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Is Rafa Headed Out the Door?


Rafa Benitez gave a bizarre interview to the Times yesterday, and Liverpool fans should be worried that the pressure may be getting the better of their leader.  When a manager spends time talking about the support he is getting from the management, threatening to quit, and talking about the legacy he wants to leave behind, he sounds less like a manager worried about this weekend’s game against Man City and more like a man who wants to put this whole mess behind him.

The Benitez model of management was always about thrusting your entire stack of chips into the middle of the table.  With a modestly sized stadium and owners who are not oil sheiks or Russian kleptocrats, Liverpool could never afford highly-priced players from their operational income.  Instead, they needed victories in major competitions if they were going to compete with Chelsea, Manu U and Real Madrid for players.  Winning the Champions League, the FA Cup, and other major competitions allowed Liverpool to finance their appetite for big names.  They pulled an inside straight in 2005 when they won the Champions League, which allowed them to participate in the tournament the next year even though they finished fifth in the EPL.

However, that run of good cards may be coming to an end.  This summer Benitez spent £17 million on an injured Alberto Aquilani (which Benitez portrayed as some sort of bargain price because he was injured) and £18 million on the good but hardly outstanding Glen Johnson.  With his soft center in the back line, limited options on the bench and a complete reliance for goals on Fernando Torres, who has had trouble staying fit this season, things look bleak for Liverpool.

Barring a miracle, Liverpool will not qualify for the knock out stages in the CL and are faced with a difficult path to get into the top four this season.  If Liverpool loses the revenue stream that comes with European football, the entire operation will have a stink of death about it.  Without reinforcements, the team is growing older and improved performances seem unlikely.  Without success, reinforcements cannot be bought.  This is the pain spiral that hits teams with limited resources that do not husband those resources wisely.

Benitez knows this, and his consternation over this reality leaked out in that Times interview.  Without European football, the options are bad for Liverpool, and the job of managing Real Madrid seems to be Benitez’s escape hatch.  When he threatens to resign if Liverpool sells Torres (which nobody seems to have proposed) or talks about how “I want to leave a winning legacy,” this is clearly a man thinking about his life after Anfield.

Moreover, if Liverpool finish where they seem to be headed this season, I have a feeling the Kop will be ready to accept a new manager too.  Benitez high risk strategy in player purchasing always felt tenuous to even the most passionate supporter.  The Benitez era has been two miraculous Gerrard-inspired Cup finals away from resulting in a barren trophy cabinet, and the fans may be ready to see a more relaible path to success.

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  1. Gaz

    November 17, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    I think writers can speculate as much as they want (it makes interesting articles and gets people talking) – but Benitez isn’t going anywhere.

    I don’t think he’ll quit – for many reasons (for one the man is, as you mentioned, concerned with his legacy).

    And I doubt they’d fire him – where would they find a comparable manager willing to take the job on? How could they afford a comparable manager willing to take the job on?

    Next year may be a different question entirely (though I still doubt that) – but I think he’ll be at Liverpool the rest of this season.

  2. Tyson

    November 17, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    This is a great article I was reading that review in the times and the way he said things has really had me wondering if he meant half the stuff he said or was just being hypothetical or even sort of threatening the owners in an underhanded way.

    Instead of talking about pushing on his comments revolved around retirement, leaving a legacy etc etc.

    The Aquilani problem is a disaster too they pretty much got him on the same day they requested to buy him. If he was worth anything they wouldn’t have given a good player up without a real struggle but they were more than happy to give him up.

    Aquilani has been playing under Spaletti for years and it got to the point where he acted like Aquilani didn’t exist because the man was constantly injured.

    That isn’t a period of weeks or months either Aquilani rose through the youth ranks of AS Roma and has been playing there for 10 years. The man is one of the worse buys you can possibly make.

  3. Joe Mike

    November 17, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    “When he threatens to resign if Liverpool sells Torres (which nobody seems to have proposed)”

    Well, obviously the reporter proposed it when he was asked that question.

    But if you actually followed the team enough to have the background to write this piece, you’d know that one of the banks that own the loans from which Hicks/Gillette bought the club (Royal Bank of Scotlant) considering forcing Liverpool to sell Torres as a condition of the refinance package before ultimately deciding that it didn’t want to deal with the obvious backlash that would have caused from Liverpool supporters.

    Hicks and Gillette out, for the love of god.

  4. Matt

    November 17, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    By the way, it’s heading not headed. How can he be headed out the door? Is he a football?

    • Sam Davis

      November 17, 2009 at 11:25 pm

      It’d be “heading” if it were confirmed that he’s on his way out. “Headed” if there’s a chance that he could be leaving Anfield.

      I’ve heard the word used in that form time and time again and this is the first time I’ve ever heard someone complain about it.

      On topic, if things get even worse I think that Gillett and Hicks might just present Rafa with a “Check, Please!” Of course I’m hoping for the worst and who knows, maybe the owners will sell Torres on the cheap (to United; yes, I know he’ll never come here) and then Rafa can quit, they won’t need to pay him the remainder of his contract and the downward spiral can continue.

      On the comment about the winning percentages…the fact that he’s managed so few games in comparison with Fergie and Arsene should let you know that those stats don’t mean much of anything at the moment. Should he be given the same time in charge (unlikely), who knows where that number will fall to. Comparable winning percentage, very small number of matches. What exactly is that supposed to tell anyone?

      • Gaz

        November 20, 2009 at 11:24 am

        It tells you that public (non-LFC) perception is skewed.

        The fact that he is always on par with those we consider the “greats” having played much less is indicative of how the public perception is not on par with his actual performance. The longer he stays at the club the more chance he has of raising that winning percentage. Sure, there will be bad spells (like now) but sticking with a good manager like Benitez will always pay off.

        I can’t remember the source right now but there was an article that addressed Sir Alex’s first 300 games compared to Benitez’s first 300 – Benitez came out on top by far. Were people talking about Ferguson being sacked after his first 300? No – even though his record was worse than Benitez’s.

  5. Matt

    November 17, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    This is complete and utter tripe. Rafa is going nowhere, he has the full support of every single intelligent Liverpool supporter, and yes, that’s a FACT.

    Why is that it’s only non-LFC fans speculating on his future?

    “The Benitez era has been two miraculous Gerrard-inspired Cup finals away from resulting in a barren trophy cabinet”

    The Benitez era has seen them record their 2 best ever Premier League finishes, from finishing 40 odd points off the pace 5 years ago, they came mighty close last season.

    As for the “bizarre” interview? What’s bizarre about it? Tony Evans is a Liverpool supporter, chief football writer at The Times and Rafa rarely gives interviews to the written media. The interview was superb and finally some FACTS about Rafa’s reign are being put across in the mainstream media.

    Shame EPL Talk cant find the facts and report what’s really go on, instead it’s some speculative rubbish like this.

    Ps. Aquilani won’t be injured forever, you seem to think he will be.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      November 17, 2009 at 3:02 pm

      Ps. Aquilani won’t be injured forever, you seem to think he will be.

      Don’t be so sure of it- if you followed AS Roma the last few years, you would realize he is hurt so often,Spaletti could never count on him.

      Also mate, you’ve come to a website where our writers analyze and speculate about happenings in football. Speculative rubbish is what you call it,, but many would think of this as a perfectly fair opinion piece.

      • Gaz

        November 17, 2009 at 7:00 pm

        I would call it an opinion piece.

        Is there such a thing as a fair opinion piece unless you have no interest in the game or teams at all? 🙂

    • Gaz

      November 17, 2009 at 7:20 pm

      It is funny how people are so willing to write Benitez off so quickly despite him having a rather good record. For one, he’s got a winning percentage of about 57% at Liverpool. Ferguson has 58% at United and Wenger has the same 57% at Arsenal. This having played a fourth the games of Ferguson and less than half of Wenger.

      And you’re right – I haven’t met many Liverpool supporters that aren’t on his side (the owners, however, are another thing).

  6. daariwal

    November 17, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    What more can be expected from EPLtalk (die-hard fan of Manu) 🙂

  7. eric

    November 17, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    “the kop will be ready to accept a new manager too” !?!?!?! the one thing that separates liverpool fans from the rest of the world is that we stick by our players and our club no matter what the circumstances. we will be singing our heads off against fiorentina and every home epl game for the rest of the season. liverpool fans never lose faith. just listen to the halftime clips from the ataturk in instanbul.

  8. brn442

    November 17, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    “Hardly outstanding” Glenn Johnson? I think you need to go have a lay down on that one. Johnson has done better most LFC fans would’ve expected, especially coming forward. Otherwise, you’re spot on. Liverpool simply doesn’t have the quality in depth to win the league.

    Benitez failure to sign a decent backup/strike partner for Torres is his major undoing.

    Benitez will not be fired this season period – The club is too cash poor to do so, so unless he resigns or there is some sort of “mutual” agreement where the club gets compensated by (sic) Madrid after they win nothing again this year. Otherwise, no way.

    Plus, I can think of any replacement manger that can do any better with those two debt ridden Yankee Clowns as owners and that’s where the problem is.

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