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