When Liverpool signed Yossi Benayoun last summer it signalled the end of a long pursuit. Indeed Rafa Benitez had first entertained the idea of the Israeli’s capture three years beforehand. On that occasion fears over the physical nature of the Premier League and the want of Luis Garcia (a contradiction if ever I saw one) scuppered any such transfer. The then Racing Santander midfielder headed for Upton Park and a successful stint with West Ham United.
Whist showcasing his skills in East London Benayoun prompted an immediate Rafa re-think. Eight goals in two seasons was the icing on a highly appealing cake supplemented with countless assists, a strong rapport with the Hammers faithful and even an FA Cup final appearance. Anyone remember that game?
The Â£6million splashed-out on a long-term target resembled good business. His debut season in red merely confirmed this. Nevertheless persistent stories talking-up a potential exit refuse to die. Admittedly, the seasonal rumour mill is as dubious as a Max Mosley testimony but the general consensus suggests the boss will cash in if need be, thus to fund other deals.
I for one find this extraordinary. Benitez evidently rates his wide-man, hence the drawn-out chase. His performance throughout the previous campaign would only have enhanced such admiration. Highlights included two hat-tricks, a couple of superb individual goals against Reading and Wigan respectively and an uncanny knack of unlocking the tightest of rearguards, ala Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It seems Benayoun is at risk of disposal as nobody provides concrete interest in those the manager would most like to offload. I’m thinking Alonso, Pennant, Voronin and Finnan. Whether any of the aforementioned should fall into such a category is open to debate. Personally, I only see the primadonna and hairy-one as surplus.
It doesn’t take Einstein to fathom Rafa’s number one target (now the Robbie Keane deal is finalised). Gareth Barry has topped that list since the tail-end of last term. Having already seen three bids rejected the gaffer is desperately scurrying-around, wheeling and dealing in the traditional Harry Redknapp mould. We can only hope Benayoun survives the cull.
Technically, the Israeli captain is our best player. He possesses great close control, seldom surrendering possession. He also works hard, his diminutive figure harassing defences, taking on the mantle of a slightly better looking Dirk Kuyt. His goal return outdoes the latter, ratio-wise anyway, hitting the back of the net eleven times last season. The cynics amongst us will claim Havant & Waterlooville hardly provide stiff opposition. True ‘“ but who else stepped up and prevented a cataclysmic upset?
Maintaining his services is essential, particularly if no out and out winger is signed. Yossi may not offer strict width but his ability to inter-change, drift and formulate attacks out of nothing means he is capable of filling both flanks competently.
Benayoun might not be the first name on the team-sheet, an ever constant or everyone’s cup of tea but he deserves to stay, not least because he cares ‘“ a trait lost on certain reds.
A brief note on current affairs: I’ll be sad to see Alvaro Arbeloa leave the club. By all accounts the Spanish full-back has sought a move back home for personal reasons. After the failings of Josemi and Jan Kromkamp it seems cruel to be deprived of a half decent signing in that area.
Reports claim that Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum have failed in their bid to prove finances are in place for the building of the team’s new stadium. Now there’s a surprise! The NWDA, in-keeping with most Kopites, were not convinced by the owners’ stance and refused to grant the necessary funding promised. All this comes as the Mancs plan an increase in capacity to 90,000 ‘“ basically doubling that of our own. All rather depressing.
On a brighter note – the finalised signing of Robbie Keane: at last, something to shout about! I’ve always been a big fan of the Republic of Ireland skipper, whose skill; effort and eye for goal have made him one of the league’s most popular forwards. This is an exciting acquisition, one which softens the blow of losing Peter Crouch.
If Gareth Barry does join him, my summer will seem a lot rosier. Who knows, I may even revert to the old classic: ‘˜It’s our year!’