Rafa’s Mission Is Possible

IT’S like a scene out of Mission Impossible.

Agent Benitez wraps up the subdued press conference after Liverpool’s 0-0 draw against Birmingham. Nonplussed journalists look shocked. One shakes his head as he checks his shorthand “‘˜I rested Torres for the Reading game‘ did he really say that?”

Agent Benitez strolls into the empty changing room. Tearing at his chin he rips off his mask to reveal the unmistakeable profile of a certain Gerard Houllier. He smooths over his cheeks in the mirror and starts to mutter incomprehensibly. The real Rafa is gagged, trussed up in the back of a Citreon Berlingo in Otterspool.

Houllier’s mobile phone rings. On the end of the line is Diego Forlan’s agent. Houllier: ‘˜Will he come in January? I can give him £20million. Honestly! These Americans they’re chucking it at me!’

Ending the call he dials another number and mumbles ‘˜and now Monsieur Cheyrou’.

‘˜Bruno! Mon petit Zinedine. Ca va?’

It’s at that point I wake with a scream, sheathed in sweat, take a few gulps of air and realise it was all just a terrible dream.
I have to admit sitting in the Anfield Road End last Saturday I had to rub my eyes at 4.50pm as the 0-0 nightmare draw came to a close. All this pre-match talk of bogey teams and hoodoo’s. I thought Halloween had come early. Was someone sticking pins though the red shirts of midfield voodoo dolls? Was Anfield ominously quiet like Silent Hill? Was Torres on the bench!

Some young lad a few rows down shouted angrily ‘˜Do you want to win the title or what?’. Generations of fans have been shouting that since 1990. Anfield has been a soup kitchen to relegation teams over the years. We concede too many times to teams begging to be beaten. When the likes of Fulham and Bolton (sorry Sammy) visit us, Liverpool have to start reminding everyone that charity begins at home.

Only Rafa knows why he didn’t field his best 11 against Birmingham. Three days later and Torres with shades of Ian Rush scores a superb clinical hatrick. Well that’s Reading brushed aside in the Carling Cup! We are still four points off the top of the ‘˜bread and butter’ league albeit with a game in hand.

We have English football its best ever DVDs. More knife edges than the Rambo trilogy. Liverpool 4 Newcastle 3 1996. The 2001 Uefa Cup Final. The 2005 Champions League Final. The 2006 FA Cup Final.

We draw against Birmingham. Impossible we can achieve. We balls up doing the ordinary. We can russle up a winning steak au poivre – when it comes to egg and chips we set off the smoke alarm.

Torres was an inspired coup for Rafa to bring back our winning ways and grind out the results. But to blood in his prizefighter he needs to be in the ring throwing early punches. When Japanese warplanes approached Pearl Harbour the command to attack was Tora.Tora.Tora. The message to Rafa as we hoist the red flag to reclaim what’s rightfully ours is Torres. Torres. Torres. If we want to win The Prermiership we must put out Torres.

torres, torres, torresLiverpool’s historic number 9 stands for power, confidence, prolific goals. Not break glass in case of emergency. Rafa’s half time team talk in the Ataturk propelled him to the status of universal sporting icon. It doesn’t make him infallible. Rafa is Anfield’s Ayatolla worshipped by his fans but he won’t become our messiah until he wins the league.

It’s testament to our love affair that the whirlwind honeymoon has made way for a spat of abrupt plate smashing. In Rafa We Trust but he can be frustrating.

He does seem prone to rare flashes of arrogance and naivete but his humility and brilliance is always a breath of fresh air. Winning the title is more complex than grinding out results week in week out. There is a confidence issue here and its historic.

The moustacheod spectre of Graham Souness has hovered over Anfield for two decades. The managers, the players, the backroom staff, the diets, the training schedules have all changed. The curse of drawing against or losing to Premiership minnows remains.
We have been title runners up 11 times. The last manager to come second was Houllier in the 2001/2002 season. Of course Shankley’s reply to that is ‘˜second is nothing’. His famous words have echoed throughout football stadiums all over the world including Attaturk when AC Milan dumped their medals and plotted their revenge.

Ancellotti’s team talk in the Athens dressing room must have been quite simple: Lose this and Liverpool will equal our record of six Champions League wins in spite of a five year ban. The Rossoneri couldn’t bear the agony.

Don’t look now but the Grim Reaper is tapping on our shoulder and his breath smells of whisky. The Mancs are two titles behind and Rafa’s legacy will be judged on whether he can widen the gap. That’s why fans were dumbfounded by his team sheet on Saturday. They are worried such selections will make Mission Premiership a Mission Impossible.

So message to Agent Benitez. Play Torres and Win the Title.

Barry Ellams