Is Rafa’s proof really in the silverware pudding?

IF we beat Real tonight and IF we beat United on Saturday, will that mean Rafa is suddenly a genius who should be kept, while IF we lose to Real and IF we lose to United, Rafa is a moron that should be fired?

That’s my problem with fans of today. We’ve all gotten so swept up in this tide of modern culture with quick conclusions being seen as worth more than slow, well thought out, well pondered decisions, that we feel a need to make decisions based on every little bit of information we receive.

(Now certainly, Rafa has many critics who are not flopping in the wind and who have been making arguments based on Rafa’s tactics and his approach to the game, and I don’t mean to lump them all into the same category.)

Football is a funny game, in that although it’s results that matter (and ultimately, it’s only the result in May that really matters), it would take an idiot to ignore the way the results are created. This is why when we win playing badly, there is still a substantive argument against Rafa that our style of play isn’t up to scratch. And yet when we lose playing beautifully, there is still an amazingly inconsistent and yet still as substantive an argument that Rafa is unable to get the results that matter regardless of how well we play.

Football is a game in which half the time the ends justify the means, the other half the time, the ends don’t justify the means. The beauty of football lies in those little nuances. However, it’s in that subtle contradiction in what matters to fans that has Rafa in an apparent lose-lose situation.

We will apparently settle for nothing less than winning, and winning in style. But it takes years to get to the point where you can do that consistently. We always compare the fruits of Rafa’s 4.5 year project to the fruits of Fergie’s 22.5 year project. But that’s like comparing the wine from a vineyard that has been around for 5 years, to the wine from a vineyard that has been around for 25 years. No matter how good the winery in the 5 year old vineyard, it simply takes time to gain the experience and winning mentality and to soak the players in the culture and style of play desired to produce the rich, deep flavours of football that we desire, and 4.5 years just isn’t long enough (not without the money Abramovich started spending with Ranieri, anyway). Don’t get me wrong, certainly it’s long enough to have some one-off successes ‘“ as our European cup win, and as Wenger’s solitary successful season in his first 5 years certainly prove. But to achieve what United have ‘“ a consistently stylish winning team ‘“ takes longer than 5 years to accomplish.

What you can see though is that in these last 4.5 years, there is steady progress, there is success even in the absence of flamboyant style, and there are glimpses of style and flowing football. It’s also important to consider the past work of the coach. Like any winemaker, the skills a coach learns are not forgotten. What Rafa did with Valencia is a sign what he can do with Liverpool if given time (the Valencia he inherited were in better shape than the Liverpool he inherited).

We could play beautifully and lose to Madrid. Hell, we played pretty darn well last year and were knocked out of the same competition by Chelsea courtesy of a Riise own goal. If the same thing should happen, will that represent a failure by Rafa?

Or we could play ugly and win. Will that represent a failure by Rafa? Or will it be a sign of his brilliance?

I think it will be none of the above. He will be the same coach he was yesterday and today, and the same coach he was in December and the same coach he was in September.

Our progress in the CL is very important and it will determine many things – what we will win at the end of the year, how much money we will have to spend in the summer, etc. But it won’t be enough evidence – a single match is simply not enough evidence – to determine whether a coach should be fired or kept (just ask Avram Grant).

IF we beat United, will that suddenly mean Rafa is a genius for having done the double on United? I don’t think so. It will mean we have accomplished something great, but it won’t undo all our draws against Stoke. Similarly, if we lose to United, it won’t mean Rafa is a moron and should be fired. A loss would not mean there hasn’t been real progress and that we haven’t done pretty well this year despite struggling with injuries to our best 2 players for extended periods of time.

The fans who said they’d “wait till the end of the season” to decide whether Rafa should be fired (in a recent poll in the forums) may seem the wisest in that they are waiting to look at the final league table and silverware return to see if Rafa should keep his job. They may seem the wisest because they are basing their decision on that age old truism that ‘œit’s the results that matter’ ‘“ the ends justify the means. But in a sense, they are no wiser than those of us who have made up our minds already (either that Rafa should be sacked NOW or that he should have another year – regardless of the return at the end of the season), because they are choosing to ignore the thing that we are choosing to focus: the progress since Rafa took over (or lack thereof, if you’re of the opinion that Rafa should be fired), and they are pretty much like those who look at the final score without watching the match, as if our loss to Spurs would tell the story of what happened during the 90 minutes; or as if our loss to Chelsea in last year’s semi-final really told the story of what happened over those 2 legs; or as if a Real Madrid own goal after dominating us for the entire 90 minutes at home would really tell the story of what happened; etc. etc..

With football, the proof is not solely in the pudding nor is it solely in the ingredients.

You need to consider both the ends and the means in coming to a conclusion and determining whether there is progress or not, or whether the success is hollow or meaningful, or whether a failure to win silverware is really a failure to achieve some measure of progress.