Firstly this is an unashamed defence of Rafa Benitez, thought Iíd write it now as I donít know whether heíll still be here later today, you don't know who to believe anymore but apparently he wants assurances that any money he raises from selling players he can keep, If that doesnít show the constraints heís working under, I donít know what does. This comes out of discussions in the ĎArl arse threadí where Fat Scouser and VdM were saying that they didnít know why we fell from grace this season but it was the most spectacular fall they could remember. It got me thinking about the reasons. Thereís an insult that's thrown at those of us who support Rafa that itís all about blind faith, ĎIn Rafa we trustí, but the reality is that most of us support him because we think heís a great manager who will show how good he is when someone backs his vision.
Benitez not only won us a European Cup he got us to another final in Athens, and that was the start of the decline, he had been promised resources and he realised that they werenít there. The owners were rumbled, they didnít give two f***s about the football side, theyíd bought into what they hoped was a cash cow and our beloved club was nothing more than an undervalued asset to be milked and sold on. From this point Benitez was under the added pressure of constantly having to watch his back from those inside the club. Yes he won those political battles but at the cost of his authority being undermined, everyone knew during the whole saga he was one mistake from the sack.
Yet, towards the end of last season it clicked, as it sometimes does in football, and for a brief period we looked one of the best sides in Europe. But then this season we witnessed a slide, and the knives were out, a manager that has proved he knows what he is doing has been turned into a figure of fun to be ridiculed by football luminaries such as Stan Collymore and Paul Merson. So what happened and why was the slide so spectacular?
Firstly itís impossible not to start at the top, if in any organisation there are real behind the scene tensions, these will find a way of surfacing the minute thereís a setback, and this can uncertainty can spread like a virus in a sporting environment where the managerís authority must be sacrosanct. Our club was and is a mess, providing a very unforgiving terrain for managing a football club.
Benitez is characterised as a defensive manager and I think this does him a great disservice. I would argue he is a manager who likes his team to control games both in attack and defence. Like most managers he started from the back and built us into a team that could control play from the back, but I think that this was not enough for him and he wanted to build a team that could control play in all areas of the pitch and attack and defend as a single unit, and that in some ways accounts for our downfall.
This season was the one for many of us, weíd witness our side demolish Real Madrid and the Mancs at Old Trafford and we went into it with high hopes. Not only did we have high expectations, we also had the fear that if we didnít win it this season, the mancs would win 19. Tension and expectations were high. So when we lose early doors to Tottenham and Villa, we were plunged into a full scale crisis, none of us were to know that this season everyone would drop points, mentally we were fucked within three games. This and a disastrous close season where we started expecting Silva, Villa and Barry and finished realising we couldnít afford Shawcross effected mentality, heads went down too easily and for this as manger Benitez must take some of the blame, where was the manager who admonished Gerrard for saying we couldnít win the European cup? I suspect after he realised the resources on hand he half agreed with the players.
Football wise, we started seeing the next step, we were playing a more expansive game with the fullbacks pushing on and providing width. The centre backs are supposed to stay compact and play a high line. The problem was this exposed our defence and we started leaking goals. Our centre backs were too slow to play a high line and the lack of Alonso to mop up exposed their poor distribution. With no funds available, therefore no one coming in, Benitez reverted to keeping it tight at the back for the rest of the season. Our midfield of Mascherano and Lucas were needed primarily to protect our defence as they readjusted to having no Alonso to provide cover and more importantly no Alonso making himself available as a distribution option in every tight situation, Injuries and mishaps, compounded a bad situation.
However, towards the end of the season there have been glimmers of hope. Aquilani although not match fit, has been knitting the midfield together playing a more forward role. You can see how Benitez wants the midfield to play. Gerrardís world class at every aspect of his game bar dictating play, he needs someone to do this for him, with Alonso gone and Lucas too much inexperienced and in awe of him, things were breaking down. With Aquilani in there, Gerrard is free to concentrate on producing the devastating football; we all know heís capable of, for the first time since Alonso went. Iím not too worried about the midfield. If there was no off-field nonsense I would be quietly confident of our engine room.
We've played at least a third of the season with a reserve striker, who's coming on but itís glaringly obvious we need another striker or two, and a class replacement for Carragher who can play a high line and distribute without hoofing. the only obstacle is funds, does anyone really think Benitez doesn't want class cover for Torres? The ironic thing is that when we took the step backwards and reverted to playing a more defensive style that suits him Carra has played well this season.
Iím sure Benitez understands our weaknesses and strengths better than any of us with funds available I think we might surprise a few people,in trying to move to an expansive style of play we were exposed but a manger of benitez's class could put this right with money for players but instead we face a situation where we might lose the manager and this could act as a catalyst for us losing some of our top players. G&H will be made up, they never liked the upstart Benitez anyway, his football obsession got in the way of business what I canít believe are some of our fans also want this. You donít know what youíve got till itís gone.