Defending the Gaffa – The Rafalution is on track

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We’ve slipped from first place with a comfortable lead to now chasing United.
We’ve drawn too many matches.
We’ve sold Keane and haven’t signed a replacement.
We’ve sold Pennant and haven’t signed a replacement.
We’ve now been knocked out of the cup by Everton.

It’s no wonder the forums been so miserable of late!

Many of our fans seem surprised that Rafa is human. “He’s got a chip on his shoulder” apparently. I.E: That he has gotten sensitive to constant criticism and constant inspection of every decision he makes by the media, other managers, and fans, but only when things go wrong.

It could be argued that this is part and parcel of the job, but I don’t see Rafa’s rival manager’s ‘“ specifically Wenger’s decisions being analysed with anywhere near as much fervor as Rafa’s (and when was the last time Wenger won anything? Heck, in the last 5 years that Rafa has been around, please tell me what Arsenal have accomplished). And it’s one thing when the criticism is constructive, but the “Rafa has lost the plot”, “Rafa going crazy” etc. headlines, aren’t really conducive to not thinking people are hoping you fail. Most people reading these sorts of headlines would naturally begin to think people are out to get you. Some may call it paranoia, but when I try to put myself in Rafa’s shoes and imagine what I’d think if I read these headlines (sometimes from Liverpool fans and on Liverpool websites), I’d also start to wonder. Although some people questioned the wisdom of Rafa’s comments about Ferguson immediately, most thought it was just mindgames. Nobody thought he was going crazy until after the results turned against us following that “rant”.

To put things back in context, here are some FACTS: Rafa has improved our team every single year. FACT: He has bridged the gap between the top clubs to now being in 2nd place within 2-3-or-5 points of UTD – ‘the Kings of Europe’, who FACT: can boast 4 of the premiership’s (perhaps even the world’s?) best strikers in Tevez, Berbatov, Ronaldo and Rooney. FACT: Prior to this year our season has been over by February. FACT: Our results against the top teams haven’t been this good for a very long time. FACT: the league table doesn’t lie, and it suggests Rafa is leading us to solid improvement, that we’re catching up to our rivals. FACT: We are involved in the title race that we all wished to be in way back in August.

After Athens, Rafa got frustrated and said we needed to move quicker in the transfer market. People called him out for that “outburst” of frustration. Although some of us weren’t pleased with the manner of his “outburst”, there was no doubting the content of his words. He said we needed to move 2 steps forward for every step our rivals took. This year, we sit in second, above Chelsea who we have done the double on for the first time in 20 years, and very close to the leaders.

We may not approve of Rafa’s methods, but the man must deserve some credit for our position in the table – even if it could have been better had we not had so many frustrating draws. I’d go so far as to say that paradoxically, the fact that we are in 2nd place, 2 points behind our leaders, and immensely frustrated is a testament to how well Rafa has done with us since he took over and especially this season.

In the previous four years we’d have bitten off someone’s hand if they’d offered us our current league position, however this year we’re frustrated for having it! How funny is that?

Like everyone else I’m frustrated that we have not capitalised on our brilliant record breaking start to the season. I’m frustrated that Keane didn’t gel into our system. I’m frustrated that Rafa loves Kuyt so damn much. I’m frustrated that there’s so much pressure on the team. I’m frustrated that Gerrard is injured (although I think Yossi can fill that job – if Rafa will let him). I’m frustrated that Lucas and Babel haven’t improved as much as we hoped they would.

But despite all those frustrations, I look at the table and I remember what I asked for at the beginning of the season, and it would be hypocritical of me to say Rafa hasn’t delivered. Sure, by December my expectations may have inflated some, but we have to remember what we expected in August and September.

We are in the middle of a title race. Now is not the time to be saying our Gaffa has lost the plot. Now is not the time to be asking for a replacement. Now is not the time to be looking over his every tactical decision with a microscope. We have never liked every one of his decisions. Even on the way to Istanbul, he made decisions that had some of us pulling out our hair – but we shut up because the results were going right. Now over the last year he has done stuff that has pissed us off several times – over-rotating, some signings we didn’t like, trusting Kuyt so much, weird substitutions, late substitutions etc. etc. But if the ends justifies the means (and it certainly did when we were winning rather fortuitously in November and October), then we have to look at the league table and see that Rafa is delivering the exact thing we all asked for in September and August – A title challenge.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be frustrated. That’s natural when you lose to Everton in the cup, or draw 7 matches in 10 matches. I’m just saying that despite all that, we are still fighting for the league, and now isn’t the time to lose faith.

Now is the time to get behind them. To try not to let our frustrations prevent us from enjoying our first real title challenge in many years. To not let our frustrations impede our progress. The team needs our support now more than ever. And although we can go on and on about where we would be now if we’d beaten Everton or if we’d not drawn so many matches, our energy may be better spent trying to lift our fellow fans’ spirits so that we can get behind the team and push them on to fight for the title between now and May. So lets save some of the analysis and navel-gazing for when the season is over, and try to be happy that we are in a title race, and try to cheer the team on to victory.

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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