14 Feb 2008

Change the record, Tomkins. There's no credible comparison between Ferguson and Benitez’s early years

When are blatantly pro-Liverpool FC writers going to stop using tired clichés to back up their tenuous arguments and start telling the truth about the way things really are?

Paul Tomkins is a case in point: In his latest article, he castigates Jamie Redknapp for having the temerity to suggest that Liverpool would not win the title under Rafael Benitez due to his incessant rotation policy.

To many Liverpool fans who prefer to see things the way they really are, Redknapp merely stated the obvious truth.

The thing that strikes me about pro-Liverpool writers is the way they always use the same tedious excuses to back up their arguments. For example, if the topic is whether or not Steven Gerrard is world class or a good captain, you can guarantee that the response will include any or all of the following:

1. But what about Istanbul?
2. What about Olympiakos?
3. What about the FA Cup Final vs. West Ham?

Everything after those events is ignored, and they are held up as an answer to any criticism leveled at Gerrard.

Paul Tomkins has a similar set of excuses whenever someone criticizes Benitez, as this excerpt from his article proves:

According to Jamie Redknapp, Liverpool "have got no chance" of ever winning the league under Rafa Benítez. Presumably Redknapp would have said the same in 1990 about Alex Ferguson, who had taken a top four side at United for the previous four seasons under Ron Atkinson and turned them into ninth placed finishers (on average) over his first four seasons?

Benitez's league record outstrips Ferguson's in every possible way when comparing their respective first four years in charge, and while football has changed, and the past cannot be compared to the present with total accuracy, the fact is that no-one in the world thought Alex Ferguson could ever win a league title at United, and certainly not the United fans holding up banners asking for him to be sacked.

The comparisons between United back then and Liverpool now are apt: England's two biggest clubs, with all the monumental pressure that comes with it, both trying to end a two-decade drought without the league title. Except Ferguson took four years to win his first trophy, and spent most of that time in the bottom half of the table.

Change the record! There always seems to be this ridiculous comparison between Alex Ferguson’s first years at Man United and Benitez’s first years at Liverpool. The reality is that the comparison is redundant and is just serves as a pathetic excuse to deflect criticism away from Benitez’s appalling impact in the premiership.

Anyway, Mr Tomkins is focusing on the wrong comparison. A more accurate comparison would be between Ron Atkinson and Benitez. Like Benitez, Atkinson was a nearly-man in the league, finishing in the top four in his five seasons in charge.

Despite having a talented squad and ample money to spend, Atkinson could never get the best out his players, and was never able to break the Merseyside monopoly, which was the principal reason he was sacked in 1986.

Sound familiar?

Benitez is going through the same thing – good players and lots of money to spend but for various reasons (mainly flowing from Benitez’s stubbornness) Liverpool cannot seem to break the Man United/Chelsea/Arsenal monopoly.

Indeed, in the premiership, Liverpool are arguably going backwards. After finishing on 82 points in Benitez’s second season in charge, the third season saw a drop to 68 points – a total that will be tough to beat this season if the team continues it’s frustratingly inconsistent run of form.

Liverpool suffered the same fate under Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans – always finishing in the top 4 but never getting realistically close to winning the championship.

Mr Tomkins will have everyone believe that Ferguson’s first 4 years in charge were an unmitigated disaster on every level, as this quote from his article seems to suggest:

Benitez's league record outstrips Ferguson's in every possible way when comparing their respective first four years in charge, and while football has changed, and the past cannot be compared to the present with total accuracy, the fact is that no-one in the world thought Alex Ferguson could ever win a league title at United.

In Ferguson’s first full season in charge, United finished 2nd in the league with 81 points, beaten to the league title by possibly the most exciting Liverpool team in history. But no one would have believed Ferguson would win the league with United after that, would they?!

Utter nonsense.

In fact, in terms of trophies won, Ferguson’s record is almost identical to Benitez’s record in each Manager’s first 4 years in charge, with both clubs winning the FA Cup and a European trophy.

There are many reasons why comparing the early reigns of Ferguson and Benitez is pure folly, but the main one is this: When Ferguson arrived at United, the club was in disarray behind the scenes, with a huge drinking culture, desperately poor fitness levels, unmotivated players and general indiscipline eating away like a cancer.

When Benitez took over at Liverpool, the club was in fantastic shape. Gerard Houllier had restored pride in the club, off-field discipline and player fitness levels were excellent, and everything about the infrastructure of the club was in good order.

Ferguson had in infinitely harder job than Benitez to try and turn things around; instilling the requisite levels of professionalism, motivation and determination into United’s squad whilst having to wait for disruptive players like Paul McGrath to leave undoubtedly had an impact on the speed of Ferguson’s success.

Writers like Paul Tomkins conveniently seem to gloss over this fact though when twisting the past to fit their ultra-positive agenda.

As I’ve argued repeatedly in the past, Rafael Benitez suffers from the major flaw of irrational stubbornness – something that has hindered his attempts to mould Liverpool into a winning team.

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.

Along with the likes of Brian Clough, Jose Mourinho and George Graham, Alex Ferguson is a prime example of this: 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'.

The difference is this: Ferguson is liberated by his stubbornness but Benitez is hamstrung his. Liverpool’s Manager can't adapt his La Liga style to fit the demands of the premiership, whereas Ferguson adapted and come up with a winning formula and stuck to it.

United may have struggled in the league in the first few years of Ferguson’s reign, but unlike Rafa, Ferguson was doing things the right way:

1. Playing his best 11 as often as possible.
2. Keeping the spine of thee teams intact bar injuries.
3. Rotating key players sensibly, if at all.

As long as the fundamentals are in place and things are being done the right way, success will usually follow, and it certainly did for United. Rafa fails on all three of the above points. It is doubtful whether he knows his best eleven players. How can he, when he is renowned for almost never playing the same team twice?

The question is, does it look like league success will follow for Liverpool any time soon? With the club languishing an embarrassing 19 points behind Arsenal, it doesn’t look like it.

Manchester United got rid of a Manager who finished in the top 4 five seasons running but was unable to push them to the top. Liverpool need to do the same and finally find the man who will take them to the highest level.

Rafael Benitez is not that man. The man who CAN take Liverpool to the title is already in the premiership. That man is...

That’s another article ;-)


  1. So True! I can't understand y a top class club would employ a whiner such as Rafa...

    He's never have the winning mentality. It sickened me out to read his post-games comments :'We created chances,but fail to deliver...bla bla'.

    For him, there's always a fault when the team lose,not none from himself..

    talking bout gentlemen...!

    4 ur info, I'm from Malaysia and the Liverpool fan base are growing rapidly(not only in my country,but all over Asia!..IN FACT,THE WORLD'. However,if the team continues to be on 'Rafa's Standard', Im afraid sooner the admirers of the club will 'depart' to other teams. That would financially be a waste to the club,dont u think?

    Also, I find your page very interesting due to its honest and rational reporting.

    Keep up your good work!

  2. Even when this was written it smacks of nothing more than a dummy spitting exercise.

    1 year on and your article is still laughably bitter.

    The monopoly you speak of is in great shape:

    Arsenal: going nowhere quickly in a shiny new stadium. Even Hull and Villa put them to the sword. Mid table fodder if they keep going.

    Chelsea: home record went (who to?) then suddenly their invincibility fell away along with the brown nosing media. currently on their 4th manager in 2 years.

    Man Utd: I thought once they got a points lead it was law to just end the season. But wait!! Inhibited defensive Liverpool stick 4 past them, fulham 2........hmm

  3. To my detractors, everything I write is somehow wrong. How surprising! This article is about the comparison between Benitez and Ferguson's early years - I fail to see what the 'points' you've raised have to do with what I'm arguing here.

  4. just stumbled across this article.

    Wether you can fairly compare fergies 1st 4 years with rafas or not you seem to have done very little research on the subject.

    Yes he did finish second in the 87/88 season (previously finishing 11th after taking over in November of the 86/87 season.)

    He then went on a stunning run of form finishing
    11th again

    and didnt win the league for another 2 years ( even then only after buying schmiecel(sp?) and cantona)

    The 5 years before manu had finished 3,3,4,4,4 an average of 3.6
    Fergie took them DOWN to an average of 8.6. (Good job they werent trying to qualify for the champs league.)

    If that isnt going backwards I dont know what is.

    Rafa on the other hand has finished 5,3,3,4,2?
    an average of 3.4. Houllier had averaged 3.6 in the previous 5 years (exactly the same as the team fergie inherited ).

    So rafa has actually marginally improved the teams position and posed the most serious threat to actually wining it since 2001/2 this year.

    Back to fergie -
    In the 89/90 season (after spending large sums on Webb, Ince and pallister) he soon went on a run of 6 defeats and 2 draws in 8 games.

    Soon after he lost to man City 5:1 and then after 7 games without a win through december and languishing in 15th many where calling for his head.

    Fergie out was a chant heard often at old trafford and banners saying things like 'Three years of excuses and it's still crap. Ta ra Fergie.' were being brought out.

    It is wildely thought that if he had lost an FA cup tie against Forrest he would have been sacked.

    He , unfortunatly, won it and the cup, his 1st for manu, and kept his job even though he finished a pathetic 13th in the league.

    Its pretty fair to say then that in late 1989 early 1990 not many people even thought fergie would still be manager of manu let alone win the league with them. So not utter nonsense afterall. Finishing 2nd in one year and then getting much worse wasnt good enough for most.

    Would rafa have survived finishing 11th in his 2nd full season , following this up with such a dire run of results and finish 13th? losing to everton 5:1 on the way?

    some people have little faith in him now ,even though we are on course to finish 2nd. Of course he would have been sacked.

    Now to *your* main reason why you cant compare their early reigns - apparently the squad fergie inherited was much worse than the squad rafa inherited.
    (So much worse that he had to plunge to 13th before dragging them back up the league:)

    Well yes Houllier had restored pride in the club, off-field discipline and player fitness levels were excellent.

    What you seem to gloss over is that the players werent actually good enough, 1st team squad and academy, to challenge manu immediatly.

    Thats without taking into account the fact it was actually chelsea who was dominating in rafas 1st 2 years. Even manu couldnt compete (finishing 3rd and 2nd) with chelseas spending power - ranieri spent 100mill in his last season (coming second) even before mourino splashed out loads over those 2 years.

    So rafa was expected to topple not only manu ,who had been winning titles and squad building for years ,run by the "best" manager in the world, but chelsea, who had finished 2nd the previous year and was spending a fortune and run by the "special" one.

    All suposedly with mainly the squad he inherited.

    Thats utter nonsense.

    You will say - we won the champs league with that squad, why couldnt we win the league with it? Thats also nonsense, but Ive already written too much.

    It seems you are quite prepared to give fergie excuses to why he didnt win the league for his 1st 7 years in charge whilst all the time fully expecting rafa to have won it inside 5.

    Below is a link to an article ( 1st published in The independent) that goes into detail on how manu supporters felt about fergie around 1989/90


  5. I would love to hear JKs` answer to the post above.

  6. @Anon - Great points. However, I feel you're not really addressing the points properly. In my article, I specifically focus on Benitez and Ferguson's *early years in charge*, i.e. the first 4 years for both managers.

    And in those first 4 years, Fergie and Benitez's records are very similar: both won the FA Cup; both won a European trophy; both had one good finish in the league; both had one really abject finish in the league (benitez in his first season; Ferguson in his second full season).

    The main difference between Ferguson and Benitez's early years however is as I described in the article; Man U were an utter joke when it came to off-field discipline, and the drinking problem and poor fitness levels were 'depressing', as Fergie himself described it.

    Yes, they finished in the top 4 the five previous seasons, but that was clearly to do with Ron Atkinson just allowing the drinking culture and poor discipline/fitness to flourish. The players were probably happy with that and it was reflected in their moderately successful league form.

    Of course, Fergie is a hard task-master so I have no doubt that when he came in, he changed everything and pissed off/demotivated a lot of people who were so used to the way things were, hence the slide down to 11th.

    You know how it is - when players are in their comfort zone and a disciplinarian comes in and completely changes everything, it can cause problems in the short term. Just look at Brian Clough at Leeds United for a prime example of players dropping their level because they don't like the manager.

    There is simply no comparison with the job Ferguson had to do in his early years compared to the job Benitez had to do.

    I feel you understate the impact Gerard Houllier had on the club; he completely revolutionised the discipline and professionalism of the club after the lax years under Roy Evans; he left Benitez with a squad full of excellent players, many of whom stayed for years under Benitez's reign.

    Yes, there was a lot of deadwood, but it's the same right now under Benitez.

    Ferguson had to change long-held, ingrained attitudes; negative patterns of behaviour; a lax fitness regime; a non-existent youth policy - he basically had to change the entire culture and philosophy of the club, and had to do so whilst knocking heads with senior players.

    Benitez didn't need to do any of that - all he needed to do was come to the club, use existing players like Gerrard, Carragher, Hyypia etc; buy his own players and try and win things.

    As I said in the article, there is just no comparison at all.

    Yes, it took Ferguson 7 years to win the title, but he didn't have the advantages Benitez had. I think this is beyond dispute.

  7. I`m sorry but you couldnt have read what i wrote properly.

    I also "specifically focus on Benitez and Ferguson's *early years in
    charge*, i.e. the first 4 years for both managers." for the majority of my
    comment. How did I not address the points properly?

    I discussed fergies league placings in this time - 11th ( joined in nov), 2nd, 11th, 13th and 6th. This clearly shows he had them going rapidly backwards for those 4/5 years.

    How you can compare rafas worse position , 5th in his 1st year, to fergies 13th in his 2nd (full year)/3rd (at the club) and say they are equal is beyond me.

    fergies WAS really abject, rafas was mildly dissapointing ( as you couldnt really expect him to radically improve the teams position in his 1st year as well as win the champs league :)

    yes they both won 2 trophies ( arguably the champs league is much harder to win than fergies cup winners cup anyway ) but rafa did this whilst firmly cementing lfc in the top 4 ( 3.4 on average) and lifting us back to the
    number 1 ranked and a rightly feared side in Europe.

    fergie on the other hand plummeted to 13th before rallying to a dissapointing 6th in his 5th year.( average 8.6 ,failing to qualify for champs league every year bar 1 if that had existed back then ) and needed his cup win to save his job.

    You also missed my main point which was addressing your point about how you
    thought it nonsense that people ORIGINALLY thought that fergie would never win the league.

    Well as I pointed out its more than fair to say that in late 1989 early 1990 not many people even thought fergie would still be manager of manu let alone win the league with them. So not utter nonsense afterall.

    Did you read the link I posted? It backs up my point perfectly. Fergie was walking on very thin ice indeed and was very lucky to stay in his job.

    rafa would have been sacked , without question and deservedly so, if he had led lfc through a similiar run of crap results and league placings.
    You would have certainly had a field day :)

    I can and will dispute the "fact" that you think rafa has had it so much easier then fergie did.

    few quick questions - what were your REALISTIC expectations of rafa when he 1st took over?
    What would you have expected him to win in ,say, 5 years?

    You obviously think he should have won the league at least once but when ? 1st year , 2nd?. Did you expect him to win it more than once in 5 years?
    How many champs league and other trophies did you expect?

    Arsenal had just won the league the year before rafa joined, going unbeaten the whole season, their second title in 3 years so obviosly a strong squad.

    Chelsea had spent over 100mill and finished 2nd that same year before sacking Ranieri and replacing him with the special one. He then went on to spend an absolute fortune over rafas 1st 2 seasons.

    Manu themselves even struggled under the force of these two teams and he still had at least 9 players in his squad that had won the league as recently as 2002/3.

    Fergie quickly added rooney, heinze, saha and smith ( followed by van der sar the next year)as rafa joined and even he , the "best" manager in the world, still couldnt win the league for another two years.

    Houllier had just finished 4th, a massive 30 points behind Arsenal and even 15 behind manu in 3rd.

    Sorry to repeat myself but I think that info. needs stressing when discussing rafa winning the league in his 1st few seasons.

    If you can read all that and still insist rafa should have already won the league and other major trophies in his 1st few years then I really fear for your sanity.

    I fully understand the impact Gerard Houllier had on our club regarding the players discipline and professionalism but I think you are really understating the challenge that rafa faced.

    You say - all he needed to do was come to the club, use existing players like Gerrard, Carragher, Hyypia etc; buy his own players and try and win things.

    What has rafa been doing for the last 5 years?

    He kept the best players from his inherited squad and slowly replaced them as they were either too old or someone he felt would be better became available.

    There arent many ( if any) players rafa has gotten rid of from that intial squad that hasnt been replaced by someone better.

    None of them , still playing, have gone to other clubs and trully made a name for themselves.

    The majority werent good enough to topple the strong teams rafa faced in those 1st few years and they ( the majority) certainly werent/arent good enough to get in his best 11 now.

    You greatly overstate how good ( or understate how old, or injury prone in some cases) a lot of those players actually were.

    Both managers have had several challengers to overcome in an attempt to win their 1st league titles.

    fergie had a load of piss heads to get rid off.
    The majority of rafas inherited players werent really good enough.

    Both had to revamp the youth setup.

    fergie didnt get his 1st real star in giggs come through until 6 years into his reign.

    Rafa is slowly bringing players through , insua, spearing , nemeth next year, still in his 5th year.

    rafa had to topple 3 really strong teams.

    rafa also had to drill his new squad in the way he wants to play football.

    Zonal marking, two holding men, overlapping full backs, 1 up front with 3 attacking players just behind etc.

    He couldnt just use Houlliers tactics etc could he.

    All of this takes time especially with , rightly or wrongly, the squad changing almost yearly due to the constant need to sell to buy to improve the squad.

    Its took him till now to finally get a squad of players with the required skills to implement his way of playing football effectively.

    This is bore out by the fact we are chellenging for the league, having scored more goals than anybody else and have a pretty good defensive record to boot.

    So to sum up rafa has had to overcome at least as many hurdles as fergie did.

    fergie took 7 years to win the league.
    rafa looks like he could , with a slice of luck , win it in 6.

  8. JK- If you get time could you have a look at my comment above, I`m interested in your answer.


  9. I'll reply as soon as I can.