THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

9 May ~ After a woeful season, many Liverpool fans would be forgiven for wanting to see the back of a manager whose sole CV highlight in six years is one implausible achievement in Istanbul. But on Merseyside, they don't and it's perplexing. That Rafa Benítez got Liverpool to another Champions League final, won an FA Cup and finished second last season should not cloud the matter that he has had ample time and funds to forge a regular title-challenging squad. Seventh, if that's where they finish this season, is a woeful effort for a side boasting Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Pepe Reina, Javier Mascherano, Glen Johnson and Jamie Carragher.

"We cannot compete with the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea in terms of spending power," is Benítez's mantra. He has backed the claims of Reina and Torres that Liverpool need to acquire "four or five" top-class players in order to regularly mount the sort of challenge seen last season. The concerns, however, are plentiful. Tom Hicks and George Gillett have put a premium price on the club, making the prospect of a swift buyout unlikely. Liverpool are not in the Champions League, leaving the future of Gerrard and Torres in doubt.

Then there is the not-so-small matter of whether Benítez is the best man to spend whatever funds are made available, Which top-class players would want to go to a club without Champions League football and possibly shorn of its star talents? Benítez has bought undeniably good signings in Reina, Daniel Agger, Mascherano, Torres and Xabi Alonso. But for each of these there is an Andrea Dossena, a Lucas and a David Ngog.

Benítez will argue he has done his best with limited resources. This is preposterous. Barring Carragher and Gerrard, every member of his squad is there at his behest. So when Benítez moans that he had to bring Philipp Degen and Nabil El Zhar off the bench in the Europa League semi-final against Atlético Madrid, he merely calls attention to his own shortcomings in the transfer market.

The Premier League is on the cusp of a sea change. Spurs have been good value for fourth and Harry Redknapp has built a very able squad, expected to be enhanced by Joe Cole among others over the summer. Add the rebuilding at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates, not to mention the silly money that Man City will throw around, and there is a very real chance that Liverpool could slip into a coma of mediocrity.

If the club is to drag itself back into the top four it needs to dispense with Benítez. For a fallen giant such as Juventus, his aforementioned CV highlight seems too irresistible to ignore. This should be a blessing for Liverpool. No need to fork out £20 million tearing up Benítez's contract when he can do that himself for nothing. No one stands out among the possible replacements. There has been talk of Kenny Dalglish, but he's not had a managerial role since his ill-fated stint at Celtic ten years ago. José Mourinho surely would only offer the position a cursory glance before swanning off to Madrid. Guus Hiddink, linked heavily in January, is now Turkey boss.

Benítez is too stubborn to admit his mistakes (why spend £20m on an injured Alberto Aquilani when Wesley Sneijder was available for the same price? Why sell Robbie Keane in January when you are top of the league, leaving you with no back up for Torres?). His man management skills, as witnessed by his treatment of Alonso and reinforced by Albert Riera's comments earlier in the year, leave a lot to be desired. Some of his substitutions this season have been mystifying – Torres off at Birmingham anyone? For the amazing night at Istanbul, Liverpool fans are eternally grateful. But Benítez needs to leave now with his dignity intact rather than risk overseeing a calamitous fall from grace that could set the club back decades. Adam Bushby

Comments (5)
Comment by Che Kinolova 2010-05-09 02:01:24

Et tu, WSC? I thought I could rely on the HDFM to go beyond the tabloid bull. Surely this is just that same bull - that we've been reading for the last six months, by the way - regurgitated. 'José Mourinho surely would only offer the position a cursory glance'. Hmm, yes. Why would that be, if it's only the manager that's the problem?

Lazy. Could do better.

Comment by ChrisJ 2010-05-09 16:04:58

"'José Mourinho surely would only offer the position a cursory glance'. Hmm, yes. Why would that be, if it's only the manager that's the problem? "

Because Benitez has dragged the club so far down the pecking order that they now require the sort of long-term (OK, at least 18-month) rebuilding that Mourinho doesn't have to stoop to these days? Because he thrives on CL football and can get next season's fix elsewhere?

Rafa may not have had Chelsea or City's cash, but he's had more than Spurs, Arsenal or Villa; and a head start on all of them.

My stepson's a red and he can't see it either, but neither he, nor anyone else I've talked to, can actually offer a real defence of Benitez' failure other than the patently untrue poverty pleas.

Comment by danielmak 2010-05-10 06:29:54

There have been multiple intelligent threads about Liverpool's slide this season in the Football forum that have transcended blind following of Rafa or hatred of all things Red. At one point, I argued that Rafa is an inconsistent manager (he sometimes can inspire and sometimes can't, he sometimes signs brilliant players and sometimes signs players who are well below the quality of a side like Liverpool, he sometimes makes substitutions that dramatically change the game for the better and sometimes makes substitutions that will never help change a game) but I could not see an alternative that would be better since Mourhino seemed set with Inter, Capello will be beyond Liverpool's budget and probably out of England after the WC, and Mancini ended up with City. But now that I think about it, after watching this disaster unfold, which can only partially be explained by the injury to Torres and mostly explained by Rafa's poor purchases (many of which are listed in this piece), I have to think there are a lot of options that could be lured to Liverpool *if* the ownership problems are resolved. Two who come to mind are Felix Magath and Cesare Prandelli. As a Liverpool fan, I can only hope that Real or Juve come calling and take Rafa and his high-priced staff. We will be better off.

Comment by onedeadbudgie 2010-05-11 13:00:35

Appreciate that it must be frustrating for Liverpool fans. Happily it seems to me that we have not had to listen to quite so much complaining from them on the radio. Even Radio 5 seem to have become bored with it. In any event, references by others to Liverpool's "plight" are overdone. This might be the right word for Pompey, Darlington, Stockport etc. Also while the Prem has so much power and fails to regulate its ownership more clubs will have similar problems.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-05-13 15:48:23

"Some of his substitutions this season have been mystifying – Torres off at Birmingham anyone?", he had his knee wrapped in ice and is currently in a race to be fit to make the world cup. "Why sell Robbie Keane" Spurs have done it once, bought him back and then loaned him out so ask them.
"why spend £20m on an injured Alberto Aquilani when Wesley Sneijder was available for the same price?" Because Sneijder didn't want to play for Liverpool and the £20m is only the headline figure.

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