THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

31 October 2009 ~ Despite the respite against Manchester United, Liverpool's win at Anfield last Sunday was the club's solitary victory in a six-match sequence. The fact that the other five games ended in defeat continues to suggest that Rafael Benítez's reign is increasingly about the players that aren’t available to him, rather than those that are. And yet it was all so different in Spain. In the midst of Real Madrid's first galácticos era, Benítez led Valencia to a League title in his first season in 2001-02 and another two years later along with the 2004 UEFA Cup.

In Spain, there were two big clubs to topple, just like in England. In Spain, Benítez enjoyed success in his first season, before slumping the next (Valencia finished a lowly fifth in La Liga in 2002-03), just like in England. In Spain, Benítez bounced back immediately and won another title. In England, the League remains an elusive prize.

Benítez is Valencia's most decorated manager. A settled squad and counterattacking mindset earned silverware, regular Champions League competition and a reputation for fluent and dynamic football. In contrast, comings and goings have undermined his Liverpool years, with over 70 players arriving and many leaving shortly after. Could the secret lie with the work of his predecessors?

With inherited squads, Benítez has been brilliant. Héctor Cúper’s Valencia boasted Pablo Aimar, Roberto Ayala and Kily Gonzalez, and the squad was approaching the finished article. Domestic success was immediate. A strong Liverpool squad greeted Benítez at Anfield, and while Michael Owen departed, only four players arrived: Josemi, Xabi Alonso, Antonio Nunez and Luis Garcia. Improbable success in the Champions League followed, though players already at Anfield – Steve Gerrard, Didi Hamann and Jerzy Dudek – shone brightest.

European success ensured instant reverence from Liverpool fans, but even more affection for Benítez lingers at the Mestalla. In Spain he is remembered for making Valencia increasingly adventurous and hard to predict. However, Benítez bowed to pressure in England and changed his approach, answering calls for his best side to play every week. Liverpool are no longer an inherited squad – only two have survived from Istanbul in 2005. It is now Benítez's group, assembled at a cost of nearly £229m. Such staggering profligacy was not a hallmark of his Spanish career and it has contributed to the lack of financial resources that so frustrate Benítez in Liverpool’s current cycle.

The main difference between Benítez’s Valencia and Liverpool careers is his lack of astute signings at Anfield. On the occasions that they have been made, poor man-management and overpowering attention to the finest details have undermined him. Benitez’s biographer, and Valencia fan, Paco Lloret reckons that he is “not so good at signing players... sometimes he is so intent on watching the game, that he doesn't watch the players”. Jermaine Pennant admitted he felt his intuition dampened by Benítez and that as a winger he was repeatedly instructed to "get to the byline" and little more.

Pennant is far from alone. Robbie Keane was alienated, as ultimately was Xabi Alonso. Lucas Leiva and Ryan Babel have failed to develop as expected. Yossi Benayoun is chronically underused, because his defining quality is his unpredictability. Even Dirk Kuyt, who some may point to as a success story, has been suppressed from a prolific striker to a midfield workhorse.

Benítez left Valencia after three seasons, citing differences with the club's director of sport Jesus Garcia Pitarch over transfers and investment in the team. The returns from the spending at Liverpool make it seem that the Mestalla saw the best of Benítez as he worked with an established pool of talent. Anfield, though, looks set to continue its long wait for a domestic title as frustration mounts with the team Benítez built. Rob Macdonald

Comments (5)
Comment by Dalef65 2009-10-31 14:36:13

The bloke is a bluffer, not half as good as he is cracked up to be.His transfers in and out have been an absolute joke,tons of money lashed out,to no discernible effect, on the playing staff.
Peter Crouch, Craig Bellamy and Robbie Keane have all been got rid of, Leaving Liverpool with a front line of nobodies(Torres excluded).
There have been battalions of faceless/anonymous full backs,yet we still have to turn regularly to Jamie Carragher in that position.And dont even start me on the Xabi Alonso lark.
The man is rubbish,and has only got away with it for so long because of the fortuitous CL win in 2005.And also partly because we are still a little bit dazzled by foreigners.
Any run of the mill English manager could have done just as well(or as badly if you like),the only difference being an Englishman would have been sacked ages ago.
Pack him off back to whence he came, NOW

Comment by buzzfax 2009-11-01 13:39:59

I really don't know where to start.

He's only been kept in the job because of our "fortuitous" win in 2005? What, when we were "fortuitous" to beat Juventus and Chelsea along the way, you mean? No, don't bother to mention reaching the final again in 2007 (beating Barcelona and Chelsea on the way). Or the semis again in 2008 (beating Inter and Arsenal).

Yes, Rafa has plainly made a load of mistakes, and I don't want to come over as an apologist for his failings, but it IS only six months since he piloted us to second in the table, losing just two games on the way. With the highest ever Premier League points total for a runner-up. Beating United home and away. Beating Chelsea home and away. That's one hell of a bluff.

His "transfers in have been an absolute joke"? Yes, you could probably compile an XI and a complete subs bench of the dross. But to write off the signings of Torres, Reina, Mascherano, Alonso, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger et al as an "absolute joke" is, well, a joke. You're telling me Alan Curbishley could have delivered all that lot?

You can't complain about "a battalion of anonymous full backs" and then not mention the fact that we've just lashed £18m on the current England right-back. You can argue the wisdom of that decision, sure, but your argument is disingenuous in the extreme.

Besides, what the hell does a 'non-anonymous full back' look like? Stuart Pearce? Josemi was crap so he got bombed out. Arbeloa was good (I'm assuming you didn't watch his superb debut at the Nou Camp) but wanted to go home.

I'm still laughing at the notion that "any run of the mill English manager" could have achieved what Benitez has achieved. Sam Allardyce could have beaten Barca at the Nou Camp? Steve Bruce could have masterminded the defeat of Mourinho's Inter at the San Siro? Or brought (pretty much) the world's best striker to the club? Of course, the difference between that lot and Benitez is that they'd never dare to pick a fight with Fergie. And we all know why. If you want a chummy English boss on first-name terms with Richard Keys, go and support Spurs.

I spent £50 to watch that gutless performance at Craven Cottage yesterday, so I'm hardly disposed to defending Rafa, but if you want rid of the man, you'll have mount a better argument than that (preferably one where you don't conveniently ignore awkward facts). Something about his eternally frustrating substitutions might be a good start.

That said, if the fifth word of your post is any clue, you probably get all your football opinions dripfed from Dunphy and his cronies.

Comment by Sandy 2009-11-02 08:15:13

No 2 ways about it Benitez is a great manager only short term, blinkered thinking would suggest otherwise. Who would replace him ? Jump and think later? How quickly memories fade. What was happening before Beneitez came? Now they are focussed genuine challengers for all the major trophies. There are obviously back room problems but it's greed and impatience that underpin the calls for his head. Get rid of him if you like, he'd walk into another job the next day and be successful.

Comment by Lincoln 2009-11-02 12:42:43

Perhaps in the interest of balance, although unfortunately gives less weight to your argument, you could chuck in some facts about fees recouped. Here's a few with amount paid first and sold for second:
Crouch £7m - £11m, Alonso £10.5m - £30m, Bellamy £6.5 - £7.5m, Gonzalez £1.5m - £5m, Arbeloa £3m - £4m, Leto £1.8 - £3m, Sissoko £5.6m - £8m, Carson £1m - (£2m loan to Villa), then £3.75m.

Just citing the expenditure is misleading and without income has no context. Overall Rafa has still made a loss in transfers which would have made more of an interesting point, rather than the tabloid style figure stated.

Comment by Jongudmund 2009-11-20 13:15:04

I'm not a follower of any Premier League team, but it does seem that Rafa Benitez isn't exactly the best manager in the Premier League.

I can appreciate why Buzzfax made the comments he did, but by defending Rafa he effectively reinforced the points of the article. Rafa won the CL in 2005 with a largely inherited squad. He has signed a few good players since, but only built a team good enough to achieve a few near misses.

He has spent an awful lot of money, which, yes, he has recouped, but the churn rate itself is worrying. Either he's made the wrong choices, or he can't work with some players. Either way, not great news.

And as for coming second last year, well that would be the year where Chelsea got it spectacularly wrong by appointing Scolari. But after he was sacked they went on and did quite well. And the money has dried up at Arsenal, but they still finished in the CL places because Arsene Wenger acquires amazing young players incredibly cheaply. And some of those players would walk straight into Liverpool's first team.

So maybe the 2nd place finish was an indicator of nothing more than that Liverpool were second best last season. Is that really good enough?

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