There can no be no denying that Rafael Benitez has done a good job at Liverpool. His ever growing number of acolytes of the Liverpool persuasion would of course point to Istanbul, Cardiff, Old Trafford and Fernando Torres. He further helped re-establish Liverpool as a European force who could consistently challenge, if not for the Premier League, certainly for the Champions League where his record is superb. In only one season, 2005-06, did Liverpool not reach the Quarter Finals, and on two occasions they have reached the final, winning in 2005. The league performances (until last season) of 5th, 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 2nd further suggest that Benitez had built up a large enough body of work to deserve a ‘written off’ season of transition. Perhaps Benitez felt that the 2008-09 season was so positive that he could afford to try and re-invent his side into a more swashbuckling outfit capable of winning the title, without the risk of it going wrong and him losing his job, but his admirable game of chance didn’t pay off. Maybe he underestimated the capacity for it all to go wrong. But it did go wrong, really really badly.
In almost any other club, the disaster of last season would have been written off as ‘transitional’. But with the stakes so high at Liverpool – not only the ‘culture of success’ ever-present at a club like Liverpool, but with the financial situation being so delicate, dealings in the transfer market simply have to succeed instantly much more often than not to secure the future of the club. Benitez’s series of abysmal flops – Fernando Morientes, Jermaine Pennant, Andrea Dossena, Robbie Keane – when compared to the success stories – Pepe Reina, Javier Mascherano, Yossi Benayoun, Xabi Alonso, Daniel Agger and Fernando Torres – and the sort-of-alright-signings-that-cannot-be-described-as-flops-but-have-not-really-been-totally-successful (Crouch, Riera, Kuyt, Lucas, Bellamy, Johnson, Aquilani) suggests that Benitez’s success rate is slightly better than 1 in 3. With money scarce and the need for constant improvement… er, constant, Benitez’s record in the transfer market is not quite good enough for Liverpool’s current situation. In contrast to Ferguson, whose club are in a similar financial mess to Liverpool’s (worse in some ways) his one great purchase last season, Luis Antonio Valencia, was very successful for the money spent.
The horrendous season that recently passed suggests that Benitez’s signings have not improved the team greatly. In an attempt to re-invent his team in a more attractive, expansive fashion by purchasing attack minded, injury prone, mercurial players (Aquilani, Johnson to replace Alonso and Arbeloa) rather than filling the other holes that lingered in his squad (left back, reserve centre forward, right wing) with cheaper, more dependable (less injury prone) signings, Benitez has killed the goose that laid the golden egg. He would maybe not have left if Liverpool had finished third and reached the Champions League quarter finals, for example, something his stodgy, consistent side of 2005-2008 delivered consistently and (almost) without fail. In a sense poetically for a manager whose teams famously lacked ambition in a tactical sense, Benitez’s ambition left his teams lacking in key areas. As it cannot be presumed with any certainty that Rafa could correct the problems he created without at least some expense (he needed some, not a great amount of expenditure in 2004, but Houllier’s Liverpool never finished seventh) and as Liverpool do not have a great amount of money, the owners felt that they could get better value for money elsewhere.
Ultimately therefore, whilst Rafa Benitez did a commendable job at Liverpool for the vast majority of it, his inadequacies in the transfer market, as well as his previous mistakes and the increasingly problematic financial situation at the club suggests that it was right for him to leave, as he did with his pride and dignity in tact.
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