Not since King Kenny have we had a man worthy of the reins (Houllier came close, but no cigar), but maybe now we do. That said, Rafa has a lot riding on this season; another trophyless campaign and I'll be spending most of next summer wiping huge amounts of egg from my face.
There's no room for fawning blind-faith fandom on this site, so let's just look at facts and real-world examples. And before you start picking holes in my analysis, I want to reiterate one more time – I am *not* trying to compare like with like here, and I'm not looking to show how the two men differ, I just want to draw a few comparisons that maybe point toward a hopeful outlook for Rafa.
William: In the 1958/59 season, Liverpool FC finished fourth in the old second division. In December 1959, along came a fresh faced William Shankly, and it took him just five seasons to bring the first division title to the red half of Merseyside.
Rafael: In the 2003/04 season, Liverpool finished 30 points behind Arsenal in the premier league to finish fourth. The following season, Benitez arrived. Five seasons later the reds finished within a whisker of Manchester United at the head of the table.
Conclusions: Shanks started from a much lower base than Rafa who - even if he were to bring home the title this season - is already lagging behind a little. Having said that, Shanks didn't have the European/Champions League trophy in the Anfield cabinet within that timeframe.
I know I'm already stretching things, but I think the point I'm trying to make is that Shanks really turned the club around. And I think in his own way, and in a totally different era, remember, Rafa has done something similar, turning the team he inherited from Houllier into a pretty powerful force, and one feared across Europe.
The Personal Ideals
William: Liverpool tried to sign up Shanks as manager before 1959, but he refused to take on the job. His reason? The manager didn't pick the team. The board finally saw sense and ceded this role in order to get their man.
Rafael: Rafa openly criticized his board when player dealings were taken out of his hands. The board has finally seen sense and opted to ditch the rusty cog in the engine, and Rick Parry is on his way out, clearing the way for Rafa to take full control.
Conclusions: It's obvious that both men shared a distinct distrust of the money men at the club. They both wanted complete control of team affairs and were not afraid to stand their ground in order to get their way.
William: Shanks often referred to the existence of only two teams on Merseyside: Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves. He was also renowned for his sulking prowess if his team had lost. His oven was the cleanest in Merseyside if Liverpool had lost, as scrubbing kitchen appliances was his way of letting off steam and helping him come down from his sulk.
Rafael: Remember the Everton small team comment? If that doesn't endear him to the Liverpool fans, then nothing will. And I think it's safe to say if things don't go his way, he can be the king of sulk, especially if it's Fergie looking to get one over on him. But as for his kitchen appliances... well, I couldn't possibly comment.
Conclusions: These guys were bloody minded, born winners. Coming second for them was never an option, and neither of them was particularly good at hiding their contempt for a second-place finish.
Separated At Birth?
Of course they weren't! This article is a little bit tongue in cheek, and let me repeat one more time, I'm not trying to make a case for Benitez being anywhere near the level of Shankly. But, it seems Benitez does share some striking traits in common with the big man, and while he doesn't possess the same charisma as the likable Scot, he does display a similar obdurate single-mindedness and determination.
Let's hope he follows Shankly's blueprint for success and we see the league crown back in its rightful home soon.