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An open letter to the anti-Rafa brigade

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Loathe as I am to paint myself as a one-trick pony, what with all the Rafa defending I’ve been doing recently, now seems like a good time to finish up an article I’ve been spinning around for a while to try and illustrate exactly why I believe we should consider ourselves lucky to have a manager like Rafa Benitez at the helm.

Many fans (understandably – considering human nature and all, but that doesn’t make it right) have been calling for our manager’s head this season, and indeed the media is painting us as some of the most patient supporters on the planet – further goading those who sit on the fence into ‘anti-Rafa’ territory by implying that we are somewhat deluded as to our current situation.

Our ‘very own’ Jamie Redknapp has recently gone so far as to suggest that our manager ‘manipulates’ the fans into believing in him. Not only is this disrespectful to the manager, it’s also spectacularly disrespectful to the fans, by suggesting we are incapable of making even-handed judgements based on our own observations. He goes on to suggest that Fernando Torres wouldn’t be happy playing for the club if we weren’t in the Champions League. This, despite almost weekly assurances from Nando reaffirming his loyalty to the club.

After a dream start to Rafa’s reign we were treat to one of the most memorable matches in living memory in Istanbul, followed up with another dramatic win in the FA Cup, another CL Final, a whisker away from meeting the Mancs in yet another CL Final and last season, our best ever Premiership points tally. Sure, for many this may not amount to enough silverware in the cabinet and we are still waiting for the much anticipated Premier League trophy, but those who are under any illusion that this is easy to win should consider the following factors:

  • We haven’t been nearly as privileged as some of our main rivals in terms of the amount of money we’ve had to spend.
  • We haven’t been nearly as privileged as some other teams in terms of the squad that was inherited on arrival, with Rafa having to replace all but the home-grown stars over the last five years, effectively building a squad ‘from scratch’.
  • We haven’t been nearly as privileged as some teams in terms of the amount of time the manager has had at the helm to mould a team in his long-term vision.

    It should be fairly obvious that I’m referring to our closest rivals with the statements above. It’s clear that given this competition, the demands on the club and the resources at his disposal, Rafa had a choice of either building a ‘decent’ squad or attempting to build a league-beating first eleven, and as you can see from his enforced ‘sell-to-buy’ philosophy, he has gone with the latter. I for one would much rather see us rolling the dice in this way, even though it involves far greater risk due to injury, than assembling a squad that could comfortably hit the top four each season.

    This sort of talk is usually dismissed out of hand as excuses by some fans, and if you agree, you need to think a bit more critically and realistically about how important these factors actually are.

    Put yourself in Rafa’s position. After five years, would you enjoy being judged this harshly if you were up against the greatest manager for a generation, who has had 23 years in which to shape his legacy, and the greatest chequebook of a generation, who was also astute enough to pick a manager whose ego could handle the swathe of overpaid pre-madonnas he would take under his wing?
    Of course, all of these arguments have been done to death in recent times, but it’s important to consider them in context with the rest of this article.

    Photo from fOTOGLIF

    A look at Rafa ‘the man’ is perhaps more compelling, since if you can accept that we are fighting an uphill battle in terms of time and resources, the following should illustrate exactly why fans are more than happy to give our man at the top the chance he deserves to bring success to our club.
    Benitez has turned down four offers to manage Real Madrid since he joined Liverpool. This underlines exactly how highly regarded he is in his home country, but damnit all, how much credit does this guy deserve for sticking with us through thick and thin with this alternative on the table?

  • He’s had to deal with often shambolic and frequently embarrassing owners, during which time he has been undermined and not shown the level of support required to realistically challenge for the Premier League, given the current state of the competition.
  • He’s had to deal with constant, incessant, often inaccurate criticism from the press, pundits and ex-players, none of whom are qualified enough to tell this man how to do his job.
  • He’s had to deal with injuries to key players, often while away on international duty, which have undermined his plans, and has subsequently taken the flak for circumstances out of his control. (See the point above regarding squad choice to counter inevitable arguments about not building a strong enough team.)
  • So why is Rafa still here? If the biggest football club in the world were knocking (repeatedly) on your door, who also happen to be the biggest club in your homeland, offering you more money than you’re currently on, how many of us could honestly say that we’d still have the integrity and determination to persist with a team that we had no particularly loyalty to (prior to arrival), while having to cope with these factors? I don’t think I would have.

    There are two reasons why Rafa is still here though, as I see it:

  • He would consider it a personal failure to leave before his long-term plan for this club has been realised. An individual quality, and a level of integrity that is sadly quite rare to see these days, not just in sport, but in any business.
  • The fans. There can be little doubt that our manager has ‘fallen in love’, so to speak, with our club and our fans. He is astute, self-assured and loyal enough to want to pay back those who have shown him support over the years. These are the fans that, even this season, make their voices heard and regularly sing his name on matchdays at Anfield, as well as those on the message-boards, blogs and forums that still believe in Rafa’s ability to drive our club forwards.
  • I don’t know about you, but I think these qualities should be lauded, not chastised, for there are far too many examples of managers who don’t have the fortitude to stick to their guns when the going gets tough.

    Photo from fOTOGLIF

    I’ll cite a couple of examples.
    Jose Mourinho, who clearly considers himself to be the best manager in the world, has proven himself no more capable than being able to take a aspiring team, with a blank chequebook, to the league title by spending hundreds of millions in a very short time. When the going got tough (and a lot less tough than Rafa has had to deal with, particularly considering how much money Jose ‘wasted’), he jumped ship and moved to an Italian team that was nailed-on for success in order to reinforce a blinkered opinion of his own abilities. Jose is undoubtedly talented, but is he willing to challenge himself against adversity with a ‘limited’ budget to achieve a personal goal? I think not.

    Or Harry Redknapp, who seemed perfectly willing to dart between bitter rivals at the drop of a hat whenever someone came up with a better offer, or looked to be in a better position to offer him ‘success’, or a richer tapestry to paint on. To hell with the feelings of the supporters who would rightly be so aggrieved at your lack of loyalty, eh Harry?

    Both of these managers are highly respected in British media circles. But in light of the points raised above, for what reasons exactly?

    Throw in a bunch of ‘chancers’, in the form of ex-players who have been romantically assigned to manage massive clubs with little or no pedigree and you’re left with a surprisingly small pool of managers who can compete with Benitez in terms of experience, ability, critical thinking and integrity, not to mention loyalty.
    We are lucky to have Rafa steering our ship forwards, and the lack rational thought involved in criticising such a manager, especially so soon after a great league season, is frightening. A lack of objectivity and the ability to think in relative terms is what has confined clubs such as Newcastle to the Championship. Knee-jerk decision-making, often advocated so fervently by much of the media and portions of a club’s fan-base, is not a policy that is adopted by our club.

    And I, for one, am very grateful for that.

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