Tag Archives: Rafael Benitez

Beauty Contest

Sam ‘Fat’ Allardyce received more than a few sniggers some months back when he imagined himself lording it over all and sundry at Real Madrid or Inter. ”It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the double or the league every time”, burbled the man whose closest brush with upper echelons of European football was once donning a moustache that would have been rejected as too camp by Messrs Rush and Lawrenson c. 1984. Given his imagination was once fertile enough to see a colossal insult to Blackburn Rovers in a few vague hand waves from Rafael Benitez, such a fantasy shouldn’t come as a surprise.

And yet . . . an analysis of Sam Allardyce’s record shows a man who knows what he is doing. Blackpool, Notts County and Bolton Wanderers all ended their respective associations with Allardyce several atmospheres higher than when he started. Newcastle United was obviously a blot on his copybook, but this was before the Toon Army finally lanced the boil of their demented belief that Alan Shearer was going to make everything all right, this being achieved by the expedient of Shearer making everything all wrong. The rage which greeted Chris Hughton’s recent dismissal shows they no longer believe that all that is needed to succeed is to be able to touch the hem of a former legend (something we’ll presently look at with respect to the Reds). If Allardyce were to get a chance at St James’ Park now, who is to say he wouldn’t make a better fist of it? He rescued Blackburn Rovers from near-certain relegation and they were bubbling along quite nicely until he was given the sack, again to the outrage of Rovers fans who were under no illusions about their place in the pecking order.

So why was he fired? It’s possible that he antagonised the Vishnu out of the new owners. Another man with a stellar record at almost every club he has been at is Harry Redknapp, but he has also managed to fall out with the owners of almost every club he has been at, behaving as if all the success they get is down to his genius and the board only an impediment to further glory. The fact that Steve Kean, hardly the experienced hand they claimed they were seeking, has been temporarily appointed in his stead, suggests there may have been a divergence of minds on who calls the shots at the club. Even if that were the case though, and none of the public comments from both parties suggest there was a falling out (either Allardyce is a good actor or his shock at the dismissal is genuine), it seems clear that Allardyce’s face didn’t fit with what the new regime wanted out of their manager.

Which brings us rather awkwardly to the man supposedly with the plan at Anfield, Roy Hodgson. Does his face fit? For a long time I would have said yes, although the reasons would appear to be damning the man with faint praise. It is bizarre to say that because he was appointed by the hated Gillett and Hicks that he has to go. If we were to follow that line of reasoning then he should be fired even if he were a success, contaminated beyond redemption by contact with the Toxic Twins. But while it’s easy to dismiss that objection to Hodgson, it gets trickier after that. It’s fair to say his record before Liverpool was less-than-stellar. The only club in Liverpool’s weight division that he ever managed was Inter – in your face, Allardyce! – where the best that can be said is that he did okay, Inter being the continent’s answer to Maria Von Trapp in terms of insoluble problems. The rest of his career has mostly consisted of marginally overachieving with a succession of middle-to-low ranking countries and clubs. Little up to Fulham suggested he was capable to doing what he did at Fulham.

He did great things at Fulham though, and people seem to be oddly hasty to dismiss this. He turned around the fortunes of a club on whom a lot of money had been lavished but were now going backwards and with no prospect of a further cash injection . . . sound familiar? For perhaps the manner in which Hodgson’s face fit best was an acceptance that we’re not going to be able to compete in the short-term with Chelsea and Manchester City with their sugar daddies or even Manchester United and Arsenal with their cash cow stadiums. The likes of Frank Rijkaard isn’t going to be attracted by a sell-to-buy prospectus, and as for going back to the future in bringing back King Kenny or Rafa, one would have thought Newcastle’s experience with Wor Alan would have put the kibosh on such romanticism. Add in a few extra endearing qualities – a refusal to engage in shallow shouting matches with everyone around him and most un-footballeresque intellectual streak – five languages! Milan Kundera! – and Roy Hodgson looked the part as manager of Liverpool FC.

Then came the Wolves game.

It’s all very well being intellectual about it, but it’s impossible to avoid a knee-jerk reaction to such an appalling display against the basement dwellers. Whether you’re a day-tripper getting their once-a-year fix at Anfield or a regular stumping up £40+ for the umpteenth time this season, this was a shocker. After ninety minutes of that, all manner of loony ideas become palatable. Kenny? And could he play. Rafa? We’ll always have Istanbul. Fat Sam Allardyce? He has a great record in turning a lump of pig iron into a Rolls-Royce. And as Darren notes, plaintive calls on the fans to get behind the team are only going to antagonise rather than placate – we’re paying your wages, bucko, give us something to cheer and we’ll cheer! It’s easy to feel sorry for a decent man, but if the remit was to steady the ship then losing to Wolves has to be a torpedo below the waterline. Nothing is likely to happen before the Bolton game, but something has to change. The alternatives are too ugly to contemplate.

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.

That Was The Season That Was 2008/9

Shankly Gates

It’s been the best of the seasons and the worst of seasons and back to the best again. Twice we embarked on runs where we looked invincible, the first showing a doughty never-say-die spirit in just about every game and the second saw us not even giving chances to teams as they were swept away by an avalanche of goals. In between, we had a run where you began to wonder would we ever win a game. Happy were the days when I thought schizophrenia was a condition of having a split personality as I could have described the Reds as being schizophrenic. As it is, we’ll have to settle for the much less pithy observation that it was like the Reds had a split personality.

The most remarkable thing about the Reds’ season was the grin smeared across Ray Houghton’s features on RTÉ mere moments after Benayoun’s last gasp winner against Fulham. Almost as remarkable is the way Robbie Keane has faded from the collective memory. Loath and all as I am to say ‘I told you so’, I did say we had “picked up a player past his peak, and paid top dollar for the privilege“. Keane hasn’t pulled up any trees since returning to White Hart Lane, where despite taking penalties he hasn’t managed many more goals per game than he did at Anfield. It’s nothing to be happy about, but it’s an immense relief. Having bragged about knowing he was a dud, now is the time to shamefacedly admit that I would have clung on to him, pathetically hoping that he would ‘come good’  in much the same manner I had hoped that Dean Saunders and Nigel Clough might come good (ask your grandparents). This would have been the easy way out for Rafa, so it is to his tremendous credit that he took the £3.5 million hit then rather than the £10-15 million one we’d be taking if we were trying to offload him now.

(Going off on a tangent, am I the only one irked by the self-conscious way in which players won’t celebrate when they score against their former club? I remember Gary Mac refused to do it when he scored the goal in 2001 that effectively relegated Coventry. You’re a professional, man. Either celebrate them all or celebrate none of them, these attempts at empathy with your former fans don’t wash. Okay, I’m the only one.)

Before choking on my own gloating, it should be noted that I got the other transfer saga of the summer of 2008 mostly wrong. Although you wouldn’t be able to tell from that link, any ruminations on the status of Gareth Barry were coloured by the notion that the time had come to move Xabi Alonso along. He’d gotten stale, and the £10 million figures being bandied around at a time when the football transfer market looked like it was about to tank with everything else in the global economy seemed like good business. With that, Alonso puts in what is probably his best season at Anfield and now figures of £20 million are being bandied around which looks like a terrible deal. Things could be worse: we might be linked with Barry again . . .

So it was the best / worst / best of seasons. Despite the lurking horror that was the Keane saga, and a flirtation with disaster in the Champions League that we will be mercifully spared in 2009/10, we really flew out of the blocks. Of all the cliches that people can point to about success, usually after the fact, two stand out: the notion that you can play badly and win, and putting together a championship winning run at a crucial stage of the season. We had both this year as the season started off with some tremendous comebacks in matches we probably should have lost – Middlesbrough, Wigan and most stirringly Man City, a game you never felt we were out of even when we were 2-0 down. Then there was the end to the season, which we finished like a train. Winning ten and drawing one of our last eleven games should have been enough to win the league. Certainly had you been told after the Middlesbrough defeat that we would only drop two points, including that astonishing win at Old Trafford, you’d have glanced at the league table and booked the title party in advance.

Galling as it is to admit, you have to congratulate the Mancs for matching us stride for stride. On several occasions we played ahead of them on the weekend and each time they held their nerve, most notably when finding themselves losing to Villa and Spurs. In the end, we gave ourselves too much of a mountain to climb and for that we must look to that shambolic mid-season funk when points were dropped like so much confetti. If you were looking for a single neat modernist reason for that bad run either side of Christmas, which included the depressing FA Cup exit at the Pit, it would be easy to look at Rafa’s rant at Demento. There’s no doubt it looked bad and got worse as time went on. But personally I prefer to look at the itch that we couldn’t scratch that was Robbie Keane.

I’m really labouring the point now, but when has that ever stopped me? It needs to be emphasised that this is nothing personal, that Keane conducted himself with tremendous dignity when his dream move – for that is what it was – went so spectacularly sour. It must have been utterly humiliating, and his refusal to bitch about his treatment was in stark contrast to the likes of Jermaine Pennant and only made you fret all the more as to whether we were doing the right thing in letting him go. But he was meant to be the final piece in the jigsaw, the 20-goal-a-season striker who was going to partner Torres and make us invincible. Instead his repeated failures to score heaped pressure not only on the player but on the club for failing to make that that swoop count. Man Utd could afford to pay big bucks for a relative mediocrity like Berbatov. Liverpool could not, and it hung around the club’s neck like an anchor.

Even now, it makes no sense that having sold a striker with a proven record Liverpool should start banging them in for fun. Yet Liverpool would soon be flattening teams with ruthless abandon. It helped that Kuyt started doing his share, and Benayoun – the most astonishingly improved player of the season – decided to make a habit of scoring goals at critical junctures. It was as if everyone felt liberated from having to justify the existence of Robbie Keane, not least the manager.

Rafa, Rafa, Rafa. On occasion in the past I have called for your head or given you less-than-fulsome support. I’m still not convinced it is all going to end in tears of joy, something that is really important should happen in 2010 now that Man Utd have drawn level with us in terms of titles won. Three years without a trophy and an unwanted record of being the only team to only lose two games and now in the Premier League. It’s not much of a CV. Yet once again, you’ve done just enough to earn a shot at redemption. Having masterminded the art of European football – failure to win the European Cup every year does not mean you don’t know what you are doing; it is, after all, a cup competition with all the vagaries inherent in that- there is tantalising evidence that you may have gotten English football licked at last. And most importantly, you’ve gotten under Alex Ferguson’s skin. Observe Demento’s recent best-of-friends act with Arsene Wenger and you’ll see a man who only likes you when he thinks he has you whipped. It may not be a sufficient condition for ultimate success but it’s a necessary one, and that represents progress from the season. Just no more Robbie Keanes – please.

Reversion to the Mean

Shankly Gates

How arl arse is this, sneaking back into the building after Rafa finally putting one over on Demento? Everyone else at ShanklyGates.co.uk puts in the hard graft week in week out keeping the site on the road, putting up with the outrageous slurs from fans of other clubs gloating at the close season turmoil at Anfield. Then along comes bucko here, the brilliance of the grin stitched to his face after that thumping performance against Man U only matched by the luminescence of the tan acquired from a summer of doing naff all. Nice work if you can get it.

But fear not! I come not to praise Liverpool but to bury them. Console yourself with the notion that the river of flame that will be diverted into my inbox as I dare to go off message should keep me going well into the wee hours for several weeks to come. For the joy of beating down on the Mancs does not cancel out the misery of a summer when Liverpool did, to my mind, so much wrong.

Let’s start with some positives. A while back I raged against Rafa’s habit of buying players on the cheap then selling them on quickly at a loss, the footballing equivalent of a lucky dip (cf Jan Kromkamp, Mark Gonzalez). He doesn’t seem to have rid himself of that habit. The likes of Dossena and Riera don’t inspire, players purchased not because they are brilliant but because they might be brilliant. It’s the Championship Manager school of management, scouring the leagues of Europe for undiscovered talent – except Rafa doesn’t seem to have the hit rate of A Geek with his PC, or even A Wenger with his MA. You don’t need a crystal ball to see Jermaine Pennant joining the carousel. The sight of Philippe Degen trundling in on a free while Andrei Voronin trundles away in the opposite direction having also being purchased on a free, looks like history repeating itself . It would make you weep at the notion that playing for the most successful club in England is meant to mean something.

Still, it’s not all bad on the to-ing and fro-ing front. While Rafa may have shuffled the pack with a few duds, he’s also managed to make the club a tidy sum in some surprising places. While Peter Crouch and Momo Sissoko were both decent players in their times at Anfield, it would have seemed nothing short of miraculous had someone wanted to pay an eight figure sum for their services. The mere act of a top club admitting that they are open to offers for players should be enough to see their price plummet. Yet both those players went off having made the club a substantial profit.

There are a few lesser lights on which Rafa made silly money. Scott Carson proved to be a sound investment, the outrageous figure he was originally touted around for notwithstanding. And then there’s the case of John Arne Riise. A fond figure at the club thanks to his penchant for goals that were both brilliant and important, he had undergone a horrible loss of form last season culminating in that clanger against Chelsea. When it became clear that his days at the club were numbered – and again, bear in mind that you expect other clubs to be pointing out the bald tyres, the miles on the clock, the scratch on the bumper and just look at the alloy wheels and sunroof on that other model over there, mate – it didn’t seem possible that he would be anything other than a free. Yet we got €4 million for him, an absolutely fabulous piece of business. Factor in the sale of Luis Garcia, another cult figure at the club who proved instrumental in bagging a certain Fernando Torres, and look at some of the flops that have passed through the hands of A. Wenger – anyone remember Christopher Wreh? Sylvinho? Nelson Vivas? – then Rafa seems to be one of the smarter cookies in football.

So the swings and roundabouts of the mid-market signings can be said to be that for Rafa – swings and roundabouts. It is the big money deals that can make or break you as a manager though. The 20 million-plus signings are the ones that are meant to catapult you into the stratosphere, and if you get them wrong . . . Rafa got it spectacularly right in the summer of 2007, laying down big bucks for a player that half of the top clubs in Europe seemed to have sniffed around and passed on. 2008 doesn’t look like it’s been anywhere near as productive. The increasing sniffiness of the media about the start to his Anfield career can be dismissed as the usual Phil Space guff, but a decade watching the exploits of Robbie Keane have not been conducive to endearment, especially when you consider he is by some distance Ireland’s record scorer.

For someone with a spotless record off the pitch – quite an achievement in this day and age – he can be such an infuriating nark on the pitch. Some people might appreciate his constant moaning at refs for frees, his incessant insistence that he wasn’t offside or the habitual pained expression when a team mate fails to meet his lofty standards. But they’ve always left me cold. As top strikers go, he has an appalling habit of missing sitters – they all do it, but he does it more than most. He always looks like he’s just started playing football, brilliantly talented and should be great after a few years. Except that he’s been on the road for the best part of a decade. Paying c. £20 million for a 27 year old with five different clubs behind him seems excessive. You have to keep looking at his goalscoring record, which is very good indeed, to remind yourself that he’s a top player. But I can’t shake the feeling that we’re picking up a player who has passed his peak, and paid top dollar for the privilege.

At least we went for him and got him. No such pleasure can be derived from the Gareth Barry saga. Once upon a time, English internationals came from all kind of wacky clubs. Jimmy Bullard this week became the first Fulham player since George Cohen to play for England. Cohen happened to win the World Cup. But this was a time when the maximum wage and the fact that revenue was derived almost entirely from tuppence-a-head gate receipts meant there was little incentive to move clubs. Now, you are a loser if you’re not plying your trade in the Champions League. Yet Gareth Barry is still chugging away with the mediocrities that are Aston Villa. If he were that good, surely someone would have pounced on him long before this? We all thought that, and more pertinently so did the best-friends-forever (again) Gillett and Hicks. Even Roman Abramovich has drawn the line on paying over the odds for players. For Liverpool though, the line seems to be a lot lower than it is for Chelsea and Man United. So this is what we have learned from our pursuit of Gareth Barry – that we are chasing players who are not good enough, and then we can’t get them anyway. Marvellous.

Unless, of course, that spectacular win over the Mancs is closer to our mean performance than the first three games. I’m dubious that we are that good. The controlled ferociousness was a pleasant surprise – take a bow, Javier Mascherano – not least to Man U who were probably congratulating themselves in advance of another toothless Liverpool attempt at a comeback. Keep that up and we’ll do well, but we had to come good against them some time – again, reverting to the mean; we haven’t been as bad as the results suggested in recent times. Even more surprising was playing so well with Gerrard only playing quarter of the match and Whatisname from Spain not playing at all. We’ve surely got to take that reality with a large pinch of salt. Play that well in every game with their additional power and we’d be invincible – which is why we can’t expect that to be the mean.

Back in the mists of time, a time when the Reds were capable of winning leagues, a rate of two points out of three was enough to be a competitor for the title. We picked up 68.4% of the available points in 1990. Nowadays you need to be a bit better than that, probably closer to three points out of four. The Mancs got 76.3% of the points last season. So our excellent start to the season amounts to being a point ahead of the trend. The race has only just begun.

Singeing the King of Spain’s Beard

ShanklyGates.co.uk

Ever worry that you might bump into a Liverpool player, past or present, and be concerned that you’d have nothing to say to him other than “ur, I saw you play once, so I did”? Well, I need never worry about such social awkwardness should I ever bump into Markus Babbel, for we shall be able to swap notes on the evil that is Guillain-Barré Syndrome. I never had it as bad as he did, nor did I have the privilege (ahem) of having Chris de Burgh place crystals on me to channel healing energies into my crippled form. But at least he could reassure me, as he has done unknown to himself for every day of the last four months, that a full recovery is not only possible but highly likely.

While laid up recovering, you get to think of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings. Unlike Lewis Carroll though, I didn’t have the excuse of being doped up to the gills to be able to dwell on such earth-shattering matters. So thoughts turned to mundane items like how the Reds were going to bring the league title back to Anfield. An elaborate thesis was constructed on how the key to success was for lesser clubs to improve to the point where they could threaten the hegemony of the Big Four. Only by clubs who spent big in the summer, like West Ham, Newcastle and Spurs, raising their game to the point where they could take points off Man Utd and Chelsea, could Liverpool hope to close the gap on the Mancs and the Chavs. It was a risky strategy, one involving accepting several clubs competing for the Champions League slots in the hope that Liverpool could emerge from the pack to win the title. But at this stage, it’s a risk I was willing to take.

The problems with this game plan are now readily apparent. Relying on the likes of West Ham, Newcastle and Spurs – particularly the latter two – is like relying on a clown driving a car with square wheels and detachable doors taking points off Kimi Raikonnen. Meanwhile as those clubs were busy squirting water from a flower on their lapels at Man Utd and Chelsea, before being repeatedly punched in the greasepainted face for their troubles, we have seen two clubs, one traditionally comic and one deadly serious, put it up to everyone. We now have a situation where we have five clubs – Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal – looking like they are going to boss the league. So while we still have to think in terms of picking up 90+ points to win the league, we don’t even have the comfort zone of having a reasonably secure Champions League spot – not even via winning the thing! What a tangled web, yet one pushed clean from the consciousness when the low level irritation between the owners and Rafa burst into the open like a world’s-biggest-paella attempt that was too big for its dish.

So what gives? At the risk of this column shooting its wad early, I came to the conclusion at half-time of the Fulham game that Rafa was not going to win us the league title. Through the years, I’ve come to loathe the habitual miserabilists who populate the internet, smugly predicting Armageddon safe in the knowledge that if they’re right they can say ‘I told you so’, and if they’re wrong everyone is going to be too busy celebrating to remind them how wrong they were. We all have our doubts, such as when we found ourselves being battered in Istanbul by Milan. But you suppress the negative waves because, well, that’s what Liverpool fans do. Get up, sing You’ll Never Walk Alone, and if things don’t work out you have the consolation of knowing that you kept the faith. That’s the contract, and you feel like a splitter for not adhering to it.

But the accumulated crises do accumulate, wearing down your resistance. And the brain-dead performance against Fulham finally caused my resistance to crumble. How much money had been lavished on this squad? For them to be toiling against a patchily-assembled team of journeymen like Fulham was too much to bear. As it happened, Fernando Torres (who stands at the heart of this new thesis) came bounding to the rescue – please note that I am not so nihilistic as to wish for failure so as to clear the decks for success – but it was way too close for comfort, and at the very least I envisaged the new owners asking Rafa where he was going with such limp performances.

And maybe the question was asked. It has been to the credit of both Rafa and Gillett/Hicks that neither party has pretended there hasn’t been a problem or blamed the media for ‘misquoting’ them. Most people will instinctively side with the manager, but it seems to me that Hicks’ comment that Rafa should stick to coaching the panel that he has assembled has some merit. Consider, if you will, the case of Jan Kromkamp. Signed from Villarreal in January 2006, he looked a decent enough squad player and certainly made a difference as a sub in the FA Cup final that year. Yet by August he was gone. What was the logic of signing a player for such a short period of time? When you consider Rafa’s desire to sign two or three more players this January, it’s hard not to conclude that he just took a whirl on Kromkamp. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, meh. The owners will cough up some more money and hopefully we’ll eventually come up with a winning formula.

Except the owners are not made of money. Even Roman Abramovich has been shown to have his limits. They are entitled to say that they came up with a lot of money already for a lot of talent – not the least the aforementioned Senor Torres – and if you are not happy with what you have, you shouldn’t have signed them. Those of a cynical bent, like those Geordies picked up mouthing their disapproval at Fat Sam Allardyce, might suggest that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Maybe this is being too hard on Rafa, a graniteness borne of the explosion of rage that accompanied that miserable half against Fulham. There is room for a meeting of minds between the owners and the manager. Rafa was certainly a lot more emollient last weekend, and reports of him ‘blasting’ the owners seemed wide of the mark – perhaps a case of him being misquoted. Still, this kneejerk reaction from Reds in his favour is tiresome. Fans of other clubs have routinely railed against their respective boards and been deservedly become figures of fun because of it. The experience of blindly defending Souness and Evans and Houllier has taught me not to elevate the manager to the status of a god. For all of the splendour of much of what Rafael Benitez has accomplished at Liverpool – and boy, much of it has been more splendid than we anyone is entitled to expect – there’s a lot in the debit column. Fortune favours the brave. Will a time come when we pillory Gillett and Hicks for not being brave enough?