Rafa key to new era

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Speculation linking Rafa Benitez to Real Madrid is becoming as frequent as a Girls Aloud cover song. Last weekend marked another deluge of headlines predicting the Liverpool manager’s imminent return to Spain. The most ardent of Kopites could surely forgive their boss for entertaining the idea of a stint at the Bernabeau. It is after all his home-town club. The Spaniard’s decision to prolong a stay on Merseyside, though not wholly surprising, is reassuring nonetheless. It coincides with the beginning of a new era under the Hicks-Gillet stewardship, one promising a catapult into the 21st century and a genuine hunt for top honours once again. If the aforementioned US duo are to lay the foundations for the upcoming generation, Benitez is surely pivotal to the actual construction.

On arriving at Anfield, Senor Rafael Benítez Maudes underwent a cultural shock. Indeed, he could have been forgiven for turning around and heading straight back to the Costa del Sol after witnessing the bruising talents of Kevin Davies. Overcoming the physical aspect of the league has proved a downfall. Additions such as Peter Crouch and Momo Sissoko have made the reds more competitive, but they continue to lack that cutting-edge away from home on occasions. It is in Europe where Benitez’ expertise have come to the fore. Sterling performances in cities like Deportivo, Turin and Barcelona have provided the catalyst for Champions League success.

Bob Paisley always used to say your domestic league is the bread and butter. Admittedly, this department needs working on, but in the three years he’s worked in England, Benitez has demonstrated the skill and desire to build a Wengeresque empire at Anfield.

If the rumours are to be believed, the gaffer had grown anxious as to the depth of his transfer kitty this summer. One reason for such concern could be Sunday’s sterile draw at Villa Park. Not since the days of Crossroad have an audience been so disconcerted. In fact, the replay is something you hide away and threaten the children with every time they misbehave. That kind of drab display is exactly what the new owners must strive to outlaw. Without naming names, the side contains too many players living in the comfort zone. Their presence is the sole factor determining why Liverpool are closer to Bolton and Portsmouth than United and Chelsea in class.

This is not the fault of Benitez; he can only field what he has at his disposal. Therefore, the thought of something approaching a bottomless pit excites. Imagine the upsurge in quality we’d see if Rafa is able to chase the real top guns. In motoring terms it would resemble swapping a Ford Fiesta for a Porsche. In footballing circles it would simply be Josemi for Alves.

Listening to the radio over the course of the past fortnight has brought consistent comparisons between Benitez and his slimy equivalent at Stamford Bridge. Love him or loathe him, Jose Mourinho has achieved great things at Chelsea. Tactically however, it is Benitez who has showcased further astuteness. It is such nous which helped the reds to a fifth European Crown. Of course, soccer on the continent is the proverbial different gravy. Come the knock-out phase of a competition, heart and guts can prevail, as well as the insistent roar of simmering Kop. Combine this recipe with the know-how of Benitez and the perfect concoction is formed.

Domestically though it is somewhat harder. Not in the respect of opposition, but consistency. Effort alone does not win Championships, excellence does. Dirk Kuyt becomes relevant at this point. A Trojan, the Dutchman works tirelessly for the cause, exerting the commitment one wishes Jermaine Pennant had 5% of. But his return of 10 goals to date is frustratingly modest. Had Kuyt been partnered with a Samuel Eto’o or Michael Owen, this void would not stand-out as regretfully.

Hopefully, Benitez will now be given the cash he deserves to pursue such targets.

At present, Liverpool boast a masterful manager shackled by the constraints of finance. A loosening of the chains may just provoke a serious, sustained challenge next season.

The more we hear from Messer’s Hicks and Gillett, the more optimistic we become. For all the decisions they shall make over the coming years, keeping Rafa could prove the best.

Aaron Cutler

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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