Friday, May 25, 2007

RAFA AT THE CROSSROADS?




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What Rafa Benitez has achieved at Liverpool in just 3 years, is really quite phenomenal: the Holy grail of the Champions League title, the FA Cup, Super Cup, Charity Shield and a second lost Champions League Final against Milan a few days ago. All supporters of the club should be celebrating. Yet somehow we're not. Defeat in the crucial last game of the season has left a bitter taste in the mouth and precipitated a few skeletons clattering out of the cupboard. Put simply, another CL success would have taken supporters' minds off the fact that we haven't won the English Premier League for 17 years (and all that time ago, it even went by a different name!). Failure, on the other hand, means that Rafa (and the fans) won't be able to claim for the next year that while Manchester might be the champions of England, his (our) team are the champions of Europe. It was a part well scripted against Mourinho in the season following that famous victory in Istanbul. It's easy to see why Ferguson at United was so blatantly in the "Rossoneri" camp.


After the defeat against Milan, Rafa was guilty of an egotistical tantrum. The new owners, he insisted, must back him in signing new players with massive price tags; otherwise, Liverpool would always be trailing behind in the PL in 3rd or 4th place. Now I really wonder if his vehemence on this score would have been so great had Liverpool won the final? It could have happened--and Milan definitely had whatever luck was going when Inzaghi fortuitously put away his first of the night. With Liverpool crowned as Champions of Europe for the second time in 3 years, everything would have been seen as being rosy. Of course there would have still been changes, but the emphasis would have been on Liverpool being about to translate their European form into domestic dominance. Now, intead of that, Rafa has to face the next year without having won anything in 2006--2007, while his two major rivals shared out the domestic honours. And that's why he got mad and made the comment about needing immediate financial backing. The European card can no longer be played and Rafa is faced with the stark reality of needing to win the PL for the first time in 17 years.

What is conveniently forgotten in all this is the fact that Rafa himself is the man who has made a habit out of signing average quality squad players. Indeed, it is often said that Rafa is uncomfortable with big stars, preferring to play his tactical game and request the individuals to lose themselves in the team plan. The problem is that at the highest level, this approach is not really working. Quality DOES make a difference and faceless craftsmen will never match the sublime skills of a Ronaldinho, a Kaka, a Drogba--or an Inzaghi. Perhaps Benitez' ouburst after the final was so vehement because he had himself just realised this fact for the first time: there could be no more papering over the cracks!

Personally, I am sure that RB is still the right man for the job even if he, like the rest of us, remains on a learning curve in his professional life. Perhaps now he will ally that profound tactical knowledge with the acceptance that at the highest level, quality will make the difference--and also that quality needs to be paid for!

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of sense here, apart from overstating the value of winning meaninless events like the Charity Shield and Super Cup. Put those into football perspective, and the fact that the present format of the over hyped Champions League hardly gives the winners the right to claim to be Euro Champions, and the rest reflects Raffas talents in a true light.

So it is strange that your final comments are so supportive.?
Tactical skills very dubious. Spending skills extremely questionable, and yet still the man for the Liverpool job?

I suspect you are influenced by his CL record, otherwise, given the backing he has had, what else is there apart from the FA Cup?

His first CL final win was due more to good fortune than good management. Given a very easy league section draw and aided by the dreadful away goals and penalties rules which got him past two leading contenders, he again
got to the final but blew what should have been an easy win with his inept team choice and, far worse, failure to change them once he saw how poor the opposition was on the night. Your summary of his talents are first class, Not so sure about your conclusions. Seems to me thre are more obvious ones.

Acolyte

1:00 AM  
Blogger ely.pienovi said...

la foto è buffa e la storia è interessante!

11:02 AM  
Blogger Jon Aristides said...

I see what you mean Acolyte. However, 2 ECL finals in 3 years IS impressive (one of which was won)--and throw in the FA Cup for a very decent return from 3 years. Actually it's true that he's had a lot of luck--both in Istanbul and in the final against West Ham. It's also true that his tactical nous is sometimes questionable. His team was a toothless one against Milan and in my opinion Crouch, the only half decent striker that Liverpool seems to have, should have been playing from the beginning. Rafa on occasions seems perverse in his decisions. At first, he couldn't say enough good things about Crouch--and then when the gangly striker began to put them away on a regular basis he banished him to bit part player!

I don't really agree with your dismissal of Milan. They are a fine team and victory could never be assured against them. On the other hand, Rafa's team selection did rather play into their hands. It looked a bit like Rafa was playing for penalties from the beginning--and his angry outburst in part expressed the frustration of a man who had seen his plan overturned by an unscripted event.

In the end I support Rafa because he is a skilful tactician and I can see no superior alternative...I'd be glad to see Dalglish back as coach, but his success came a long time ago and I'm not sure how he'd cope at the highest level today.Rafa needs to become more human and expansive in his approach. That, allied to his tactical skill could achieve great things.

11:56 AM  

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