That Was The Season That Was 2009/10 – Chutzpah Defined

I hate Israel.
I don’t blame Gillett and Hicks.

There, that should get a few hits. Probably not of the type you’d want, but we’ll cross that particular petrol-soaked bridge when we get to it. To begin with, hating Israel. This has nothing to do with alleged apartheid policies or human rights abuses in the Gaza strip. No, it is because the creators of the state of Israel decided that Hebrew would be the language that would unite the nation. This was at the expense of the spoken language of the Jewish diaspora, Yiddish.

Yiddish is ace, full of all manner of tremendous words laden with onomatopoeia. Words like schlep, klutz, schlemiel, kosher, dreck and putz are far more meaningful than their English equivalents. And probably the best of these words is ‘chutzpah’. The word means to be outrageously cheeky, but the definition from the book The Joys of Yiddish captures the true flavour of the word best: chutzpah is “a person who kills his parents and pleads for the court’s mercy on the ground of being an orphan”.

And it’s the word captures the incredulity that should have greeted Rafa Benitez’s recent lament that the “conditions had changed” at Anfield and that he needed five players to bring Liverpool up to Chelsea’s level. The sheer cheek of a manager who has had tens of millions of pounds and six years to get things right blithely behaving as if it were all a mess that he has inherited reeks of, well, chutzpah. It has uncanny echoes with the way in which New Labour in general, and Gordon Brown in particular, would always behave as if any problems were the product of the Tories. The passage of Time will inevitably render such statements as not only wrong but downright damaging in themselves.

Conditions have changed, it’s fair to say. But the conditions have changed for everyone, with the galling exception of Manchester City. 2009/10 was the first time in at least five seasons that Alex Ferguson didn’t have £30 million to splash out on one player. In fact the Mancs were worse off than Liverpool in the transfer market as they had to flog a 40+ goal player and scrabble around for the likes of Michael Owen to replace him – how’s that League Cup medal feel, Michael? Hope it made it worth your while leaving Anfield just before we won the Champions League and arriving at the Big Top just before the league title train left the station. Liverpool did lose Alonso but were able to buy a like-for-like replacement in Aquilani and get Glen Johnson into the bargain. Yet they only dropped five points, ended up with a better goal difference, came within a whisker of reaching the European Cup semi-final and, while I may chuckle at Michael Owen’s misfortune, managed to win something. Liverpool? We dropped 23 points and a net loss of 24 goals from 2009, flopped out of the Champions League with a round to spare and won nothing for the fourth year on the bounce.

The effrontery, aided by a compliant media that are cowed by fear of being denied access to their regular supply of boy-done-good quotes, knows no bounds. There was much mirth at Rafa’s guarantee of fourth place, yet no one saw fit to ask why he was making that out to be an achievement worth celebrating when we finished second last year. Then we had youth coach Rodolfo Borrell saying how standards at the Academy were unacceptable. It’s getting a bit old at this stage – it was old several paragraphs ago – but how cheeky is this? The reason Rafa came to Liverpool when he was so successful at Valencia was he couldn’t be the caudillo at a Spanish club where you have presidents, chairmen, directors of football and a multitude of coaches vying for supremacy. Rafa has complete control at Anfield, a situation unique to British clubs. It’s probably the main reason he hasn’t jumped ship to somewhere like Juventus. So for Rafa and his team to be reacting with horror at the shambles at the Academy smacks of you-know-what.

It is reasonable at this point to ask to what extent the owners are to blame. As stated at the beginning, I don’t blame Gillett and Hicks. This isn’t to say they are blameless, a shameless pair of robber barons who bought the club on the assumption that they could borrow the 500 million quid necessary to fund the purchase only to sell it on for £600 million a few years later. But they weren’t the only ones operating according to that model of acquisition, one that operated in so many parts of business and has now fallen apart with a vengeance. What does Rafa want them to do, spend money they don’t have? Look at how that worked out for Leeds United. There has to be a realisation that every club could spend £100 million on players and someone would still have to finish 20th in the league table. Unless the likes of Carlos Slim or the Sultan of Brunei develop a love for football, we’re going to have to accept that Gillett and Hicks’ millions are the only game in town.

Through all of this, it may seem like I think Rafael Benitez is a complete footballing dope. I don’t. We’ve had mostly good times with Rafa and some really great times. He’ll do a great job for someone like Juventus just as Gerard Houllier kept Lyon bobbing along at the top of the French league with ease. But as with Houllier before him, things have gone stale. The same football theorising, that of the crushing machine, that swept us so close to the title last season have left us in seventh this season. We’ll always have Istanbul, Rafa. Get on that plane before something happens to make us forget. Ya big schlemiel.