25 Nov 2007

Beginning of the end for Benitez

Bill Shankly once said: "At a football club, there's a holy trinity - the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don't come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques".

At Liverpool, it’s more ‘deadly duo’ than ‘holy trinity’ at the moment, and Rafa is no doubt wishing that Tom Hicks and George Gillette would just sign the cheques already.

The spat between Benitez and Liverpool’s American owners is spiraling out of control, and the Spaniard is doing himself no favours by fanning the flames of adversity.

Tom Hicks’ unprofessional public outburst against Rafa was unacceptable, and represented conduct unbecoming a senior figure at Anfield. I would even go so far as to say that Hicks’ tirade represented the complete antithesis of everything Liverpool stands for and just proved that he has no real idea about the culture of Liverpool FC.

Rafa should have been the bigger man and responded in private. Instead, he has made things infinitely worse with a needless public outburst of his own. If Rafa’s petulant performance in Friday’s press conference was ill-advised, his latest public comments are tantamount to professional suicide. One thing you don’t do in any line of work is cast aspersions against your boss in public:

"They [Hicks and Gillette] don't understand what the transfer window means in Europe. They need to understand how difficult it is to sign players. I was trying to explain, now we try to keep focus and win games. They need to know and understand how to sign players who are free, that we have to do it early and quickly. They need to understand the way the market works”.

Rafa is of course right. However, he should never have made these comments. History has proven that spats between the boardroom and management only lead to one result. For a recent example, just look at the friction between Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich. Mourinho’s fantastic achievements and outstanding managerial ability counted for nothing in the end – all that mattered was the decision of the man in charge.

Given Rafa’s obvious intelligence and self-awareness, it strikes me as strange that he would attempt to use the media to exert pressure in this way. Indeed, it could be the case that Rafa has an overstated sense of his own importance to the club, and this has led him to believe he is immune from any consequences.

This is a fatal mistake, and combined with Rafa’s trademark stubbornness, will only lead to fatal consequences.

Rafa also made reference to the fans, in what appears to be an attempt to use his popularity as some kind of justification:

“I am trying to do what is best for the club, my fans know that and I will keep doing it.”

The fans may know it, but I suspect their adoration will not stop Hicks and Gillette from taking action. Mourinho was loved by the fans, but that didn’t help him, did it?

I don’t think that Rafa will be sacked straight away – that would be an insane decision and if taken, would expose the irredeemable stupidity of the club’s owners. However, I do feel that this situation is the beginning of the end for Rafa.

The damage is done and I am sure that neither party in this situation will completely forget what has happened. Rafa will not take kindly to fighting the same battles he faced at Valencia and Hicks and Gillette will not take kindly to their public belittling. Ultimately, something will have to give somewhere along the line, and it certainly won't be the club's new owners selling up and moving on.

Regardless of who is to blame, the whole mess reflects badly on Liverpool FC. It is divisive; counter productive and not the Liverpool way, and Rafa more than anyone should know that.


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