Rafa Benítez: A Success?

At the end of the 2003-4 season Liverpool had finished 4th in the Premier League and had not won a trophy. It was to be Gerard Houllier’s last year in charge and Liverpool began the search for a new manager. At the end of the 2003-4 season Valencia had finished 1st in La Liga and won the UEFA cup. Much like the Portuguese winner of the Champions League that year, Valencia’s manager was in held in high regard and both were about to make a move to England.

Liverpool are considered an historic team in English football having dominated at different periods between 1970 and 1980. When Rafael Benitez was chosen to succeed Gerard Houllier it was considered a smart move by both parties; Liverpool had signed a master tactician who had proven success in Europe. Benitez had left behind the politics and looming spectre of debt hanging over Valencia, it is now six years hence and much like Mourinho before him Rafael Benitez has left his club by “Mutual consent”. Unlike Mourinho though Benitez will not be held in universal regard, Mourinho’s time at Chelsea was a success, could the Rafa era also be considered one?

(Firstly, I must say that I am not comparing Mourinho’s time in England to Rafa’s, there is a parallel between both their appointment and departure but the similarities cease there.)

To determine how successful Benitez was we would have to clarify what success means for a manager. First and foremost success can be measured in Trophies, with teams at the elite level Trophies are to be expected and in this regard Benitez is only modestly successful. The stand out moment on his tenure was the Champions League win in 2005. Many words have been written about the night in Istanbul and I will only add to say that regardless of the years since no-one can deny that to inspire a team at half-time with the game seemingly finished was and is Benitez’ greatest success. An FA cup and UEFA super-cup were to follow but for his 6 years only the Champions League was a major trophy in Liverpool’s cabinet.

Trophies cannot be the only hallmark of a manager if they were to be Arsene Wenger would be out of a job, another measure of success for any manager is to leave the team in a better shape than when you took over. It is here that Rafa Benitez has been most successful. The turnover of players was high with many not suited to his style of management and yes there were some horrific signings (chiefly Morientes) but Rafa was not alone in this regard, Jose Mourinho signed Mateja Kezman and Shaun Wright-Phillips in the same time period and neither could be considered a success. If you were to look at the squad Rafa inherited and compare it with that he leaves there is a stark contrast.

In the summer that Rafa Benitez took over Liverpool’s talisman, Michael Owen, was leaving for Real Madrid. The squad itself was left with only one world class player in the form of their captain. As Rafa Benitez leaves Liverpool he leaves behind at least 4 world class players, a Goalkeeper who I consider to be one of the top 5, a destructive midfielder who was misused at West Ham and the world’s best and most prolific striker. All of whom joined under Rafa Benitez, the next manager to take over at Liverpool has a much more solid basis for success than Rafa himself had.

It is his greatest failing though that due to some circumstances beyond his control and some solely of his own making Benitez was never able to form a Premier League winning team. After finishing second in 2008-9 pundits felt that Liverpool could go on to win the Premier League. In reality it was wishful thinking, in the summer just passed Liverpool merely replaced the first team players that were transferred out. In doing so Liverpool were unable to take any forward steps much like the transfer window’s before. Benitez was always forced to supplement any signing’s by letting other players go. A winning squad cannot be built in this fashion it needs improve on the first team whilst retaining players for flexibility should any injuries occur. It was the lack of this flexibility that saw Liverpool fall so far this season without a direct replacement for Xabi Alonso ready for the beginning of the season many of their games got bogged down in Midfield as a direct option such as Alonso was missing. Fernando Torres was injured on international duty (again) and with no viable alternative due to the enforced transfer policy Liverpool suffered dramatically. Liverpool fans were disappointed to see Peter Crouch, Craig Bellamy, John Arne Riise and Sami Hyypia all have more successful seasons.

Under normal circumstances Rafa Benitez would only be considered a moderately successful manager with a terrible season a perfectly valid reason to appoint a new manager. However over the last 3 years the highly leveraged American buy-out has removed the cashflow necessary to continually compete at the highest level and maintain a strong squad. The embarrassment to be asked whether Liverpool could fulfil their fixtures for the upcoming season is a damning indictment of the ownership. In the end Rafa Benitez leaves the Liverpool team in a much better position but the Liverpool club in a much more dire one, none of which can be blamed on him. It is interesting to note that Rafa Benitez leaves another club due to board room politics and the grim spectre of debt, if he is appointed Internazionale manager he will probably pray that Massimo Morratti does not give way to a foreign investor, he’s dealt with too many before.

14 thoughts on “Rafa Benítez: A Success?”

  1. For Liverpool fans, success is winning the Premier League title. Under Benitez the club came close last year only and had a great chance to win it (mostly because the other top teams were struggling early on) but could not do so because of Rafa’s “play not to lose” philosophy. Under Rafa the club played very unattractive football, were the only top side in the world that played like the away team when at Anfield trying to protect a lead. Unlike others I think he brought in good players but never used them properly because of his conservative tactics. Another top class manager would have done a lot better with the squad Rafa assembled. Rafa is very good at playing not to lose which is why he has been so successful in European tournaments but less so domestically. To win the Premier League title a club has to go out to win every match. That was never Rafa’s philosophy.

    What should also not be forgotten is that the two major trophies Liverpool won they did so via penalties, which is a crap shoot at best.

    All in all I would say he wasn’t a success given the talent at his disposal and the number of trophies won in 6 years. Regardless of the off-field problems with the owners, the on-field performance of the team wasn’t up to snuff. And that is the fault of Rafa Benitez.

    1. You talk about the 2 penalty shoot-outs that led to the trophies. Firstly, OK Milan in 2005 were the better side, and penos are the luckiest way to win a competition, but what about 2007, we made it to the final again, beating 2 of the best teams in Europe along the way, and then lost to Milan in a game which Liverpool dominated in terms of possession and chances. Stevie G had plenty of chances to put the game away, but didn’t.

      In the FA Cup final, West Ham got 3 of the luckiest goals you will ever see – an OG by Carragher, and two mistakes by Pepe Reina, a fumble and a shot that should have been caught or parried away. Liverpool were the deserving winners in that game as well. Should I talk about the element of luck in both of Man U’s Champions League triumphs?

      Also, Benitez took a crap squad, and we finished above Arsenal three times in the 6 years, and consistently bettered their performance in the Champions League. The only team Liverpool was consistently behind was Man U (who spent more net from 2004-09) and Chelsea, who had seemingly unlimited resources.

      The idea that Benitez’s performance should be based only on his last season, which all of England seems to be doing, is ludicrous. Its like saying Sir Donald Bradman was a crap batsman because he scored a duck in his last innings.

  2. I don’t see how we can avoid making comparisons with Mourinho, especially as he was identified by Liverpool before Chelsea as the next manager but couldn’t compete financially.
    Rafa came with a good pedigree and had worked wonders in Spain. However, he has spent alot of money in his time at Anfield so the relative success and failure is his and his alone. Until the last 18 months, he wasn’t denied funds to strengthen his squad so blaming the owners alone is not entirely fair.
    Liverpool could and should have won the League last year but blew it big time (let’s not forget that the 4-1 victory at Old Trafford in Feb 2009 merely kept Liverpool in the race, having built a significant lead by the beginning of January).
    The best team wins their respective league, no matter how prestigious a cup win may be (yes, even the CL). Benitez was brought in to make Liverpool the best again, therefore you cannot say he succeeded.
    That said, getting rid of him now hasn’t solved anything; they would have been better off waiting for him to walk and picking up some compensation.
    Who in their right mind would take the Anfield job at the moment? Any manager who is in a job and doing well would be better off waiting (unless you are an ageing manager that has worked pretty much everywhere except a top English club and your moment has come….step forward Mr Hodgson)

  3. I don’t think Rafa was as bad a manager as people make it out but then again I think people defend Rafa without looking at the facts as well. It seems like a struggle between the people that love Rafa and those that despise him.

    I think the middle of the road view would be that he did pretty well but he could have done a lot better. Winning the Premier League title never has been easy, never. A lot of managers would struggle to win it regardless of whether they were in charge of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal or Manchester United.. its a very hard title to get.

    Benitez I think did a decent job of getting Liverpool into good shape. Liverpool have strengths and when they use those strengths they are very good. Of course they also had some luck at times.

    I think for me Benitez was a bit more failure than success though and it comes down to 2 figures. 70 players and 220 million pound. His transfer record has got to be one of the worst in history and I mean that literally. He was very bad in the transfer market and what annoys me is when pro-Rafa fans simply won’t recognise that and they say Benitez never had any money to spend. In the last 6 years the Benitez regime has spent significantly more than United, Chelsea or Arsenal. He had access to a LOT of money though he did have more rebuilding to do as well.

    I think if Liverpool end up with Roy Hodgson though they won’t regret losing Benitez. Benitez is a good manager but Hodgson is no slouch and I think his style of play will suit Liverpool better. Also what is Mark Hughes upto nowadays? Lets not forget he played under one of the best managers in football history and he does have the football IQ to use Liverpool to the best of their ability.

    I think as long as Liverpool keep all their star players they will be fine as long as they can get Hodgson or Hughes to sign on. The real disappointing thing for Liverpool has got to be not finishing fourth. The Champions League is a very lucrative league that would have done nicely to boost the coffers of Liverpool next season.

  4. In (m) Out (m) Net (m)
    06/07 sea 18.32 27.5 -9.18
    07/08 sea 33.65 69.5 -35.85
    08/09 sea 35.5 38.5 -3
    09/10 sea 44.5 36 8.5
    Total -39.53

    That’s the transfer spend over the American’s tenure. If you factor in a reasonable transfer budget of 20m. Which is modest given the tv revenue the EPL passes on and the 4 years of Champs League football (3m prize money for simply making the group stage) Then Rafa has been short changed and has led to a paper thin squad.

    1. Shouldn’t Rafa be held responsiable of development of younger players? Relying solely on the transfer market to bring in talent is a losing formula to me.
      If you don’t have the funds to go head to head with “the big boys” development of your youth squad is essential. Look at what Arsen Wegner and Roy Hodgson have done with lack of funding.

      1. Patrick, Arsene Wenger and Hodgson at least had full control of their youth policy. Rafa was given full control after 5 FULL YEARS.

      2. This is precisely why I think that Ancelotti will succeed at Chelsea. He has now focused on both relying on the transfer market whilst bringing up promising youngsters from the Youth Academy as opposed to the Mourinho Era of buy-buy-buy. I suppose there was the lack of morale that came with the lack of funding that Rafa had during his time at Pool manager, but regardless, to ardently refuse to develop players from the youth level is a losing situation for both he and the club and as we can all see, its repercussions have been felt this past season.

  5. He won 2 trophies early and completed destroyed Liverpool after that….I mean, where they are NOW is due to his laughable transfer history on the WHOLE

    Blaming the owners is what people do when they have no clue what they are talking about…LOOK AT HOW MUCH HE SPENT FOR CRYING OUT LOUD

    1. 68 million net in 6 years. -10 in the last 2 years. Was a Champions League final and 2nd placed finish completely destroying Liverpool? Muppet.

  6. It’s a moot point. He’s gone now.

    In the end, whoever the manager may be, the person in charge will be fired as soon as new ownership takes over. Even if Rafa had stayed in charge, he would have been canned by the new regime anyway.

    This is why I think LFC will end up with an interim appointment, and no career manager is going to want to take the job.

    I still think there is a story behind the story, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Rafa’s dismissal was an attempt to keep Gerrard.

  7. I like the theory put forth by media man. Was this the reason for the sulky season? While I have disagreed with some of his decisions the one thing that Rafa understood more the any manager than Bill Shankly was the heritage of the club. He adapted to being a Liverpudlian and respected the club, not imposing his authority. I hope he does well at Inter Milan and gives the English clubs a good drubbing. LFC will miss RAFA in the years to come. As it is stated in the Bible “daughters pf Jerusalem
    weep not for me but for your children”

  8. I’ve always felt that Rafa was never suited for the Premier League. His tactics were better suited for a league like Serie A (incidently he spent a lot of time studying football tactics in Italy). Now that he is the new Inter manager I think you will see him do well compared to his time at Liverpool.

    Success is a relative term. In managing a top 4 team he was not a success. In managing a top 7 team he was a success.

  9. With Rafa he always had the biggest expectations.One small slip they call him the Spanish Waiter or whatever.Arsenal fans dont even mind getting 7th place.It was very hard for him.I really miss him.He had a bigger heart than most other Liverpool fans can dream of.

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