I have heard is being said recently by a few people, and occasionally in the press, that Benitez is following in Wengers footsteps of bringing in all his homeland talent.
Now I don’t doubt for a second that Rafa has maybe gone after a few spanish players when there is alternative talent out there from other countries, you only have to look at the Houllier era and the amount of French talent he brought in, and then his successor rapidly replaced with spanish talent in the form of the now departed Luis Garcia, aswell as Xabi Alonso, Pepe Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa and arguably the best forward in the world at the minute – Fernando Torres.
Talent like this may not have been signed if we had a different manager, infact it’s probably a dead cert, but what I don’t think is a fact anyone can argue with is that 3 of the 4 still at the club are up there with, if not the best in the world in their positions. Reina, can probably only be topped by Buffon at the minute. Chelseas Peter Cech is hailed as better than both of them, but he is inconsistent and suffers more injuries than Michael Owen. Xabi Alonso is quite possibly the best holding midfielder in the world. People say he isn’t that great at tackling and defending but that is not what anyone requires of him – his distribution is his best asset, which is why the top clubs in Spain, even though he is suffering a slight dip in form, are still after him for a very decent fee. And to round off the spanish trio, Fernando Torres, who is an excellent player, regardless of nationality. The fact he is Spanish and Benitez is Spanish makes no difference to the fact he might currently be, and definitley will be the best striker in the premiership, if not the world.
Obviously though with singing some great players like this comes some failures, and under Rafa there has been quite a few – but a lot of them served their purpose at the time, the biggest Spanish disappointment I can think of is probably “the other Fernando”, Mr. Morientes, who despite being quite a talented player in La Liga, failed to impress and cut the grade in the Premiership.
Back to my argument against accusations of Rafa going the “Wenger Way”, I think looking at the players he is bringing into the reserves and the youth sides, plus possible summer transfer targets, he is not signing players from his homeland just for the sake of it, any talent he is bringing in is for that reason only, talent. We are seeing players coming in from all over the world. The most recent to date would be in the form of Martin Skrtel, who has proved to be a killer buy after his shakey debut against Havant & Waterlooville, joined also in the first team by talent from northern Europe in the form of Daniel Agger and Ryan Babel, two players I think noone would disagree are the sort of quality this club needs to take us up to the next level.
Benitez clearly likes his South American players, I don’t think there has ever been as many at the club than those that have joined us in the past 12 months, but also I don’t think anyone can argue Brazil and Argentina have two of the most quality national teams, and have produced some of the best players in the world. Lucas and Mascherano are quality players, the former being great potential for the future and captain of the Brazilian U-21 side, who has already showed us what he can do in big-game situations, most notably his substitute appearence in the first part of our local derby with Everton earlier this season, where he came on the pitch to fill the boots of Gerrard in a crucial time of the game – only to practically score the winner, but unfortunatley didn’t get the honour due to Phil Nevilles hand-ball clearence. Mascherano was a key player in the side when he joined us last season, and has come on leaps and bounds this season, he regularly puts in man of the match displays, even though he slightly messed up against Man Utd, agression is a trait of defensive midfielders, you only have to look at their own Roy Keane for a prime example. Also in the team are three Argentine players setting our reserve team on fire – Sebastian Leto and Emiliano Insua down the left, and Gerardo Bruna, who was tipped as “Madrids answer to Messi”.
In the wings for the future are players from Hungary, of all places, in the form of Andras Simon, Peter Gulacsi and the reserve goal-machine Krizistian Nemeth, the Moroccan Nabil El-Zhar who proved he is something to watch out for against Cardiff, Australian starlet Dean Bouzanis who has put in some impressive displays between the posts for the Youth team and the Reserves, and fellow countryman Steve Irwin (no, not the crocodile hunter). The list goes on the further down the ranks we go, Swedish Astrit Ajdarevic, Austrain Besian Idrizaj, Ghanian Godwin Antwi, Finnish Lauri Dalla Valle and Frenchman Damien Plessis was swiped from under the nose of Arsenal on the summer transfer deadline day.
A lot of International talent I’m sure you will agree, but Benitez isn’t ignoring players from our own homeland either, since he’s been here he’s signed Paul Anderson and Jack Hobbs, to add to Jay Spearing, Razor Putterill and co. Infact, there are only 3 Spanish players, Mikel San-Jose Dominguez, Francisco Duran and Miki Roque who are in a position enough to be in with a shot in the next year or two.
Back to the first team you have squad players in the form or Israeli Yossi Benayoun, Ukranian Andriy Voronin and Dutchman Dirk Kuyt, and while people say they are only squad players – it is still very important to have squad players. If anything it’s not a case that Rafa is picking the best Spanish talent for the future, he’s signing the best talent full stop, no matter where it origionates.
Quite fitting that Rafa is celebrating Liverpool being 2008’s “Capital of Culture” with a very continental team, and hopefully Europeans Capital of Culture, will be celebrated with another European Cup.