Category Archives: View of the Outside

Bent’s Pricetag in Perspective

£18m rising to £24m…

I never once denied how overpriced this transfer fee for Darren Bent was. At the time, I used Man City’s valuation of £28m for James Milner as justification for our extravagant spending. I pointed to Barcelona’s exchange of £30m plus Samuel Eto’o for the acquisition of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Even yesterday, I scoffed at Newcastle for rejecting Spurs’ £23m bid for the North East “Hotshot”. But today, Transfer Deadline Day has certainly helped Villa’s case, and Villa’s perceived sanity, in mammoth proportions hasn’t it?

£18m rising to £24m… It doesn’t sound so bad now does it?!

Let’s just come out and say it: £30m for Andy Carroll isn’t enough. Really? I don’t know who is worse: Liverpool for valuating Carroll at this price and willing to part with their record transfer expenditure for Andy’s limited services; or Newcastle for rejecting this extortionate fee!

Carroll has bagged 11 goals so far in the Premier League this term… hats off. However, 5 of these were headers and one was the result of a careless backpass against Chelsea. Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool have had the ball on the deck effective immediately as of the Scot’s appointment and they play from the back. It remains to be seen how the Geordie number 9 would cope in the absence of Newcastle United’s cosmic football. On the other hand, Darren Bent has proven his Premier League worth for 6 seasons now and has almost matched the exploits of players like Fernando Torres – who today will be bought for £50m.

More interestingly, whilst Darren Bent was going about scoring 24 league goals for midtable Sunderland last season, Carroll was making his case for the Magpies number 9 jersey by scoring the 6th most goals in the Championship last term. Andy notched up a tally of 17 Football League goals, playing at a lower standard for a team who hit the net 90 times in the league. Bent, meanwhile, secured 50% of a Premier League team’s goals.

Celtic’s Gary Hooper banged in more than Carroll, playing for Scunthorpe, in the Championship. He is now keeping pace with the Tyne-man’s tally this year, having played less games in the SPL. Hooper is just a year older than the Newcastle “hitman” but was signed for just £2.4m by the Scottish leaders in July. No-one, including myself, would dare utter the words of Gary Hooper and £30m in the same sentence (unless that sentence was stating how he is NOT worth such a ridiculous amount).

Charlie Adam, playing in midfield for last season’s Championship long shots, also scored more than the long haired enigma could manage. Adam has been the stand-out player in the Premier League this year; he was compared to World Cup winner Xabi Alonso with little objections; he has been absolutely and completely integral to 2010’s Team of the Year, yet he is not deemed worthy of a bid worth just £4.5m…

The fact that £30m wasn’t enough for Carroll means that any bid worth £31m or greater would put the 22 year old in the top 10 most expensive players of all time.

The last day of this strangely magnificent transfer widnow has also seen Liverpool seal the signing of Uruguayan forward player Luis Suarez for £22.8m – almost £5m more than Villa’s initial fee. He seems like a good player and will probably go on to benefit the club. He has a good past record, but why should we forget about Mateja Kezman’s 105 goals in 122 league games in the same country? Bought by Chelsea, the Serbian managed just 4 goals. I’m not saying Pool’s new number 7 is doomed to the same fate, but at least with Bent, the risk Villa were running with their spending was extrememly minimal.

And lest we ever forget Man City’s ridiculous valuations. We don’t need to get into the likes of Santa Cruz, Adebayor, Milner, Lescott or Jo again, but what we should mention is that, with Deadline Day, they are expected to acquire the services of Birmingham reject, Seb Larsson on loan for the remainder of the season. City have splashed the cash on the likes of Milner, Silva and Wright-Phillips; they have deemed players like Bellamy and Weiss unworthy of their first 25; and yet they have resorted to playing Jo on the left and have now shamefully turned their attentions to the uninspiring blue nose.

When Villa dared to extract a record £18m from their pockets for the top class services of Darren Bent, they were questionned. Some laughed, some enviously complained at our lavish spree, some said it was too much – it was too much. But two games later, and the Deadline Day activity, Darren Bent, even at £24m, is quickly proving to be a bargain.

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Winning Ugly? Hey, It’s Still Winning

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing

In 1959, Vince Lombardi embarked on his first chief position, as Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers, with these uber-competitive words as his rallying cry in the first day of training camp. 9 years, 5 national championships, and the sport’s first two Super Bowls later, the Brooklyn man needed just one year to create a record breaking winning attitude at Washington before dying a Football martyr, a sporting pioneer, a winner.

People will disagree with this post (a LOT of people). Total Football enthusiasts will puke over my beliefs. Romanticists will wince at my writing. But I must admit, I take my hat off to the Dutch.

Bert van Marwijk took the reigns of his country after the Russians prematurely ended their Euro 2008 dreams with a 3 – 1 Quarter Final defeat. Not popular with the fans, the former Feyenoord manager had my respect from the off, admitting, “Total Football is a thing of the past.

Thou shall not pass

And he couldn’t be more right. Yes, we are still treated with the mouth-watering exhibitions of a devastating Barcelona outfit, the guile of the current European and World Cup champions, and even the potential of a fantastically fluid United attack; but in 21st century football, opposition sides are conditioned, organized and more astute, and to flood men forward with careless abandon, particularly with weaker individuals, would of course uphold the integrity of pure football, but undermine the necessity of common sense.

Despite the fact that the renowned Total Football of the 70’s took place over 30 years ago, the Dutch also never actually won anything but respect for their scintillating style. On top of that, the ’74 and ’78 World Cup finalists were blessed with generation talents such as the two Johans (Cruyff and Neeskens); Wim Jansen; Rob Rensenbrink; and Johnny Rep. Today, the Netherlands nation expected the same interchangeable elegancy from Liverpool workhorse Dirk Kuyt; Real Madrid reject Wesley Sneijder; and the injured Robin van Persie. Arjen Robben is no doubt a good player; but is he really of the same calibre as the ammunition Rinus Michels had at his disposal in 1974? Even if he is, is he really so good that he can single-handedly recreate the magic of 36 and 32 years ago?

A ridiculous argument would be to suggest that if your team is not good enough, you have to simply accept this and take your beatings. However, the beauty of sport is that every player, every team and every nation begins on a literal level playing field. Some individuals, some teams, are not as good as their opponents, they are not equipped with the same artillery sometimes, but they do not roll over. Instead, they can analyse ways to wear down their counterparts, and at times, they find their Achilles heel.

Violent

So what is wrong with Holland’s dirty tricks? Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way condoning the life threatening thuggery which caused Nigel de Jong’s studs to flail into the chest of Xabi Alonso. But the rules are there to be abided by and I’m certain the Dutch manager did not excuse this sure-fire sending off offence so early in a World Cup Final. The Man City player should have seen red, but this would have been for an act outside the plans of van Marwijk, outside the laws of the game. The Netherlands are certainly guilty of gamesmanship – but all this entails is the bending of the existing rules of Football, not the breaking of such laws. They set out to rough up their opponents, cynically (yet tactically) foul and disrupt attacks, and they are happy to accept their penalties of warnings and yellow cards – but boy, can they hit teams on the break.

Maybe it’s just me. Yes, it isn’t the spectacle everyone yearns for. But just like Jose Mourinho’s inferior Inter Milan outfit spoiling the life out of attacking flair, Holland would not have cared what any headline said if they were going home in the company of that iconic gold trophy. And truthfully, they probably warranted it. Spain played by far the better football, but apart from Fabregas’ breakthrough, they struggled to overcome the tenacity of the Dutch terriers in normal time. (Of course, with 10 men, cracks later became apparent in the Orange wall of defence). And as I’ve always argued; in sport; you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you take. And with the best chances of the 90 minutes (I counted 4 first-class opportunities), Holland should have stolen the game from the grasp of the best passers on the planet – and I would have been one man delighted to see it (not merely because my 12/1 pre tournament bet would have came up!).

I could say that they came up short, but they probably over-performed throughout the whole competition. And after winning 14 competitive World Cup fixtures on the trot (and drawing with Spain after full time), how can anyone begrudge the Dutch of the credit their effective system deserves? Had they taken on the Spanish or Brazilians man-for-man, had they done the same against weaker opponents (like previous years) for that matter, they would have been wiped out – simply because their players are not good enough. But like the enigma of ancient warfare tactics, sport provides the flexibility of the manager’s nous to become an advantage; it allows perceivably weaker outfits to damage their rivals in unexpected, sometimes unorthodox, fashion; and it allows the underdog to prevail, reminding us all that anything is possible.

Instead of bashing the Dutch for their admittedly disgusting spoiling tactics at times; why aren’t we celebrating the fact that they brought the greatest footballing nation to its knees for 116 minutes? Johan Cruyff criticised his country’s performance as “ugly, vulgar and anti-football…” and it probably was. But it was this anti-football approach which gave his compatriots a fighting chance. And I’ll tell you what, if Aston Villa decide to adopt a gung-ho attacking and respectful approach to the 2010-11 season, we can kiss any aspiration we have of breaking the top 4 mould goodbye – because on paper, we are simply not amongst the 4 best teams.

Sport defies logic

Fortunately though, the game is never won on paper and anything can happen on any given day. And I will not criticize The Netherlands for refusing to accept second best, but instead, making the most of what they had, ignoring the boundaries of logic and reason. And just like David beat Goliath (in all his size, all his armour, and all his artillery) with an impotent yet cunningly effective sling shot, I respect Bert van Marwijk’s modern day Holland for their spirit, their resilience, their unlikely success and more importantly, for their triumph in restoring faith in the giant-killing fairytale.

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MON His Way?

Paddy Power: Next Permanent Liverpool Manager

Martin O’Neill  2/1

 

Kenny Dalglish 10/3

 

Roy Hodgson 4/1

 

Sven Goran Eriksson 15/2

 

Mark Hughes 14/1

 

Harry Redknapp 14/1

 

Jurgen Klinnsmann 16/1

 

Gus Hiddink 20/1

 

Merseyside Messiah? Don't bet on it

‘Liverpool Football Club’. It has a ring to it, doesn’t it? The most successful English football club of all time; 5 time European champions, a record number of First Division triumphs. Surely the chance to take up office at Anfield would be too good for even the most wanderlust of managers to turn down.

But it isn’t. In fact, it’s pretty easy.

Because as proud a history the Merseyside club may have had, and as loyal the unshakeable support, they are still gifted with, is; the new football decade we are about to embark on doesn’t seem to care much for what tune the spirit of Shankly danced to in 1984, or for what lyrics of defiance ring out from today’s SOS at the Kop end in the cold year of 2010. Instead, the inevitable pastures new of Liverpool Football club seemingly suggests that only unforgiving, turbulent terrain lies ahead for the once “mighty” Reds.

And once again, Martin The Messiah is apparently poised to reign supreme and rescue the scousers from midtable obscurity. What is more alarming is that The Villa Blog (author: Damian Dugdale) has successfully got under my skin for a second time and suggested that O’Neill is not the man for us anyway; rather, my old pal Rafael Benitez should replace him. As I feel there are no words which could justify my frustration at this outlook, I will refer readers to my earlier post which compared some aspects of the gaffers’ performances: http://wp.me/pPEcu-2F.

However, this isn’t to say that I don’t think Benitez is a good manager. In fact, June’s messy remnants in the red half of Liverpool are testament to how bizarre and surreal the situation is; a sad situation that the scouse fans find themselves embroiled in. Because on the 3rd of June, it was announced that Rafa Benitez would step down from his managerial post at Anfield “by mutual consent”. A decision which I would have agreed with because as much as the Spaniard has in him to give, I don’t think he was the right man to take a limited, crisis-ridden Liverpool forward. Nevertheless, having been ‘sacked’ by the Premier League’s 7th best team, Benitez finds himself being chased by the European and Italian double champions Inter Milan to replace the world’s best manager, Jose Mourinho.

Does that make sense? If Fulham had sacked Hodgson after finishing 7th last year, would he be linked with the Barcelona job? Although, if Fergie guided United down 5 league places this coming season, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to think that the 2011 Champions League winners were interested in him, would it? However, it would be senseless of the Glazers to let him go off the back of one bad season (not that I should be comparing Fergie to Rafa, of course). But it is all immaterial because unfortunately, modern day Liverpool doesn’t seem to make any sense.

Hence, when I see Martin O’Neill’s name at the top of every list of managers to replace Benitez, I am not concerned. Yes, there are some buffoons who would be happy to let our “underperforming” boss go, stressing that he is not the man to take us forward; that we have finished in the same position for three successive years. But as I’ve said before, the fact that we are even standing still (which we aren’t anyway; we’re going forward), in the face of today’s outlandish market, is a rousing tribute to the unflappable work of O’Neill and his shrewd backroom staff. And after completing 4 hard years of undying graft just to pull us out of the trench we were buried in, why would MON want to abandon a ship that has just begun to gather momentum? Why would he even think about stepping aside, just for someone else to sweep in and take his credit? More importantly though; of all teams, why would he want to go to Liverpool F.C?

In spite of the fact that Villa sit higher in the league, the appeal of Liverpool Football Club has vanished for a number of off-field reasons. Obviously, the American owners don’t offer much for a prospectus manager to get excited about. With a mountain of debt, Gillett and Hicks have apparently used the club purely for personal reasons as means of softening the blow of their other business ventures. And with the club for sale for at least £600m, it could be a long, long time before the money is available to steer the club from 7th, back into title contention.

On top of this, the refusal of the boardroom to back their manager to the hilt is a complete no-no in football; and a prominent issue which is nothing but a deal-breaker for the obstinate Martin O’Neill. Time and time again, Benitez was undermined by the Liverpool board: players like Aaron Ramsey and Daniel Alves to name but a few starlets who were let slip through the net, simply out of lack of trust in their manager; and an unnecessary arrogance that the board knew what was best when it came to team matters. Of course, I have lambasted Benitez’ transfer performance in the past; but if I was a member of the Liverpool hierarchy, I wouldn’t employ someone to manage the team if I would refuse to put complete faith in him. The manager is hired to carry out his duties and run the club as he sees fit; he should be allowed to imprint his stamp and create his own vision and if the board don’t buy into his ideas, then he shouldn’t be in charge for 6 years. Before MON takes control at a club, he makes sure that he actually has control. There is no way he would agree to take charge of a team if he knew that he would be restricted in his input; if he knew that he didn’t have the freedom to manage how he wanted; if he knew he didn’t have the full backing of the board. England failed to acquire the Northern Ireland man’s services because it was clear to him that he would not be able to conduct his responsibilities and shape his visualization without interference from the powers-that-be. Either you place your complete trust in the manager, or you don’t hire him. Fortunately for us, MON demands this and gets it at Villa – he wouldn’t at Liverpool.

Moreover, the attitude of chairman Martin Broughton in the last 2 months has been of a very poor nature that would scare off even the most patient of managers. Arriving in the post on the 16th April and refusing to contact the manager for a full week is unacceptable. And after sacking the soon-to-be boss of the European Champions, a lot of Rafa’s peers might view the expectation attached with the current Liverpool vacancy a tad too much.

With the on-field catastrophes of the season passed, the necessity of having to still qualify for an uninspiring Europa League tournament, and with the off-field uncertainties of the boardroom and ownership; Liverpool has now not only become a new-manager-repellent, but it could well turn out to be a current-player-deterrent. For what reason would Javier Mascherano want to dismiss the attentions of Barcelona? For what reason would the managerless, debt-stricken club refuse the money? Does Steven Gerrard want to end his career knowing that Solomon Kalou has won more league titles than him? Were Torres and Reina just following their fellow Madrid-born citizen? The question marks at Melwood are all too big for a manager to take such a punt on such a sideways step.

Troubled

Besides, shouldn’t the fact that O’Neill has already signed another contract extension be some indication of his allegiances? Should it not only support the idea that he isn’t looking elsewhere, but reinforce his excitement at the prospect of a 5th season on his Villa mission? Because he signed on so soon, I have every belief that he honestly feels there is unfinished business with this project. And that he believes he is the man to deliver success to Aston Villa after a long time coming.  

But with bookies unanimously suggesting that Martin O’Neill is on his way, I think I might return to my betting days and take advantage of their naivety.

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emBARRYsing

It still hurts

Isn’t karma a wonderful thing?

A full season has passed and it is only now that I can bring myself to talk about Gareth Barry as another team’s player.

A full season has passed and I still begrudge his decision to jump ship aboard the diamond crusted Man City short term express: a non-historic, undignified, dishonourable voyage, set to implode prematurely and have a damaging effect on the unsuccessful club in its long term history.

A full season has passed, but am I still pathetically bitter? You bet.

Because, as an Aston Villa fan, there generally isn’t much to cheer about. As an Aston Villa fan, its hard not to laugh when our most loyal servant, our prized possession, takes his stock and pays homage to the devil – only to be bit in the ass.

Gareth Barry wrote in his open letter to Villa fans:

I feel the club is in the best position it has been in during my time here, I think we have a group of very good young players, we have a fantastic chairman who is here for the good of the club and one of the best managers in the game.

And do you know what? I couldn’t agree more. For the first time in 12 years, Villa have looked like a challenging outfit. For the first time in 12 years, Villa have beaten United, travelled twice to Wembley and fought for Champions League football for 37 games. The club is undoubtedly in its best position since the age of Gareth Barry, supported by the exciting potential of our blooming crop of players and the productive O’Neill-Lerner relationship. But hang on… then why on earth is our former captain abandoning the club’s most thrilling, most realistic project, since his time, at the peak of its promises?

After changing my mind lots of times I came to the decision that the time was right for me and for the club to part company.”

I can understand why he would think the time was right for the club to let our number 6 go, because we clearly had a readymade (dare I say it: more prosperous) replacement in the outstanding James Milner at hand. However, I would have plenty of assured reservations if someone was to argue that anyone at the club agreed that the time was right to move on (of course it wasn’t: would I still be crying about it a year later if it was?). A 28 year old Barry, accompanied by the dynamic James Milner at the heart of our midfield, could easily have been worth 6 extra points for the Villains throughout the course of a 9 month season (6 points which would have kept us rubbing shoulders with Spurs). And when a player goes from international zero to hero under the guidance of a new club manager, it’s certainly difficult to understand (and forgive) how he would think the time is right to turn his back on the club he is indebted to.

I need a new challenge, I have a massive fear of going stale and falling into a comfort zone.”

Okay… maybe the Hastings-born player found the idea of a Champions League challenge with Aston Villa a tad too mundane. Maybe he was bored of playing at Wembley in claret and blue (he had done it 10 years earlier afterall). But on a serious note, he had clearly been underestimating the value of our current players. He was taking his place in our first XI for granted and rated himself comfortably higher than club captain and 08-09 player of the year, Petrov and 09-10 player of the year, James Milner. To say he was in a comfort zone at Villa, who would have, on merit, two more deserving players to start ahead of Barry in this current season, is to disrespect not only our best players, but to undermine our club and its aims.

I feel I am joining a club that will seriously challenge to win major honours, people might doubt that, but I am convinced with the plans the club has short term and long term, and the backing the manager will receive from the owners, that we will be a major force.”

***Idiot alert***

Yes, Gareth Barry was joining a club with riches unheard of – but he was moving to a midtable team who hadn’t acquired silverware in 33 years and who have and will always be crippled living in the shadow of their city rivals. On top of this, of the competitions (major honours) Man City entered this year, it was in fact Aston Villa who prevailed most likely to secure medals in qualifying for the final stages of both the League Cup and FA Cup and with almost identical league campaigns and an equal Europa League fate, is GB really better off in a sky blue shirt? What is more embarrassing for the England international is that the manager who convinced him to move, the manager he chose ahead of Martin O’Neill, the manager he trusted to ignore the attentions of title challengers Liverpool for, the manager he believed would receive the right backing from the club’s owners was sacked in December of that same year – a real case of humble pie for City’s number 18.

Also the World Cup has always been a major part of my thinking and I feel at Man City I will get the chance to play regularly in my best position and play a big part in a successful side.

I wonder if Barry put any thought at all into this letter of “apology”. To be frank, it’s more insulting to Villa fans than it is anything else. For one, it was Martin O’Neill who made Gareth the player he was – it was MON who converted him into a quality Centre Midfielder and it was under O’Neill that Barry finally established himself in the England set up (like a number of other players in the squad did). By claiming that the national team had a “major part” in his thinking to transfer aleigances goes a long way to losing any respect my once favourite player had from yours truly. It is also laughable that the current 29 year old attempted to excuse his decision to move as an opportunity to play regularly in his favourite position. I suppose over 40 games a year in the heart of midfield for Villa just wasn’t enough. And it does bring a beaming smile to my face when I see how the recent Italian system at City is doing nothing but spoiling Gareth Barry who is now instructed to hold the midfield along with Viera and De Jong and thus suffocating the England man’s creative ability. And just to ensure that egg is planted firmly on the face of Villa’s modern day Judas, I want to once again quote his desire to, “play a big part in a successful side.”

Of Man City’s league goals this year, Gazza B has set-up or scored just 12.5% of them. That means he is directly responsible for just an eigth of the team’s goals in a game which usually consists of only 6 front players (midfielders and forwards). In his final season for Villa however, he was attributed to almost fifth of the Midlands club’s scores. Of course it is harder for a CM to affect change in such a direct manner (well, it isn’t so hard for Milner…) and control and key passes are much more evident in Barry’s game than a final ball, but it is shockingly easier to recognise that Gareth Barry played a much bigger part for Aston Villa than he does for City. Over the years, there have been some suggestions that he was a ‘big fish in a small pond’, but in his leap to Manchester, Barry has certainly not landed in an ocean, a river or even a bigger pond: he has instead hopped into the next door neighbour’s puddle and found that he has served only to take a backseat in a less succesful ride.

Maybe Manchester City’s ridiculous spending spree could dividens sometime in the future. They have already spent over £200m on top class players in a bid to cheat their way into league contention, but having failed so dramatically, they have ended up as the laughing stock of the football world (this year, at least). Nevertheless, the worry for Gareth Barry is that with the extraordinary wealth of City’s owners, an influx of extravagant names is always going to be their aim and with the current team deemed worthy of just a Europa League position, the impatient Arabs should have another Summer shake up on the cards. Attempting to lure the likes of Kaka to Eastlands, Sheikh Mansour gives the impression of a man playing a computer game trying to create a superstar line-up – a line-up in which an ageing, unglamorous Gareth Barry could well find himself on the fringes of very soon.

Sheikh Mansour is trying to play Fantasy Football with unlimited funds

Time will tell if I am right or not, but those are my reasons.”

At the time, I knew that time would tell us if Gareth was right to move on – I just didn’t think that we would have our answer so soon. Having turned down a record 70k-a-week offer from Villa, Barry’s only reward for desrting O’Neill has been a couple of unnecessary thousands of pounds in his payslip at the end of each month. Barry’s form has decreased in direct correlation with his club’s aspirations and as undignified as I may sound, I can’t help but think that his fresh ankle injury, so close to the World Cup, is the price to pay for selling his soul. Now, we could actually see his Villa successor (Milner) take his place on the England team and surpass the 29 year old in both club and international football – and doing so playing for the team Barry deemed unworthy of his services.

Time will tell if I am right or not…” 12 months on, 1 season passed, and a Barry-less Aston Villa have not only matched the Citizens’ league form, but they have gone one better in challenging for major honours.

A full season has passed and Gareth Barry must be wondering “what if”… had he stayed.

A full season has passed, and another year on Barry’s biological clock has ticked with the Sky-Blues looking for fresh faces.

A full season has passed and James Milner has propelled himself as a household name, ready to oust his former leader from the national side.

A full season has passed and deep down inside, Gareth Barry must surely already regret his decision to leave Aston Villa.

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“Rafael Benitez Has Performed Well in the Transfer Market”

 
 
 

Fan Favourite, Benitez

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?

Ryan "Rio" Babel could be better focusing on his rapping career

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.

Rafa’s Duds

Carson

Josemi     Kyrgiakos     Skrtel     Dossena

Lucas     Sissoko

Antonio Nunez      Voronin       Ryan Babel

Morientes

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!

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Birmingham City FC: No Class; No Grace; No Hope

Okay, so they had their chances…

16 goal attempts, 14 on target, for an away team is an impressive feat and would generally suggest that the home side dropped all 3 points. But guess what… it means nothing. Because as surely as we “deserved” to beat Sunderland 6 games ago, Brummie may have “deserved” to receive at least a point from the weekend’s heated Second City Derby – but in sport: you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you take.

And as Villa ruthlessly put their rivals to the sword, in the same fashion as the “bigger” teams punish those who don’t capitalise every week, I make no apologies for the Claret side of Birmingham having enough backbone, enough resilience and enough fight to withstand the considerable Blues pressure and having enough sack to ante-up again to keep our Champions League scrap alive.

On the 29th March, in the aftermath of that Stamford Bridge result, I called on the players to “Never Die Easy”. If an opponent was to overcome you, then they should earn your death. And as we refused to be rolled over this time round, as we refused to go down without a fight, Birmingham refused to go to that extra mile, they refused to go to the edge with us. Consequently, they did not earn, they did not “deserve” our blood.

Shameless Inaccuracies

This is why I haven’t stopped cringing at the embarrassing outbursts of Alex McLeish and Roger Johnson in the aftermath of their defeat. Having failed to turn chances into goals, the Brummies wanted 3 points handed on a plate for them and after being punished for a clumsy, clumsy challenge on Agbonlahor in the box, Birmingham left without a point and without dignity as Alex McLeish winced, “It’s not fair…”

Clumsy

The decision regarding the penalty was a disgrace…” cried RJ, the guilty defendant. It may seem hypocritical of a Villa fan to slam other penalty pleas so soon after our Cup bemusements; but then, we had 100% assurance of both our claims and now, we’re still in the right. Because as the Brummie back targeted the experienced Atkinson and said that “the game was too big for him”, he unashamedly covered up his own frailties by incorrectly and unfairly slamming the game changing decision ‘a disgrace’. Despite the centre back getting a nick on the ball with the side of his foot (a very, very lucky nick because he had clearly mistimed his tackle), Agbonlahor was still en route to goal before being swiped to the ground by the clueless Johnson. The ball takes a faint deflection after the defender’s fortunate contact, but even so, Gabby is still in for a goalscoring opportunity but for the ridiculously late challenge to follow. So instead of arguing over was it or was it not a penalty, why aren’t we disputing the fact that Johnson stayed on the field of play after denying Agbonlahor a fourth goal in as many Birmingham derbies?

What was also disappointing was some of the crunching challenges from our former Villains (Gardner and Ridgewell), but I suppose they have firmly switched allegiances so why expect any loyalties? Another baffling occurence was how Gregory Vignal managed to stay on the pitch for 75 minutes before being subbed off instead of sent off for any of his 4 yellow card-worthy fouls. And lest we forget about my country man’s (Stephen Carr) thuggish, provocative taunts to the victorious home fans; demonstrating a complete disregard to not only the laws of the game, but to any self respect he had left in him. But the most pleasing aspect of this was, instead of worrying about the referee’s performance, instead of lowering ourselves to the guttering levels of the Brum-scum, we went about creating our own luck and shaping our own destiny to secure all 3 points.

Goalkeeping Importance

When your backs are against the wall, when you’re on the ropes, it’s always a divine saving grace when you have a trustworthy number 1 as your last line of defence. Paul Tomkins, a Liverpool blogger, researched how the goalkeeper may have the key position on a football pitch (http://tomkinstimes.com/2010/04/the-key-position/). And analyzing Sunday’s match, who could argue? Because not only did Friedel prevent us losing to our fiercest enemies, but he kept us in the game and created the platform from which we climbed to victory and to possible 4th place stardom. His clean sheet was only his 15th of the league campaign – one behind Reina’s impressive 16 – and with an uninspiring ‘goals for’ tally, Villa’s fantastic league form may well and truly be indebted to the immovable experience of Brad Friedel.

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man

Brum Worry

What is most alarming about Birmingham’s undignified and unfounded yelps of desperation is that their ambition is clearly limited. With wealthy owners and a fantastic league record as a newly-promoted outfit, their only aim still seems to be a desire to get one over their local rivals. I can confidently maintain that a successful season for The Clowns would be to take 4 points from their Second City matches, whereas we are thankfully concerned with bigger and more important matters.

Because as we realize that there are more than 2 fixtures in a season, the inferiority complex across the city is unfortunately hindering their development and their short-sided, unimaginative objectives mean that Birmingham Football Club will always be living in the shadow of Aston Villa. As every season passes, Aston Villa look more and more likely to break the mould of the elitest Premier League – but judging from Alex McLeish and Roger Johnson’s extensive and controversial take on Sunday’s game, Birmingham have no hope (and no expectation) of breaking into the exceptionally strong Premier League top 8 (which consists of the current top 8). What is more is that in 23 meetings, McLeish has only got the better of O’Neill 3 times compared to the Northern Ireland man’s 15 victories and after recording a record 5th successive Birmingham derby win, the Blue-noses look doomed to failure in even their smallest dreams.

They could have walked proudly out of Villa Park with their heads held high. After outplaying their rivals, they could have put it down to a bit of bad luck, but instead they decided to kick and scream like a petulant child who won’t leave the toy shop until he gets what he wants. Instead, they showed us their hand, they showed us their only desire all along was to knock Villa off their perch and having failed to do so, what was once labelled a highly impressive season is now immaterial and all the 2 whingers have served to do is remind Villains that we have once again put them in their place.

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