Rafa Benitez – Back to the Future?
I’ve had a little dig around to find comments, thoughts and reviews by Liverpool fans on the subject of Rafa Benitez, and his time at Liverpool. It throws up some interesting stuff.
I remember well something I heard back when Benitez was still at Liverpool. The comment I remember was that on any radio phone-in about football, no matter where the discussion started off, within 10 minutes it would end up in two Liverpool fans arguing about Rafa Benitez.
The point being made was that Benitez inspired strong opinions. A substantial number of LFC fans thought he was god’s gift. But not all of them. Some hated him.
Let me just set out some quotes – all taken from LFC-related articles or web pages, some written while Rafa was still at Liverpool, some after his departure.
“Despite things ending on a sour note for Benitez – there was a huge division within the fanbase, with some worshipping him and others loathing him by the end – it should never be forgotten just what a great manager he was at Anfield”
“…he got Liverpool and its supporters and most of us got him.”
“The way in which Benitez made his team so well-drilled and spirited was the key and he got the very best out of some mediocre footballers…There was a never-say-die attitude about the team that only elite coaches can create”
“…too much rotation (was) one of Benitez’s biggest downfalls at times”
“While the divisive Spaniard could be accused of blowing hot and cold in the transfer market, the calibre of players he signed more than made up for some of the failed acquisitions. Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Alvaro Arbeloa, Fabio Aurelio, Javier Mascherano, Xavi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt and Fernando Torres were all bought by Benitez”
“It would be short-sighted and biased to call Benitez faultless during his 6 years on Merseyside, even if he is someone I regard as Liverpool’s best manager of my football-watching lifetime…He was sometimes too conservative in home matches against lesser teams, with his stubborn nature coming to the fore when a more attack-minded approach was needed”
“Tactically he was one of Liverpool’s best ever bosses, and there was a way in which he embraced the city that felt incredibly genuine”
“His transfer track record is inconsistent – they give him money for a table and he comes back with a lampshade.”
“Quantity as much as quality has been Benitez’ hallmark in the transfer market”
“Seems a lot of people want Benitez out because of ‘the rubbish players he’s bought’ and ‘all the money he’s wasted on rubbish’…But the vast majority of his signings have been sold at profit or, if still at the club, are worth a lot more than we paid for them. A lot of the signings have been stepping stones in rebuilding the squad, gradually improving it by replacing players with better ones. The improvement in our league positions and points totals show the progression.”
“Rafa Benitez’ record with signings at the top end of the market is nothing short of brilliant…Where has this myth come from that he’s wasted money on shite players? Have a look through the lists and try to point them out…The ones that haven’t worked out he’s moved on, and not very often has he made a financial loss on them”
“The squad is worth a hell of a lot more than the one he inherited. The £83million net spend over 5 years is easily offset by the increased value of the squad – he’d recoup most of that through the sale of Torres alone!”
“You’ll only miss him when he’s gone”
I think it’s fair to say that a lot of what those Liverpool fans said back then will ring bells now with us. The tactical nous, the rapport with the club and the community, the squad rotation, the sometimes-frustrating caution at home. That’s not altogether surprising – you would expect his key characteristics to crop up again and again through his career. And that being so, here is another interesting fact.
If you look at transfer dealings in his years at Anfield, you see an awful lot of activity:
2004/5 – 7 players bought, 4 sold
2005/6 – 14 players bought, 8 out
2006/7 – 11 players in, 11 out
2007/8 – 12 players in, 11 out
2008/9 – 6 players in, 9 out
2009/10 – 5 players in, 8 out
That’s an average turnover of more than 9 players per year purchased, and just less than 9 a year out. And that’s not including the non-first-team-squad players. If you add in the fringe players he brought in on average 11 players a year.
Which I think puts a bit of perspective on what happened at Newcastle last summer. After years of constipation in the transfer market, where there seemed to be lots and lots of effort but very little movement – we were all a bit astonished last summer when Benitez seemed to have players coming and going in a whirlwind of activity.
I must admit I had assumed that would be something of a one-off, and that in subsequent summers we could expect to see a lot less activity. But having looked at his record at Liverpool, maybe that’s wrong – maybe we can expect to see another load of comings and goings this summer. In the last 2 windows we’ve seen 12 senior players come in, with 8 leaving on a permanent basis and another load of players shipped out on loan. That seemed extraordinary to us – but if you look at his record, it was pretty much just an average year for Benitez – that just seems to be the way he rolls.
Looking at our squad I can easily see scope for at least a dozen players currently on our books to leave permanently.
I’d be surprised if many of the following were still on our books by next September – Anita, Diame, Mbemba, Haidara, Gouffran, one of Sels Krul or Elliot, Ameobi, Good, Mitrovic, de Jong, Saivet, Riviere (please !), Mbabu, Thauvin.
And if we see that sort of number going out, we’re likely to see the same sort of number coming in. If that’s the case, then Rafa’s likely to be planning another busy summer.
Which puts the ball firmly into Mike Ashley’s court. If you look at Benitez’ record the conclusions seem to be that:
- He does a lot of transfer business
- Yes, he does buy a few dumplings.
- But on the whole his dealings improve the team and increase the value of the squad.
We’ll find out soon enough whether Ashley will or will not stump up the necessary dosh in the summer to persuade Benitez to stay and do his stuff. My guess is that he will.
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])