Rafa: the man they love to hate

Let’s get this straight: Rafa Benitez makes some seemingly odd decisions. 

Last year he took off Steven Gerrard at Wigan in a game Liverpool had to win to maintain their title challenge. This season, he’s substituted our best player, Yossi Benayoun, in matches against Lyon and Fulham, just when we needed him most. He’s stubborn, thinks too much about the next game and once wore a dreadful stonewash jeans-and-suit jacket combination at Wrexham in a friendly last year. 

He’s also one of the greatest managers in the world. 

People – and I include a lot of Liverpool fans in this – are so used to the Reds being a dominant force that they ignore the perilous position that the club is in at the moment. For anyone under the age of 45, Liverpool have always been at the top of the English football tree. If they’re not, it must be Rafa’s fault. Right?

Wrong.

If we’re being truthful here, Benitez must take some blame for what’s been happening on the pitch recently, but the real reason we’re in such a bad position at the moment is down to two people: Liverpool’s owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks. Though to call them “owners” grants them more dignity than they deserve. 

When they bought our club off long-time chairman David Moores, Hicks and Gilette promised that they would use their own money for the purchase. 

They lied. 

Instead they took control of Liverpool FC with a £350m Royal Bank of Scotland loan. The profits the club makes, thanks largely to Benitez’s careful management, are ploughed back to pay off the interest on that loan. Want new players, Rafa? Sorry, you can only spend what you earn through the sales of others. 

And it’s not just in the purchase of players that the Americans have been sadly wanting. 

Three years ago, all the talk was of “new Anfield”, the 70,000-capacity stadium that would see Liverpool bring in the sort of gate receipts that Manchester United and Arsenal do every week. George Gillett promised that within 60 days of them taking over, there’d be “a spade in the ground” at Stanley Park, site of the new ground. 

We’re still waiting. 

The truth of the matter is that Liverpool are skint. Without Torres and Gerrard, Liverpool have no-one, bar Benayoun who can put the ball in the net with any regularity. The fact that Liverpool couldn’t afford to get rid of someone as woefully inept as Andriy Voronin during the summer shows just how paper-thin our squad is.

And it’s not just me pointing this out. Daniel Finkelstein’s “Finktank” in The Timesforensically analyses the form of every Premier League club. His view on Liverpool is eye-opening. 

[Last year] Liverpool exceeded our expectations for a team of their quality. And it is not surprising at all that they have dropped back off again this season. Their start to this season is more what we would expect of them.

So what is behind it? Three things seem worth mentioning. First, they have stayed steady in quality but have changed with their defence getting weaker and their attack getting stronger. They are letting in a large proportion of the shots on goal. They need to put this right.

Second, Xabi Alonso was, next only to Steven Gerrard, their best player. It was a disaster to lose him to Real Madrid. But most importantly – the money. Our figures show that Benítez outperforms the wage bill. Blame the Americans. Not Rafa.


So for Liverpool supporters, it has to be a case of holding tight and sitting out this storm. Calling for Benitez’s head does no-one any favours – and there isn’t a decent manager out there who’d come to Liverpool at the moment anyway, not with those two clowns at the helm. As mentioned earlier, the Spaniard should not be immune to criticism, but a real examination of what Rafa can do for the club should wait until Hicks and Gillett have been packed off back to the States. 

And Reds fans reading this: remember, we are not Newcastle or England, clamouring for our manager’s head just because it’s not going exactly the way we like it. We are different. We support our team, and especially our manager, through thick and thin. 

As our motto goes: we are not English, we are Scouse. 

It’s about time a few more people started to behave like it.








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