will be analyzing matters outside of Aston Villa (hopefully in a way which will reflect well on us!). As we debated long and hard into the night about all-things-Scouse, one thing he said, I will never forget, stuck on my mind: I couldn’t let it go and I certainly could not NOT scrutinize it, “Rafael Benitez has performed well in the transfer market”. This is my response…
If by “well” you actually mean “disgracefully”.
I remember one of your fellow Reds saying something just as embarrassing in 1995, “you’ll never win anything with kids”. To say Rafael Benitez has performed well in the transfer market is surely as controversially flawed and it should never be lived down.
And because Benitez loves his facts, let’s then have a look at the facts:
- Rafael Benitez’ net expenditure at Liverpool after the summer transfer market in 2009 was a whopping £95.8 million … FACT
- Each year, the Spanish jester has had £19.16m available to spend on wasted transfers – the same price Martin O’Neill acquired both Ashley Young and James Milner for … FACT
- Of Benitez’ first 21 signings, only three have survived to this very day … FACT
- After the Steven Gerrard-inspired Istanbul comeback, Benitez proclaimed, “We’re putting Gerrard on a special weights programme for his shoulders because we are planning on him lifting loads of trophies” – Five seasons and one FA Cup later, the Madrid born manager is therefore a self-proclaimed failure … FACT
Before I continue deciphering the appalling performance of Benitez in both the transfer market and in his general feats, I think it’s important that I make it clear that I am an Aston Villa fan and have no bias whatsoever against the Liverpool club or any of their staff. What I do have partiality with, is when someone takes over a giant club performing consistently at a high standard, and serves only to bring mediocrity and disrepute to its proud reputation. Not only this, but the underperforming gaffer seems immune to any form of criticism about any angle of his policies and results by all Scouse fans.
When Benitez (I refuse to call him “Rafa” – he doesn’t deserve to be recognised with a single first name) first took over the helm at Anfield in the 2004-05 season, I forgave his somewhat questionable first signings. An influx of Spanish strangers spelled danger ahead for the mighty reds, but I defended the manager – understanding that these were the players he trusted and was familiar with. Despite the fact that his first crack at the transfer market demonstrated nothing but the ability to find unexciting foreigners with little potential and zero use, the Champions League victory allowed very glamorous wallpaper to be applied over the all too apparent cracks.
On top of this, having inherited a competent first XI, passed on by the mercurial Gerard Houliér (who didn’t get the chance to play his big money signing, Cisse), Benitez won trophies before he was allowed to fully put his stamp on the team. In FACT, out of the 14 players used in Istanbul, just two of them were recruited by Benitez himself. Can I deny how well he set them up to get as far they did? Definitely not. But does this make a case that his transfer dealings are sub standard? Most certainly.
The obvious pitch based results over the past 6 seasons have also suggested a consistent failure to understand the English Premier League (a competition which the Merseyside faithful so desperately want to conquer, and one which they so richly deserve). With the exception of last season, Liverpool have remained an uninspired, unenthusiastic threat who promised zilch signs of an assault on the coveted domestic prize. Moreover, even their 2nd place finish was marred with apathetic results which suggested that they never really were title contenders in the first place. Rafa Benitez’s uber defensive style proved, in the end, a two-edged sword. With an eventual improvement in their dreadful away form of previous seasons, Liverpool failed to capitalise with their negative approach destroying any chance of turning teams over in front of a hair-raising Kop. 7 tied games on Anfield Road showed the ineffectiveness of the system when they came up against teams who were equally as prepared to protect their goal. Indeed it was only towards the tail end of the season when Liverpool opened up did they make use of having the 2 best players in the world and dismantled opponents with ruthless massacres. However, it proved too little too late and for this, I hold the manager responsible.
In 2010, the 5 time European Champions sit seventh in the Barclays Premier League, eliminated in the Champions League group stages, not even a League Cup challenge to boast and tripped up in the FA Cup 3rd Round. For this too, I hold the manager responsible. In your sixth season, you have had more than enough time to imprint your stamp on your team. In your sixth season, you have had adequate time to develop an understanding of the competitions in which you are performing. After 96 million, you have had more than enough pounds to improve an inherited gold mine. After 96 million, you have had more than enough pounds to cope with injuries in the squad you have voluntarily built.
This is why I grind my teeth together when I hear complaints aimed at the American owners. It is because of their inadequacies that Benitez is devoid of censure. The “facts” are simply that the Spaniard took over a vibrant club with a solid base of capable players and has had almost £100 million to spend how he wished. Instead of complaining about “Rafa not having enough funds”, maybe Reds fans should be complaining about the waste of £7m hastily dished out to obtain the limited services of Andrea Dossenna (was Babel around £9m?). Maybe Scousers should bemoan the money spent to turn Dirk Kuyt into a glorified right back. Maybe Liverpool supporters should instead bemuse the fact that Benitez has had to sell on the majority of his signings, not because of the board, but because of his failure to find the right players in the first place. The fans explain that the teams of the past were blessed with dead wood such as Djimi Traore, Igor Biscan and Vladimir Smicer: Six years later, are they really much better off with the likes of Insua, Lucas or El Zhar?
Or am I being too harsh? After all, it was Benitez who brought Fernando Torres to the Premier League: and for this, I am eternally thankful. It was Benitez who resurrected the West Ham reject, Mascherano’s career in monstrous proportions. He found Daniel Agger and no doubt a top class Goalkeeper. Although, despite his obvious effect, I think he paid over the odds for Glen Johnson – but such is today’s market and the inflation of English players. And Liverpool are still involved in a Europa League challenge (a competition which even little old Aston Villa undermined in two successive years by fielding weakened sides).
But it is because of this super-strong spine that I feel I have to question the manager’s further judgement. Liverpool consistently spend the 5th most amount of money on transfers (behind City, Spurs, Utd and Chelsea). Arsenal are probably nowhere near that list. I dare to think what Martin O’Neill and David Moyes could do with £100m to spend on a team that already boasted the likes of Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Dietmar Hamaan and Steven Gerrard – a squad which Benitez, to his credit, proved could be champions of Europe. Yes, he has had to reluctantly sell on players in certain cases to increase the transfer kitty, but the disappearance into oblivion of the extremely vast majority of his signings is testament to the unforgiveable contemplation that they were good enough for Liverpool in the first place. And speaking to obstinate Reds fans on Merseyside, the rest of the players he has had to bring in are apparently “good players”. Liverpool fans will relentlessly defend the likes of current squad members Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Insua, Lucas, Kuyt, Babel, N’Gog et al. And that’s okay, that’s their opinion (they are wrong but whatever…). But it’s not a question of whether these players are good or not: for argument’s sake, I’ll side with the Pool fans and say that they are good. Therefore, with apparently 15 “quality” squad players, what is the problem!? How can Liverpool underperform if they are blessed with such talent? The answer is simple:, either these players are not all they are made out to be, or Benitez is doing a poor job away from the transfer market. (And I don’t believe the latter. How can I? He got such a poor squad to second in the league last year!)
So I beg to be answered: What has happened to the great “Rafalution”? Somewhere in their stubbornness, Liverpool fans have forgotten all that they stood for and even all that they were promised. Not because of members in the board room, but because their manager has spent the guts of a century of cash on players who would never in the wildest of dreams have taken the club forward. Is Liverpool Football Club really better off with Rafa Benitez? When I look at their squad right now, I can think of 96 million reasons why they are not.
However, speaking as a non-Liverpool fan: long live the king. I hope that the embarrassing portrait on the flag entitled “In Rafa We Trust” keeps flying high at Anfield. Because as long as Benitez is in charge, Aston Villa are catching up.
Josemi Kyrgiakos Skrtel Dossena
Antonio Nunez Voronin Ryan Babel
Subs: Itandje, Degan, Plessis, Gonzalez, Pennant, El Zhar, Fowler
Note: For the purposes of the above team, I had to limit my options of Benitez’ bad signings to just 18 players!