Liverpool’s purple patch appears to be over and manager Rafa Benítez is the man to blame, writes Martin Scanlon.
From the moment Rafa Benitez went off on his much-hyped rant against Alex Ferguson prior to Liverpool’s match against Stoke, opinions have abounded of the Spaniard losing the plot.
Four consecutive draws in a period when Manchester United overturned a seven point deficit at the summit of the Premier League didn’t help his status. His troubles have not remained confined to the pitch and his ongoing struggle to be granted absolute control in the club’s transfer dealings saw the rejection of a new contract offer. The final nail in his coffin, however in the eyes of many, has been his childish and baffling treatment of Robbie Keane.
Keane is a player who has had his detractors. His unenthusiastic and uninspiring performances for the national side, ever since the 2002 World Cup, have left a lot to be desired. At club level however, he has been a more than competent player with Tottenham Hotspur in recent years and may yet recapture the form that made Benitez pay £20 million for him.
His time at Liverpool consisted of sluggish performances, goal-line misses and a rare reminder of his potential against Arsenal. Yet, no player deserves to be treated in the manner Keane has. To his credit, he didn’t sulk or seek a move; he simply got his head down and concentrated on getting back into the starting eleven, although the Irish captain eventually found himself shipped back to Spurs on deadline day.
Benitez has never been shy of promoting his favour for squad rotation, yet, his decision to drop Keane after he scored three times in the space of two games around the Christmas period was bizarre. Maybe it would have been understandable if he had of been replaced by Fernando Torres, but to replace him with Dirk Kuyt as the lone striker was totally unexplainable.
But, it’s just one of the many seemingly irrational actions of Benitez that have characterised his Liverpool tenure. One of his first moves following his arrival on Anfield was to offload Michael Owen, a decision from which the club suffered from until the capture of Torres. When Steven Gerrard was being courted by Chelsea, he barely put up a fight, nothing like Alex Ferguson’s struggle to retain Ronaldo during the summer. Where would Liverpool now be if Gerrard had left?
Benitez is the man who once went 99 consecutive games without naming the same eleven; a policy which seemed to have no definite structure. His transfer dealings have had a similar misguided flavour. Nunez, Degen, Dossena, Fowler, Pennant, Gonzalez, Josemi, Kronkamp – the list goes on. Only Torres and Alonso (who he also tried to offload) could be considered unqualified successes during his near five year reign.
The sale of Keane has left the club distinctly lacking in cover for the injury prone Torres. Whether Rick Parry was correct to refuse to pay £18 million for Gareth Barry during the summer is another argument. However, given the Spaniard’s track record, the club can be criticised for refusing to give this man total control of player acquisition and disposal.
Ferguson may have been unduly complaining of the schedule which his team faced but this probably had more to do with creating a siege culture and focus within the club on the importance of the games ahead. Benitez’s mock proposal to allow Ferguson draw up the fixture list may have been seen as nothing more than witty if it were not for the serious tone of his statement.
Of all the quotes to come from the infamous statement, the most defining was “I will be watching United’s game with Chelsea. The result does not matter to us, if we win at Stoke that result does not matter.” Liverpool did not win that game, nor in the following three. He should have known better than to give the media such fodder with which to undermine his team.
Great managers usually have more than a touch of eccentricity about them, something which makes them stand out from the crowd. Certain managers seem to use the attention their sound bytes generate to motivate their club and deflect attention away from their players. Rafa’s rant has had the opposite effect. The rant may have created the media frenzy but years of dubious decisions show that Rafa is a loose cannon aimed at Liverpool’s legacy.