Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Goodbye Mr. Benitez

I've been following Liverpool Football Club since I first some them on TV in 1977. I was six years of age and idolised the players of that era. I made sure I had an up-to-date shirt in my possession for years after that and had great fun at the expense of my Manchester United supporting friends (of which there weren't many to be honest). League Championship after League Championship. European glory. Halcyon days.

But no longer...

I've been following a lot of the web commentary on the current situation at Liverpool and in particular the record of Rafa Benitez during his 6 year reign. Maybe it's a web culture thing but everyone believes they have access to the facts yet the commentators seem to contradict each other quite wildly.

Benitez spent millions v Benitez had no money to spend.

The squad is in excellent shape v the quality of the squad has gone backwards.

I'm sure these commentators know so much more than I do but I'm going to articulate my views nonetheless. You see, I don't particularly care about the millions - that seems to me to be a side-show! And as for the talent within the squad, I can only say that we have some great players and some not so great players. When I look at the Manchester United starting XI on any given week, I would think that Liverpool would be more than capable of beating them. Yet Manchester United have a habit of winning and last season, Liverpool looked like a team expecting to struggle.

So why does a team full of very well paid superstars fail to perform? Who can take the rap? Who is responsible for the mental well-being of the collective unit known as the team?

I watched most games last year and some players just didn't perform. Lucas seemed to be an easy target for many but I think that does the guy a great injustice. He played better than I expected. I cannot say the same for any other outfield players last season and that includes the untouchables within the team. Carragher didn't have a great start to the season and I'm sure he would recognise that himself. Gerrard looked completely disillusioned. Torres was rarely fit. Mascherano gave the ball away in dangerous areas of the pitch all too frequently.

(I am deliberately excluding Pepe Reina from this discussion because he was, by far, the best keeper in the league!)

Now, it is understandable that players will have dips in their form. But what happens when the entire team have a dip in form? Who can pick them up and tell them that they are special and that their efforts are appreciated? Martin O'Neill has long been highlighted as a great man-manager. Rafa Benitez has long been highlighted as a cold fish!

However, what was the big difference between 2008-09 and 2009-10 (apart from the 2nd place/7th place and huge points difference)? We could point at the loss of Alonso and no ready-made replacement. But that would disguise the facts too.

During 2008-09, I thought we were pretty lucky to be competing at the top end of the table the way we were. After all, it seemed to me that we won more than our fair share of games with a last minute goal! Those last minute goals didn't appear this season. Did our mighty points haul in 2008-09 disguise other frailties?

And what should the response be to the likes of Real Madrid when they come waving £30M for Gerrard? I for one would think seriously about taking it. He has courted moves before and his body language last year certainly seemed to suggest that he was lacking the enthusiasm.

Ultimately, when things aren't going well on the pitch and there is disharmony within the club, something needs to be done to resolve it. Someone needs to take the rap. Something has to change. I am quite happy to accept the fact that Benitez had to go but I'm guessing he was let down by internal wrangling and a team that was lacking motivation.

The big question is who should be his replacement. Hodgson? O'Neill? Moyes? McLeish? Dalgish? Eriksson? Some of those notions are complete fantasy others have merit and one might smack of nostalgia. Would I be happy to see King Kenny in charge? Absolutely. But I don't want to see him do it and fail and tarnish his reputation.

Whatever happens... the manager will need our support. I don't care about the owners and the way they have run the club in recent years. For me, as a fan, I just want to see the team perform on the pitch and challenge the top teams for honours. The squad is capable. The manager needs to know how to get the best out of them.
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