4 Nov 2007

Rafael Benitez's 'shakespearean' tragic flaw

Shakespeare’s Hamlet, like many great figures in literature, suffered from an ‘antic disposition’ – a tragic flaw that weighed him down and prevented him from achieving his ultimate goal.

In the grand, operatic tapestry of the premiership, Rafael Benitez, like Gerard Houllier before him, also suffers from an almost Shakespearean tragic flaw: Irrational stubbornness and a pig-headed unwillingness to compromise his footballing philosophy...

This is the principal reason Rafa will not succeed in the league. And, like Houllier, this flaw will also be his eventual downfall.

The crucial point is this: Liverpool need a Manager who will adapt his methods and philosophy to fit the league, not a manager who tries to adapt the demands of the league to fit his methods and philosophy.

History has proven that successful Managers in the top English league have all had the same attributes:

1. ‘My way or the highway’ approach.

2. Ability to be ruthless.

3. Stubbornness: a refusal to back down from what they believe is the right way of doing things.


1. George Graham: Created a team that was persistently labelled 'boring, boring Arsenal' but he refused to change his style and won the league twice.

2. Alex Ferguson: An extremely stubborn Manager, evidenced by the fact he kicked Beckham and Stam out of United. He even forced out Roy Keane, his self confessed 'greatest ever buy'.

Ferguson can get away with such stubbornness because he is successful and knows how to win the league. He produces team after team that knows how to win the premiership.

The proof of this is that, despite kicking out important players like Beckham, Stam and Keane, Ferguson *still* won the league.

3. Jose Mourinho: Chose a system and stuck with it, playing a universally panned style of football for much of the time. But the system worked so he stuck with it, despite Roman Abramovich persistently breathing down his neck.

4. Brian Clough: The ultimate stubborn genius. Stern, instilled fear into his players and if they didn't like the way he did things, it was goodbye. I don't need to give a history of Brian Clough's outspoken nature, it speaks for itself. He won the league with Derby and then Forest, not to mention the incredible feat of winning two European Cups.

The Managers above had a 'my way or the highway' attitude BUT they could get away with it because of one simple reason: They brought home the league title.

Rafa has a similar attitude but he is hamstrung by his own stubborn nature. I like the fact that he appears to have no favourites BUT he can't adapt his style, whereas Ferguson, Wenger and Mourinho HAVE adapted and come up with a winning formula that is based upon doing what needs to be done to win the league, as opposed to trying to make the league fit their own individual style.

Additionally, all of the successful managers I've mentioned had other things in common:

1. They played their best 11 as often as possible.

2. The spine of their successful teams was always intact bar injuries.

3. Players were rotated sensibly I.e. against lesser teams/Carling cup etc.

4. Their stubbornness did not impact on the team's ability to win the league.

Rafa fails on all four of these points. It is doubtful whether he knows his best eleven players. How can he, when he is renowned for never playing the same team twice? His rotation policy is complete and utter farce. Recent ridiculous examples of this include:

a) Resting Fernando Torres for two important league games but starting him in the Carling Cup.

b) Refusing to play Peter Crouch against Arsenal and playing a patently unfit Torres instead.

c) Hardly ever rotating Dirk Kuyt – Liverpool’s most ineffectual Striker.

d) Playing Alonso v Arsenal, instead of playing someone fully match fit.

It is clear that Rafa has certain philosophies that he believes will win Liverpool the league:

1. Constant rotation of players to keep them fit.

2. With rare exceptions, never playing the same team twice.

3. An obsession with saving players for the latter part of the season when they are apparently 'needed most'

4. A preference for fit, hardworking players who can run endlessly every game.

5. A safety first approach, whereby Liverpool are set up to stop the opposition scoring, as opposed to being set up to attack from the word go.

6. Over reliance on statistics as an indicator of how the team is performing.

Rafa provided a prime example of point number six during a recent interview, where he was asked if Pako Ayesteran's departure had affected the team:

"I do not believe that the management changes have affected the situation. We have been analysing the data regarding our players and we are running more, covering more ground and our physical condition is fantastic"

The above quote reveals a man who eschews the human aspect of management and relies more on statistics and data. Apparently, everything is okay because according to the statistics, the players are ‘running more’ and ‘covering more ground’

This is not working. Rafa should accept that it is not working and try and come up with something that WORKS in the league. He has not and will not do that, which is his tragic flaw. Anyone who listens to his interviews on a regular basis can see that he is steadfast and immovable in his footballing philosophy. He will not change, and unless he does, Liverpool will not win the league with him at the helm.

The stubbornness of Ferguson, Clough, Mourinho, Graham, Wenger, Dalglish etc bred success in the league. They learned how to crack the English league by adapting to its physical and tactical demands. Rafa's stubbornness breeds failure in the league. He has not cracked the league because he has not found a way to adapt. Rafa believes that the way he always done things will suffice. He is wrong and has been proved to be wrong.

Ferguson et al use their stubbornness in the *right* way. i.e. The methods/approach they have actually yields results in the league. Unlike Rafa, they have developed a system/approach/style that leads to winning the league. If they are criticised, then they can ignore the naysayers because they have the silverware to back up their approach.

Rafa has things back to front; surely, you develop a winning formula and THEN back it to the hilt in the face of adversity?! You don't back a failing system to the hilt, even though it has failed for 4 years and never looks likely to succeed...do you?! That is the kind of stubbornness that does nobody any favours.

I know Rafa is only in his 4th season, but the point is that if he continues to be inflexible and does not adapt his methods and philosophies to the premiership, then Liverpool will not win the premiership, and Rafa wll be left to suffer the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune'.


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