Thanks, Rafa

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So, after six years at the helm Rafa Benitez has left Liverpool. My feelings on the Spaniard’s departure are mixed, to say the least.

In the past Ive been highly critical of Benitez, his stubbornness, his bizarre tactics and often embarrassing post-match interviews, this season particularly.

But my feelings on Rafa are clouded by the bigger picture at Anfield and instead I, like most fans, feel angry at how the club has once again conducted itself like a cheap prostitute.

I wasn’t the only one who was left angry at the fact a lifelong Chelsea fan, who – we were told – has only one job at the club, to sell it, was a key man in making the decision to remove our manager and even the one quoted in the club statement.

To rub salt into the wounds it emerges that LFC officials held informal talks with Mark Hughes following the Benfica match earlier in the season. So we’re left with the potential of a Chelsea fan as chairman and a Manc as manager. Depressing doesn’t even come close to surmising the thoughts on that potential set-up.

The only person who has come out of this past week with any integrity is, once again, Rafa Benitez.

Even his statement on leaving the club was perfect. Regardless of whether you felt he was the right man to be in charge of the club, one thing that cannot be argued is that he understood the club and it’s fans, it’s history and it’s heritage. The same cannot be said about the current ownership.

Naturally at this time supporters will look back upon Rafa’s regime and the memories of Istanbul, Cardiff and many more European nights will come flooding back. Those first two years and the back end of last season were some of the most optimistic times for any Liverpool fan since we last won the title 20 years ago.

Some of those memories have been conflicted by the disappointments of this past season but the Rafa regime as a whole has been a success and the playing side of the club is much healthier than it was six years ago. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the non-playing side of the club.

It’s been said, by Alan Hansen of all people, that Benitez leaves the next manager with a squad worse than the one he inherited from Gerard Houllier in 2004. Hansen could not be more wrong, as Paul Tomkins explains in his article here. If the club and the new manager can keep the core of this squad together they will inherit a squad full of World Class players and a spine of a team as strong as any in Europe. Fill in the weak spots around the edges and you never know what might emerge. If only Benitez had been given the funds to do so, if only the new manger would be given the new funds to do so.

Fortunately, Brian Reade in The Mirror reflects the truth about Rafa’s six years at Anfield in his column today.

People have been asking me this week, who do you want to succeed Rafa? What will happen with Torres and co.? The sad truth is, both questions cannot be answered without knowing the future ownership of the Football Club. Why on earth would a new manager take up the job if he has no new funds and consequently Torres et al. are more likely to leave, leaving the new manager with an even bigger task and weaker squad – without money for reinforcements!

Anyone dreaming of a Guus Hiddink or Louis Van Gaal like appointment should dream on because there’s no chance somebody of their calibre will be arriving while the ownership remains so imbalanced. Firstly, the club cannot afford their services and secondly the club doesn’t have the funds they would demand to improve the squad.

Given the financial plight what I’d like to see is Kenny Dalglish be appointed on an interim basis, steady the ship, persuade Torres and Gerrard to stay, make some improvements to the squad, then when the club is sold – hopefully sooner than later – a new manger of high calibre can come in and have the money to build on what Benitez has left. Appointing Kenny would be the ‘cheap option’ for the owners and they will no doubt see it as an opportunity to keep the fans happy. At least we wouldn’t be seeing a Manc or a manager inferior to Rafa being put in charge then.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be a long summer and the odds are that the playing side of the club will be weaker come the start of the new season no matter what happens.

In the meantime, remember Rafa’s reign for what it was – a rollercoaster, but it was Rafa who provided the highs and more often the off-field consequences that provided the lows.

Thanks for the memories Rafa.

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