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:

  1. He does a lot of transfer business
  2. Yes, he does buy a few dumplings.
  3. 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])



  • MichaelMaximusMoose

    The usual cry is Taxi when a players rubbish, well Nufc will need an awful lot of them come the summer
    the only place you`ll see as much Shyte in one place is the Moor where the Cows are

  • Geordiegiants

    I really hope your right about him staying! My personal opinion is he will be off like a shot last game of the season. Anyway, some of our fans will never be happy. They expect champions league standard signings and flare football. Very few present day managers play flair all out attacking football and win trophies. We can’t have it all, I’m as happy as I can be while the vile cancer is running our club. Until the day he is no more, this club and its fans will be fighting and arguing on a self destruct mission.
    Although the fans were divided at Liverpool, I bet not one of them complained at winning the champions league.

    • Wor Monga

      …they would here though…if they had nothing to complain about they’d lose the will to live!!

  • Jimblag23

    It’s irritating the tag Rafas got of buying bad players, it’s a percentage game. Obviously for every Alonso you get an Aquiliani.
    But Ferguson and Wenger have each got a host of abysmal players they wasted money on and that doesn’t make them bad managers.
    Chelsea once spent about 10 mill on Steve Sidwell!
    If Ashley backs Rafa in the summer I’m 100% sure we’ll be vastly improved from where we are now.

  • Lord

    Good article.

  • NeutralRed

    I’m a big Rafa fan and was really gutted when he left Anfield. Having said that his last year was truly awful, and in hindsight it was probably for the best.

    For every 5 things Rafa does right, there’s one thing he gets absolutely wrong and another 1-2 things you have to put up with because he is that stubborn. Having said that, he got a very average Liverpool side with 3-4 absolute top class players to be the number 1 ranked team in Europe. That on a shoe string budget compared to the other top clubs in Europe.

    So here’s some humble advise to all you Geordies:

    1. Enjoy the Rafa ride cos it may be a while until you get a chance to repeat it. Liverpool is a very good example.

    2. I’ve seen many of Newcastle’s game this season, and I can already see similar signs. Being absolutely fantastic one week and woeful the next. Get used to this as there will be more good days than bad. And Rafa always has a plan.

    3. Rafa is loyal. He will not walk in the summer unless he doesn’t get the transfer kitty needed to progress on the EPL.

    4. Patience. Rafa will make Newcastle a top-6 team eventually. But it may take time. Stick with him.

    5. Rafa is not liked by many. Your loyalty to him means a lot, hence he’s always fighting for you, even when it would be more sensible not to.

    All the best for next year.

    • Damon Horner

      Nice input, thank you. I’ve bizarrely noticed Rafa coming here has produced a lot of Liverpool good feeling too.
      I agree with all your comments also, I feel Rafa is a good fit aside from the “entertainers” crew still hanging around but lets not forget the one team to have scored at a better rate than us and they adapted to and embraced the man.

  • Doug Dacre

    Anyone, including me can buy top stars for top money….
    It takes a great manager to take a player from a lower division, or from the youths and make him a star, and Rafa tries the later…

    • NeutralRed

      Rafa’s success rate with youth players is poor, but it’s not for the lack of trying. His one major success is Sterling, but many others have come and moved on to obscurity.

      He does have a knack of buying £5-10m players and selling them on for a hefty profit. His mistake is when he himself doesn’t realise it’s far better to hold on to a player than to earn a profit. Alonso is a very good example.

  • Jason Kilby

    He did us proud at L4.

  • Wor Monga

    Good article here, very informative unlike the vast majority that just repeat what some pundit or player has said before printing him actually saying it…

    Rafa started this season by selling the players that had been the ever present names on the Toon team sheet, and replacing them with 12 new faces…some young…some old, but only 2 or 3 with enough experience or idea of what a season in the championship would entail…

    …he turned them into a unit that swept to the top of the league by October which was in itself no mean feat…considering where Villa and Norwich who came down with them were at that time…now not surprisingly some of his players are finding the rate of games and the injuries are putting a strain on them compared to Brighton and other teams that have faced it several times before, and knew what to expect…

    …another 6 or 7 points should see us clearly promoted which was the target when the season began then we’ll see Rafa wheeling and dealing in the market, like he always has…and I say bring it on!!!

    • Damon Horner

      wise as always!

  • MichaelMaximusMoose

    The bottom line is we wont get a better Manager so let`s hope Fatso backs him & not his 2 idiots, Penfold & Carr

    • East Durham Mag

      I’m not sure why but i always get the idea Mike just wakes up and decides it’s time to do something incendiary and lob a grenade into the room. If he has any sense he will back Rafa and give him a free hand. Only time will tell.

      • Damon Horner

        I think he just doesn’t get football which is why having Carr there is useful for him. One example being: Spending £10mil (consider it in your hand) on one player to score a goal for you and find out he sometimes won’t always score that goal probably angers and frustrates him and he reacts on what he knows and feels rather than trusts those in the know.

  • Mayor Vaughn

    The man is class, pure and simple.
    Anyone whining and moaning has an unbelievably short memory.

  • Albert Stubbins

    Great article- very informative- my worry is that he won’t get the 100 million net he needs to make us into a team capeable of surviving in the premiership. Anyone who thinks this side doesn’t need 5/6 quality additions to even compete are deluded. If he doesn’t he may very well walk judging by the feed back from Newcastle and Liverpool fans alike. Here’s hoping.

    • Salty

      No doubt we do need to spend money but £100m? Did Leicester or Burnley spend money like that? Apart from the top 4 or 5 who has? A quality manager like Rafa will find value in the market and spring a surprise or 2. How about Defoe and Glen Johnson on Bosmans/frees and others who have contracts running down like Andre gray or Callum Wilson? And I expect we will bid the £16m for McCarthy again. There’s 4 players who would improve us for £30m and that’s before any sales.

      • Albert Stubbins

        Glen johnson wouldn’t improve Blyth Spartans- McCarthy decent player- gray or wilson no better than we have at present in my opinion. Remember we have invested in championship players to get us of of the championship- with the definite exception of Ritchie, the stand out player in the league and the possible exceptions of Darlow, Shelvey Lascelles and Gayle we have no one who the majority of premiership clubs would be remotely interested in- we are miles behind, absolutely miles- years of under investment have caught up with us- we need to spend a fortune to survive and 99% of regular attendees of Newcastle United would agree- we are poor and lack quality in virtually every area of the pitch. Sad but true.

        • Salty

          Gray and Wilson no better than Perez and Mitro, Howay man! Haven’t seen much of Johnson this season but must have more than little Vern. And surely you can’t think big clubs would want Lascelles? Agree I would keep Shelvey , Gayle (though injury problems have to be a concern), Ritchie, Clark and Darlow. And we will need some quality, including someone like McCarthy as maybe a tom cairney is more of a gamble but we can be canny around signings. I hope we bring in a bit of experience (Defoe?) to help us through. But if that costs £100m then we haven’t made enough effort.

          • Albert Stubbins

            Grey is decent I admit but Wilson makes Marcelino seem like superman!! No chance- another crock.

      • Albert Stubbins

        apologies to Cieran Clarke- he has been class for us this season imo.

  • Himanshu Dhingra

    No Manager ever has a 100% record in the transfer market!

    David Bellion, Djemba Djemba, Kleberson, Jeremy Alliadiere, Yaya Sanogo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!