29 Sept 2009

POLL: Favouritism, coldness and unfairness - Is Jermaine Pennant right about Rafa Benitez?

Rafa Benitez has come under fire from former Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant, who accuses him – among other things – of unfairness, favouritism and stifling his natural game. Is there any truth to Pennant's observations?

In a recent interview, Pennant, who is now at Real Zaragoza, observed:

"When I was on the touchline all I could hear was Benitez giving me directions. At times I'd think 'why don't you just put the batteries in and turn me into a robot'. I just wanted to play my natural game, but there were so many instructions: how to go forward, how to defend.

"He has been through so many players, so many strikers, so many midfielders that he takes the best attributes out of them. I didn't understand it [Being overlooked so often]. There are players at Liverpool and you think 'how is he getting a game?', but Rafa has faith in them. He thinks some of the players are the best thing since sliced bread.

"Rafa didn't have confidence in me. I'd play one week, then I'd be out of the team and think 'hold on a minute - last week I scored one and made two. How does that work?'

"He can be cold, but that's his style. He has a special relationship with Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher - but that's because they are Liverpool. There were times when he took offence with me because he could see how frustrated I was”.

Liverpool fans will (predictably) slam Pennant for his comments – after all, he’s not a fan-favourite so it’s acceptable to disregard his opinion, ridicule him and ignore the truth in what he says, isn't it?

Pennant is arguably right about some things; Rafa’s coldness; control freakery; illogical misuse of players; favouritism. These are things that repeatedly crop up and are easy to see (for people who don’t worship at Benitez’s altar, that is).

Having said that, Benitez's methods seem to be working, something that Pennant himself acknowledged in his interview.

Here are a few examples of what Pennant is talking about:

February 19th, 2008: Liverpool v Inter Milan at Anfield in the Champions League. It’s 0-0 with 20 minutes to go. Pennant comes on has a hand in both goals. Liverpool win 2-0. Next game? On the bench.

March 8, 2008: Scored against Newcastle in a 3-0 Liverpool win. Next game? On the bench. Brought on as an 87th minute sub.

April 19th 2008, Liverpool beat Fulham 2-0. Pennant scored one goal and made the other. His reward? Unused substitute for the next game.

I’m not suggesting that Pennant is a world-beater, but if Rafa had shown as much faith in him as does in Dirk Kuyt and Lucas Leiva, perhaps Pennant could have had a more consistent impact?

But what do you think? Is Pennant right or is it just sour grapes.


  1. There is no doubt that Rafa prefers hard-work to creativity, if he had to pick between the two (not the case with Benayoun, Torres etc). I was reading "Season on the Brink" and Guillem Balague mentions that at Real Madrid, Rafa had been promoted to the senior team as a coach, but Jorge Valdano, who famously made the "shit on a stick" comment about Liverpool v Chelsea, had problems with him because of their different styles and philosophy, and he had to step down. 

    Even Gerrard said something similar to what Pennant said recently, although in a positive way. He said that even after a great game, Rafa would point out the players's mistakes rather than congratulate them, so there is some truth to what Pennant is saying. However, Pennant has a history of indiscipline at Arsenal, and once even played with an electronic tag on because of being convicted for drunk-driving, so I wouldn't take him that seriously, he's probably wayyy too easy going for a professional footballer.

    The only other creative talent I have seen wasted under Rafa is Robbie Keane, and that was mainly because Keane did not fit into the formation, and it was a mistake to buy him in the first place, not because of the above-mentioned reasons. The thing for me is, unless you're Maradona, you have to play according to the system the manager wants. 

  2. 3 examples of pennant's 'brilliance' at liverpool... There aren't many more..enough said!

  3. There are, acutally, his goal against Chelsea at Anfield in the 2-0 win is one example.

    That's not the issue though.  Is there any truth to what Pennant says about Benitez?

  4. Yes he`s right . Benites still show favour at Lucas. every body notice that Lucas is no good and he commits alot of free kicks and Benites still show favouritism. I do agree that Kuyt is a great player but he did not give any chances to Pennant

  5. "<span>
    I’m not suggesting that Pennant is a world-beater, but if Rafa had shown as much faith in him as does in <span><span style="background-position: right -1650px;"> </span>Dirk Kuyt</span> and <span><span style="background-position: right -1650px;"> </span>Lucas Leiva</span>, perhaps Pennant could have had a more consistent impact?"</span>
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    MAybe if JP worked as hard as the two players y0ou mention he would be a world beater. Maybe he should look at himelf before others.

  6. What you have failed to mention in the article Jaimie is that he also mentions Arsene Wenger's approach was very different to that of Rafa, virtually the other end of the scale, yet he still failed there, so how can it be just down to Rafa. I know he goes on about being young at Arsenal etc, but he is making excuses, everyone is to blame but himself. I can probably count on one hand the amount of good games never mind match winning games he had for us. For the record Kuyt has consistently had major input into massive games for us not just against teams like Newcastle and Fulham, he was and is a far more worthy player than Pennant ever was or will ever be. Also no-one knows what goes on in training, all managers not just Rafa make decisions based on how players train aswell as perform on the pitch. Pennant's attitude to football is a disgrace, that's why he never played not anything else. Pennant has never appeared more times for any one of his eight clubs than he did for for Liverpool so to say he never got a chance is wrong. I know he would have played more in minutes for Birmingham but Liverpool was a far higher level, so what does he expect given his attitude & performances. 

  7. In what way did Pennant not work as hard as Kuyt/Lucas?  How do you explain him constantly being dropped after performing well/scoring/assisting?  How is such treatment conducive to motivating a player?  What is the point in spending 6.7m on a player if you're going to misuse them?  Isn't that just wasting the club's money? and if Pennant was such a bad player/lazy etc, why did benitez buy him in the first place?

  8. "In what way did Pennant not work as hard as Kuyt/Lucas?  How do you explain him constantly being dropped after performing well/scoring/assisting?  How is such treatment conducive to motivating a player?  What is the point in spending 6.7m on a player if you're going to misuse them?  Isn't that just wasting the club's money? and if Pennant was such a bad player/lazy etc, why did benitez buy him in the first place?"
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    Well he was a regular starter when he was bought correct? And then played well some games and drifted in and out of others quite inconsistently. I remeber seeing an article with Jamie Carragher (think it was Sky sports) and he was asked who was the worst trainer and he said it was definately Pennant. Add to that walking around London swigging out of bottles of JD and it doesn't paint a pretty picture does it?

  9. Rafa's methods may be harsh but it is making players better. The amount of players Rafa has signed who are still at the club or have even left that are far better than when they joined, to me justifies his methods work. It is a nap that some won't like it and leave, but is Pennant a worse player than when he joined of course he isn't. PLayers get enough rewards to comfort them from having a tough manager, he doesn't do it because he dislikes them he does it for the good of LFC. Torres, Gerrard, Carragher, Kuyt, Reina, Benayoun, Mascherano, Agger & Skrtel have recently praised Rafa, I'll take their words over Pennants any day. As for your comments on Jorge Valdano, who has been the more successful manager? 

  10. Rafa bought pennant cause the previous season he had the distinction of making the most number of crosses into the box, and with crouch in the team it made sense to go after him. Though he was not worth the actual amount paid, we know what happens when liverpool goes after any player... thats why his price escalated.
    Rafa is not just buying players... he sees potential in them to be fulfilled and that comes out of hard work.  When players like Stevie G, Torres, benayoun and others are prepared to work hard, why should we carry a lazy one like pennant.  Pennant simply thought he can simply run down the line lob a few balls into the box and stay in lfc... While rafa wants him to cut into the box, the player feels he is being controlled...  I am glad he is gone... for his own good pennant should concentrate on his football and stop complaining...
    remember not long ago he is was complainting about Wenger...
    We liverpool fans do remember.

  11. Pennant is not in the Kuyt mould in that he's not as adept at tracking back and defending. Left to his own devices he just wouldn't contribute defensively. At the time Benitez was playing a stricter, less carefree type of football which relied on players not breaking formation. Pennant, although sometimes brilliant attacking wise, never had the discipline needed to defend and hold formation, something at which Kuyt excels.

    Pennant was bought as a cheap alternative to some of the other players we were linked with but couldn't afford. He came with talent but also with a reputation. If Rafa could've straightened him out we would've had a very good player for next to no cost at all. That was a gamble worth taking. Unfortunately it didn't work out.

  12. Ive been watching a few interivews with ex liverpool players on LFC TV and i remember Ronnie Whelan saying that legendary assistant coach Ronnie Moran would bark directions at the wide players all throughtout the game so i think Pennant's theory washes out on that point. The moment when Rafa lost faith in Pennant was when he got himself sent off in the champions league group game against Porto. Once you lose Rafa trust you might well be looking for a new team.
    It's rare to see a player play their natural game in a top team these days unless they are of an Euro/world class level and i dont think that Pennant falls in to that category. A successful team is all about balance and liverpool have improved a lot on the flanks since Riera and kuyt have filled in these slots.  The fact is that Jermanie is a very good player but he doesnt have the tools in the locker for consistent perfomances in a title chasing team.

  13. In the serialisation of Nando's book he mentions how cold Rafa is and how he's never had a single conversation with him that isn't about football. Nando goes on to mention that it's a style that works for some but not for others and he can understand why some people find him hard to work with. For me it's hard to judge from the outside, I've always felt that Rafa is missing the 'Arry arm around the shoulder approach and is too clinical & cold, so fails to get the best out of some players. However, results and the improvement of already great players like Nando & Gerrard suggests it's an approach that is good for some. I don't think Rafa will ever get the best out of every player he signs, but then which manager every has? He'll improve those who are dedicated and want to work hard to improve their games but anyone with a hint of insecurity or who needs TLC to make them hit their peak will always suffer under Rafa. I look at Capello though and doubt that he's ever that warm with his players and he's doing alright - I guess we have to take the rough with the smooth - the rough being his poor interpersonal & nurturing skills, the smooth being his total commitment to improving the club and every player, every day. 

  14. Jermaine's Bottle of JD12:40 pm, September 29, 2009

    Jaimie- I realise that for the sake of good debate sometimes you need to play devil's advocate but do you sincerely believe that Pennant was misused?

  15. The only one who let Pennant down was himself, his antics off the pitch, his self control and failure to work hard got in the way of his progression in the team. It is easy to blame Rafa,,,but let me ask you this,,,How many other Liverpool managers would have put up with him. He like so many other players had potential but he thought once he had signed for us the hard work could stop and he had done enough to warrant automatic selection. Poor attitude, not hard working, never played for the team, let the dizzy heights of playing for a top club go to his head and get the better of him, if he was sooooo good why did no other top club show an interest in him when we sold him, answer is cos he was not good enough and he let himself down.
    Nice article Jamie, good to see you sitting on the fence and not letting your personal view get in the way, refreshing.

  16. I agree with what everyone else is saying re Pennant not applying himself as much as he should.  However, I do feel that he was not given the chances/encouragement other players have been given.

    My point is this: if Rafa had shown some faith in Pennant and motivated him/given him confidence like he does Kuyt/Lucas etc, then perhaps Pennant may have been inclined to work harder.

    If your manager clearly doesn't have confidence in you, that's pretty demotivating, is it not?  In such a situation, it can he hard for players to muster up enthusiasm, especially when they're dropped every time they play well.

    This is the main point of contention: if a player performs well, how is it good management to drop them for the next game *every time*?

    This is not a one-off; this is a persistent problem with Benitez.  He has his favourites and he goes out of his way to give them opportunities.  Then there are players like Keane, Crouch, Pennant etc who  play well and score goals but no matter what they do, they're always on the bench/being subbed/dropped after scoring.

    It doesn't make sense and for me it's unfair.

    At one point, peter Crouch's record was 38 goals scored/created in 43 starts.  Despite this, Benitez kepte leaving him on the bench, preferring Kuytt who, at the time, was going through a horrible period of form and contributing nothing.

    Same goes for Ryan Babel: scored 11 goals in his first season; dropped to the bench after 10 of those goals.  Yossi Benayoun; until recently, was still  being dropped to the bench despite his fantastic record from starts.  Robbie Keane was dropped every time he scored.  And the list goes on.

    We'll never know how good Pennant could've been; he was never given a chance.

  17. in a way you are right, but what about Lucas? is he doing better? only in one way committing free kicks

  18. i agree with mario, Rafa has an ideal formation in his head and nothing in world can change that, so if a sub player had a really good performance then spoils Rafa's plan that's why on the next game is sitting on the bench (Pennant) but that happened in the past with many other players as well(Crouch, Keane, Babel) so that's Rafa's logic :)

  19. The problem with Pennant is that he didn't do enough. We've had this debate several times before about some players: Rafa likes a player who works hard for the team. Kuyt is a favourite becomes he works so hard for the team. He defends, he tracks back, he defends from the front and he runs tirelessly. Plus he also does what an attacking player is supposed to do; score goals provide assists. Pennant himself says that "I just wanted to play my natural game". His natural game is to play as an attacking winger, but unfortunately that isn't enough for the team. The bad and mediocre games outweighed the good. I saw him duck out of challenges, he was bad in the air, he was lazy, his passing wasn't good enough, he'd lose the ball too often. The two good things I remember him doing was the great goal against Chelsea and the final against AC Milan. Other than that there isn't much else.

    With regard to Crouch, you seem to have forgotten that Rafa played him in 19 games over a period of 4 months before he scored. If that isn't showing faith then I don't know what is? In 2005/06 he played in 41 games (all comps, PL, FA, CL, CC), scored 9 and 7 assists. In 2006/07 29 games, 17 goals and 8 assists, and in 2007/08 15 games, 11 goals and 4 assist. There is one reason and one reason only that Crouch played less games in 2007/08. Fernando Torres. He played every game he was able to, we changed formation to playing one upfront, and unfortunately Crouch didn't fit into this formation. Do you not think you should have taken this into consideration and accept that it is because of Torres' arrival that Crouch was dropped to the bench and not because of Rafa losing favour with him. As much as I liked Crouch as a Liverpool player, I would always prefer Torres in the team. You also say that Kuyt was preferred to Crouch when we was playing "horribly". In Kuyt's first season 2006/07 he played 38 games in all comps scoring 14 goals and 6 assists. I wouldn't say that was too bad for a first season. Crouch and Kuyt actually played together in 16 games together in all comps that season. Bellamy also played 26 games in that season. Its seems therefore that we had 3 strikers and only two can really play. Nothing to do with favouritism but about using the squad. The reason Kuyt played more in 2007/08 (Torres' arrival ) is because he was able to play in other positions, either wide right or behind Torres. Crouch couldn't play these positions (particularly wide right).

    You really need to look at the circumstances rather than just the stats and it then seems to make sense. Simple really, Crouch or Torres? That's why he didn't play much and that's why he left. Not because Rafa didn't like him; in fact Rafa wanted to keep him as part of the squad but Crouch wanted to leave to play first team football.

    I won't go into Babel and Keane as it all been said before.  

  20. I agree with what you said except I never liked Keane and I was happy that Rafa sold him

  21. Kanwar misses the crucial fact that we only see players for a few minutes each weekend.  The manager works with them all week.  There are many reasons why someone would be in a team one day versus another.  As I coach, I always preferred the hard worker to the flashy pretty boys.  Hard work always makes up for any skill inadequacies that you have (see Dirk Kuyt).  Benitez has forgotten more about developing players than Pennat or Kanwar will ever know.

  22. 55 chances he was given Jaimie.

  23. will you shut up about Lucas! We all know he is shit, but until Aquillaini is fit what can we do.

  24. Look at how ferguson calls almost every single player by their first name. He doesn't show up to training every day, yet the players say there's a warmth about him & the managerial staff that makes it easy to be there. He convinced Ronaldo to stick around a year longer than he really wanted to and still got plenty of goals out of him, yet Alonso wanted out (thanks to Rafa) and within a few weeks, he was gone. Look at the loyalty and fondness that Arsenal's players have for Wenger, and how half of Chelsea's squad gave Mourinho a hug after they played Inter this summer. What do Ferguson, Wenger, and Mourinho also have in common? They've won the league trophy. 

    Is Rafa's frosty approach working? The proof is in the pudding- when was the last time LFC won the league?


  25. to be a great footballer in a top side, you HAVE to accept being dropped. 

    Rotation is a key element of the game, which means you have to be dropped. Yes, some players get more games, but they are more critical to the strategy. That is life and if a player cant cut it, then he should leave.

    It is no surprise that Pennant has NOT joined a top European club.

    And what is the point of criticising Rafa's style? Some players respond well and some dont. If he changes his style, the mix of the players who do and do not like it will change - there is ALWAYS going to be someone who is not going to like it NO MATTER WHAT STYLE OF MANAGEMENT IS EMPLOYED. Case in point - take Harry Redknap. Widely acclaimed to be a 'manager of the players'. I wonder what Darren Bent thinks of him? Oh and now he is banging in the goals, did Harry mismanage him? 

  26. We lost an important match again because our defence is weak and and Lucas is half of the blame so you shut up

  27. He is also world renowned for his hair dryer treatment during half time. For kicking a boot at Beckham. For bust ups with Keane, Ince, Stam, Beckham, Yorke.

    The players do have a respect for Rafa Benitez, I've seen no comments from any players playing for us now who don't like him. We've heard some comments from players hwo have left but who cares about them. There was a reason for them leaving.

  28. We've been through this Keane/Crouch issue before. Neither of them linked well with Torres which meant the team were underperforming. I rate both players highly but Torres worked better in a 4-2-3-1 formation than in the 4-4-2 which was played when Keane/Crouch were in the team.

  29. I think they understand, though, that it's tough love. If he didn't care, he wouldn't yell at them. Plus everyone knows the beckham boot thing was an accident.

    There's a difference between respecting a manager and having a genuine fondness for him. Of course no current players have said anything because that would put them in an even worse position. I think the "who cares about them" attitude is not constructive at all, because of course we should care that players like Alonso have left now that we're losing to sides like fiorentina and villa ffs.