10 Aug 2009

Rafa Benitez: The next Bill Shankly?

There was only one Bill Shankly; he was the best manager this land has ever seen, and despite the claims of many a Manchester United fan, his achievements will never be equalled. Benitez is not, and never will be, the next Shanks, But could he be the next Liverpool manager to write his name into Anfield folklore?

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.

The Stats

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.

The Mindset

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.


  1. There are definitely some good comparisons between Shanks and Rafa, the bloodyminded stubborness is the best one I think. I don't think that Rafa could ever be as revered as Shankly though, as he doesn't have as a big a personal connection with the fans. plus, rafa's treatment of some players has left a bad taste in the mouth at times.

  2. Yes, I agree that Rafa certainly lacks certain "people skills". However, there is a certain sentimentality applied to Shanks. Remember, this was the guy who would ignore players if they were injured. Can you imagine how upset Stevie G would be if Rafa did that to him? He'd be off to Chelsea like a shot!

  3. ignore players if they were injured?  I didn't know that. i guess there is a certain amount of romanticism that goes on.

  4. Your 'facts' are inaccurate - you might want to check them again

  5. I remember Houllier trying to claim that his Liverpool were among the best eight teams in Europe and even Liverpool fans had a wry smile to themselves. 

    This year, with Liverpool thumping Manure and Madrid, only Barcelona stands comparison.  Its a pity that some set-piece lapses against Chelsea robbed us all of a semi-final that would have been the real final of the two best teams in Europe.

  6. Lets be honest about this eh.......without the International man of mystery Stevie G....Rafa would be on the dole!!

  7. Shankly wasn't best manager ever. His replacement was.

    Ask Man Utd fans in the 60's if Busby could be bettered? They would have said "impossible". They did it.

    Can Bob be replaced as the best manager of all time. Sure he can, but it would take an almighty effort. Rafa will probably never get top those levels due to the lack of trophies in the 5 years. Bob was already well into double figures!

    I know the article was tongue in cheek, but this is Liverpool, and everyone can be replaced. Even Shanks.

  8. Some good shouts there la. Rafa has a real chance of being almost as revered as Shanks if the title is reclaimed and retained in the next two seasons. I personally love the guy and reckon he has given back a prestige to the club that had been slowly eroded since the King's departure. No-one can challenge that. Alternativey, many more near misses and he will simply take his place alongside G H as a nearly man. One more 'big ears' would do it too mind!

  9. I have to agree with this to an extent. I'd say Bob Paisley is the best Liverpool manager in terms of sheer consistency of success, but Bill Shankly has to be the most influential manager ever. 

  10. Let me know which ones, and I will.

  11. I knew this would come up  ;)

    <span style=" color: #3a3a3a; line-height: 16px;">We are truly blessed to have had two of the best managers the game has ever seen. And it's very difficult to refute any claim that Bob was the best. My reasoning for holding Shanks in such high regard is that he "made" Liverpool Football Club what it is. We always talk about our history, but without Shanks, we wouldn't have that history. 
    This debate is perhaps for another time, though I don't think we'd ever come to a conclusion!</span>