5 Feb 2008

Stop criticising players in public, Rafa - YOU are the architect of Xabi Alonso's downfall

When is Rafael Benitez going to learn that club affairs, whatever they may be, should be conducted behind closed doors?! The recent public spat between Benitez and Tom Hicks made the club a laughing stock and made a mockery of the Liverpool way of doing things. Benitez should have learned from that farcical situation, but his latest comments about Xabi Alonso prove that he hasn’t learned a thing.

Quite simply, Benitez's recent public comments about Alonso are graceless and completely unacceptable:

"Xabi needs to step it up. When you are not 100 per cent fit, you want to play every game because you need to play more games to build up your fitness. But if Gerrard, Mascherano or Lucas are playing well, it means there is competition for places, which is good for the team. Xabi knows he needs to work harder if he wants to have a place in the team."

What possible benefit does Alonso gain from these needless comments?

And if, as Benitez states, 'Xabi knows he has to work harder' then why is it necessary to say the same thing in public?

Benitez has repeatedly proven that he is woefully lacking in man-management and motivational skills, and it’s no surprise if his idea of motivation is publicly criticizing players.

In my December 2007 article ‘Has Rafa’s Rush Job Inadvertently Ended Xabi Alonso’s Liverpool Career’, I argued that Benitez’s handling of Alonso would lead to the gifted Spaniard leaving the club.

Well, with new reports indicating that Alonso is set to leave Anfield at the end of the season, it seems I was right, though, of course, no one would accept my contention at the time.

What makes all this worse is the fact that Benitez himself is arguably to blame for Alonso’s demise, for the following reasons:

1. Failing to utilize Alonso properly and play to his strengths.
2. Shunting Alonso around to accommodate Gerrard.
3. Forcing Alonso to change his game from skilful, creative playmaker to defensive midfielder tasked with doing all the donkey work for Gerrard.
4. Signing Javier Mascherano and Lucas, thus marginalizing Alonso’s role in the team and making the competition for midfield players too intense.
5. Rushing Alonso back from his early season metatarsal injury.

The last point merits further analysis, as I believe Benitez's poor decision to rush Alonso back after his injury has contributed to his stuttering season and inability to find form or consistency.

Let’s recap briefly: In the first months of this season, Alonso had already been an early victim of Benitez's rotation policy, starting 4 games and warming the bench for 3, including being an unused sub in two Champions League encounters with Toulouse.

With Gerrard out injured against Derby, Alonso seized his chance and proceeded to run the show as Liverpool battered the rams, with Alonso scoring 2 of the 6 goals that day.

Then disaster struck: Alonso was injured against Portsmouth on September 15th 2007 - a devastating blow for the Basque maestro, who was clearly high in confidence after his Derby heroics.

So Alonso was injured. It happens to most players at one time or another, so need for alarm. The fatal blow came 43 days later, when Benitez inexplicably rushed him back from injury and put him in the starting line up against Arsenal.

It was gamble by Benitez that spectacularly failed to pay off. Alonso aggravated the same injury he had suffered against Portsmouth and was forced off. Just for the sake of clarity, here is the proof that it *was* the same injury:

Portsmouth Injury Report: http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/archivedirs/news/2007/sep/20/N157043070920-0839.htm

Alonso was rushed back after just six weeks, which was a major mistake considering every player in world football who has had the same injury has taken much longer to recover. Examples: Wayne Rooney - 14 weeks. Steven Gerrard - 10 weeks. Daniel Agger – almost three months!

Xabi Alonso was rushed back into the team after 6 weeks.

As a result of that catastrophic decision, Alonso missed a further 5 weeks of the season, and since returning from injury, he’s been in and out of the team, with precious little time to build up any rhythm or consistency.

So, given the circumstances, for Benitez to come out and criticize him in public exposes a dispiriting lack of class – something I never previously associated with Liverpool’s Manager.

Benitez is developing a habit of negative public comments about players. Indeed, earlier in the season, he accused Steven Gerrard of ‘not playing with his brain’ and scolded Peter Crouch for not having ‘the right character and mentality’

Whilst I agree with the Gerrard comments, both were unacceptable public criticisms, and given the destabilizing period recently undergone, negative public comments should be the last thing coming out of the club.

The name of the game is UNITY at the moment. Public criticism of players has never been the Liverpool way, and Benitez should know that.

Far from having a positive, galvanizing effect on Alonso, I am sure Benitez's comments will just hasten his departure.

It would be a tragedy to lose Alonso, as he is one of Benitez’s finest signings and is blessed with an essential skill that Steven Gerrard just does not possess: the ability to intelligently dictate the pace of play.

He is a quintessential Liverpool-type player, cut from the same cloth as the likes of Jan Moby and Ronnie Whelan – an exquisite passer of the ball and an asset to any team serious about challenging for honors

The sad truth is this: Benitez has a depressingly cautious, defensive mentality, with the emphasis on not losing and preference for defensive-minded players. Javier Mascherano is symbolic of this, which is why he is the current midfield flavour of the month.

Conversely, Alonso is the opposite of Mascherano, and represents flowing, creative, expansive football, i.e. EXACTLY what Liverpool FC should be about. Such a style of play is, however, the antithesis of Benitez’s painfully dull Liverpool team, which is why Alonso will be forced out.

Ultimately, Alonso leaving will be a good move for the player; in fact, I would argue that it is essential for the further improvement of his game, because what is plainly evident is this: no creative player with creative instincts can thrive in a Benitez team.

And that is the most depressing thing of all.


  1. alonso should never be allowed to leave. he affords a lot to the team. has great tactical discipline and has an eye for a pass.

  2. This whole alonso leaving saga is killing me.

    he is the master and you rightly point out that he has to play so incredibly deep to allow gerrard the freedom that he wants.

    i have had enuff of this crap and if he goes, it will be a major waste of one of the greatest talents this club has seen in a decade.