It’s a good idea I didn’t choose to write this immediately after our horrible loss to Portsmouth at the weekend, as it has taken me a couple of days to calm down enough to actually view the situation with some calm and rationality.
Generally though, this was a shocker. And I’m starting to wonder if I could feel any worse than I have done already this season in regards to our club – I previously thought I’d hit rock-bottom after the Arsenal game. It does still amuse me how people will point the finger at one or two factors though – such as Dossena’s start, or the omission of Aquilani. Would the same people argue that the team that started was not good enough to beat bottom-placed Pompey? I’m not looking to absolve Rafa of blame totally here either, rather just suggesting that if you are going to point the finger, it should be in the right direction.
Our problem is clearly confidence and this is running through the team like a virus at the moment. You could more accurately, therefore, point the finger at Rafa for not being able to motivate the players into performing how they should. The traditional ‘British’ form of motivation, that being back-slapping, war-cries and a penchant for broken teacups, is certainly not the Benitez way. It certainly seems as though we need this at the moment – a good, old-fashioned ‘kick up the arse’ to get the blood boiling again. You could postulate though, as with so many other teams that employ a less extroverted man-in-charge, that the coach’s assistant often adopts the role of flinging things around when necessary. Sammy Lee is more than capable of kicking off and his passion for the club is without question, so really we should have this area ‘covered’ through the backroom team Rafa has assembled.
After all, Benitez isn’t being employed as a kindergarten teacher given the responsibility of leading a bunch of pre-pubescent, hyperactive toddlers across a road. Our team is laden with professional sportsmen, who have a wealth of experience at all levels of the game. They should be fighting for personal pride, professional integrity, international recognition and the millions of fans across the world and in the stadium singing their name. And, damnit, for their pay cheques. They are being very handsomely rewarded to live out most people’s ‘dream’ career for a relatively short time. Should the burden of blame not be placed at least equally on them?
Now, I’m not suggesting that we should haul our players in front of the stocks (though a good slap around the chops surely wouldn’t hurt), I am merely trying to suggest that it seems strange our team is getting little or no blame for our current plight. This is, unless, you subscribe to the theory that Rafa has ‘shattered’ the confidence of our players, the poor darlings. Come on. In the case of some younger players with limited experience looking for guidance, this factor ‘could’ undoubtedly have an effect on their progression. But if people with the experience of Gerrard, Carragher, Kuyt, Benayoun, Mascherano can’t step up to the plate as guiding lights in times of crisis on the pitch then I think we should all reanalyse the reasons why we hold top-level sportsmen in such high regard.
Don’t forget that this team (barring Xabi and Hyypia) were so close to the title last season, so they have it in them (as we all know) to play a hell of a lot better than they are now. Rediscovering this sort of form is the only thing holding us back, but if you truly believe that playing Aurelio (or Riera) on the left of midfield against Pompey would have entirely transformed our mentality on the pitch, you are living in delusion.
People scream ‘RAFA OUT’, while being blind to the repercussions of losing our manager. The best-case scenario in this worst-case situation, as I see it, would be to put King Kenny in charge, if he were willing to do it. Otherwise we’d have to try and convince another manager of equal or better experience, reputation and quality to a club that has been riddled with problems from the boardroom level down since the American owners took charge (not to mention the massive debt we’d incur for buying out Rafa’s contract). How many managers do you honestly believe would fit this criteria and be willing to make the move? Do you think many of them would have been able to cope much better with the issues we have faced this season?
Again, this is a cry for rational response and realism. Don’t just scream ‘RAFA OUT’, consider the consequences. Don’t just believe media-hype targeting our manager, consider how much he is solely to blame.
Those who argue that Rafa has spent money badly should consider the percentage success-rate of similar rivals before claiming that he has ‘wasted’ too much. Chelsea, Man.City and Manchester United can comfortably drop £30-40m on players that don’t perform to their worth without it affecting their squad to the detriment of their season (even Spurs can afford a bench that comfortably runs into tens of millions).
Perhaps we need to readjust our sights to the current situation we find ourselves in, and I’m talking primarily financially. As some commentors have suggested recently, we can’t just expect to win things because We Are Liverpool.
Benitez stated at the end of last season that we’d need to be ‘almost perfect’ this season in order to claim the title. It couldn’t have really gone much worse so far, and it seems as if our manager is under no illusions as to the nature of the task ahead.
This brings me to the aftermath to the Pompey game. There has been plenty of talk of Benitez’s ‘petulant’ responses to questions post-match. I’m not enjoying seeing this new sarcastic side of him, I have to say. But I get the impression from his body language and demeanour that Rafa is finally getting a little bit sick and tired of the repeated abuse he is getting from ex-players and the media. Picture the perennial group of school-yard bullies that attempt to wind up another kid by repeatedly clipping their ear, only to laugh and taunt the patient child when they finally react. If Benitez is not permitted to ‘lash-out’ every now and then at this current point in time, with the pressure he is under, he is either totally apathetic about his job and our club or barely human.
There is no doubt that we are going through some dark times. We have a mouth-watering first-eleven, yet haven’t had chance to show it for its full worth. Benitez will undoubtedly make it through this season (and if he doesn’t, I ask the detractors how confident they would be of H+G picking a capable alternative) and if we haven’t shown a massive improvement by May I will personally be willing to accept ‘I told you so’ from the doubters.
Until then, I refuse to condemn a manager we surely all held in high regard at the end of the last season (and if you didn’t, you need a reality-check) to the scrap-heap based on one half of a term that has been fraught with this many problems. In the meantime, I can but hope for patience and realism from some of the rest of the fan-base as well.