3 Oct 2011

RAFA BENITEZ finally explains that notorious Lucas Leiva decision...

With 20 minutes to go in the October 2007 Merseyside derby, Steven Gerrard was surprisingly hauled off by Rafa Benitez and replaced by the inexperienced Lucas Leiva. Fans and pundits across the globe were aghast at what was perceived to be a traitorous act, but Liverpool went on to win, and Lucas played an integral part in securing the penalty that won the game. This did not appease the masses though and the knives came out for Benitez.

Four years later, Liverpool's former manager has given some more insight into why he made such a contentious decision.

At the time, Benitez simply said:

"We needed to play with our brains and not with our heart. We needed to pass the ball better".

This withering response was greeted with venom by fans and pundits alike, who could not comprehend the logic behind removing Gerrard from the field of play and leaving on Momo Sissoko – a player not renowned for incisive passing.

In a recent interview, Benitez expanded a little more on the incident:

"I had Lucas [Leiva] on the bench and I could explain to him what I wanted. I couldn't explain to the players on the pitch with the temperature at 180 degrees.

"I wanted less passion and more calm. Someone that could analyse the game and say 'we are not in a hurry. If you play 15 minutes with calm and you have possession you will have four or five chances"

I supported Benitez 100% at the time, and in my article 'Rafa the Merciless and his Steven Gerrard masterstroke", I wrote:

"It’s no understatement to suggest that the substitution of Gerrard is arguably Rafa’s most unpopular decision to date. In my view, it is also the Spaniard’s bravest and most brilliant decision since arriving at Anfield.

"Rafa deserves infinite credit for having the guts and the sheer chutzpah to make such an unpopular decision in such a vital, high-pressure game.

"I only hope Rafa continues in the same vein and retains his fearless approach. Players should be in the team if they are performing well. If they're not, they should be replaced. It's a simple philosophy, and one which Rafa seems embrace"

Okay, my views on Benitez's management style changed in months and years afterwards (!) but as you can see, there was a time when I was a big fan of the man.

Looking back on the Gerrard incident now, I still think it was absolutely the right decision, and it's probably one of my favourite Benitez moments.

Jaimie Kanwar


  1. Me thinks your chilling in your old age pal. I do agree, at the time I was like most - baffled, but then rafa always did things his way and this was one call that he clearly got right!

  2. One thing about Rafa is, he has super sized nuts.

    I was absolutely flabbagasted at the time by some of the reaction.  We'd won the game, but some people were unhappy Gerrard came off.  Ludicrous. 

    It also highlights his meticulous approach to tactics.  Top man.

  3. I do know that it's easy to say this now, but I loved it when RB did that - & I completely understood his explanation; but that maybe because I also have mediterranean blood running through my veins; & high passion doesn't very often result in calm method. 

    Rafa Benitez could certainly be described as a football scientist; & as such, sticking to principles, being impervious to populism, & going further, having the backbone to be revolutionary, are among the prerequisites for genius. 

  4.  I only found this site quite long after this match but I am not surprised that you were a big fan of Benitez. Do you remember when your opinion started changing?

    I couldn't believe my eyes when I read this:                                                

     "Lesser Managers would not have had the nerve to
    make that decision, and that is what separates the good Managers from
    the true legends of the game. The true greats are not afraid to take
    risks and do not pander to egos or status. The true greats will do what
    needs to be done, irrespective of the pressure and abuse that may come
    their way".

  5. Did you ever write an article explaining why  you don't think Gerrard is world class?

  6. I actually think it was that decision that made Lucas a much maligned player.  Ironically, it was because it was Lucas, not Stevie G that changed the game for Liverpool.  People forget if it wan't for the handball, Lucas would have scored the winning goal that day.  Who knows how the fans would have felt about that one! Before that game, the fans gave him a chance.  But after taking Stevie G off, Lucas became scapegoated with overly uncompromising analyses on the young player at the time. His good performances went unnoticed more often than not, and his bad ones were ranted on and on over.  

  7. Was n't that the reason why he put Stevie on the right wing when he first arrived so he would learn to play with more control and composer play with his head and not his heart should off put him on the wing!
    Lucas was still a box to box attacking midfield player then, imagine where he would be now if that had gone in and Neville had n't handballed it he would of been everyones Derby Hero!

  8. Liverpool are passion and heart, in their deepest nature.
    Liverpool can't play football without passion.
    Liverpool play with passion, commitment, integrity and also with intelligence: that's Liverpool's way and there's no robotic scientist that can change Liverpool's style.
    The Rafa's answer perfectly summarises why Rafa is not the right manager for LFC and why He won't never be.
    Passion is the essence of Liverpool Football Club and suggesting that Lucas passes the ball better than the best midfielder in the world (Gerrard) is a total non sense.
    Yes, Lucas sealed the penalty, but Gerrard earned a penalty too in that derby, and it's not true He didn't perform well in that derby: I can easily remember Gerrard playing a great game. Yes, We won the game, but surely Gerrard was  not underperforming When He was called off by Rafa, and surely We didn't won because the best midfielder in the World was replaced by Lucas.

  9. Sounds like you're loading up another attack. Cover the bases then stir it up again. Now you can't possibly be accused of bei n ga wind up merchant bcause look at all the positive articles you've written.

  10. Let's not rewrite history here. For a very very long time Lucas was terrible here. This was early in his career when such a strong opinion had not yet been formed on him. He was crap for years and that was how he got his reputation. Under Benitez' tutelage he learnt his position, withdrew from the box to box role that he didn't have the legs for in the Premiership and slowly became a fans favourite. But he was shit for a long time all the same.

  11. forget that. Does anyone remember the decision to bring on Hamman in the CL final. That has to be the one of the greatest substitutions.

  12. The less said about Lucas, the better is it.

  13. these clippets of rafas quotes are old,why are you recyling jaimie,or was it repeated at the fundraiser?

  14. oh dear, i think you had better read the article again make you clearly missed the point, in fact i just think you had better give up on football, its beyond you lol

  15. Who the heck are you - Gerrard's lovechild? Best MF in the world; you're having a laugh! 
    And as for Rafa not being the right manager for LFC, are you going to name one who is likely to be more successful, in fact, the most successful we've had for 20 years? 

  16. I was, and still am, a huge Benitez fan, but the decision to bring on Hamman at half-time should not be attributed to his genius. The fact he wasn't on from the start raises more concern.

  17. Finally explained? He explained it at the time, you have offered nothing new here. Pointless!

  18. Ha ha ha about gerrard . agree with you all the way..

    Will we ever see European nights again like we did with Rafa..i doubt it

  19. your a moron leonerick

  20. why, he was a bit part player at the time, xabi and stevie were our 2 centre mids. It was a great substitution.

  21. Pointless! He explained his decision at the time, nothing new here!

  22. Talk about living in the past! We won that game you know!

  23. damn still alive jaimie!!! well then - wanna try be a cricket critic :)

  24. You like anything that's controversial. It brings you traffic. :)

  25. I still think that if Steven had stayed on, we would have won by a far greater margin. Nobody can do better than my hero Gerrard. Nobody. Absolutely not Lucas. :)))

  26. Hey Arabee. The honest truth is that I argued for martin O'Neill before Benitez was appointed. I wrote a post about it at the time (the text is included in this article: http://www.liverpool-kop.com/2009/11/why-martino-neill-is-right-man-to.html) so I didn't want him to be appointed in the first place.

    When he arrived at LFC though, I supported him 100%, just like I do with every LFC manager (including Hodgson).

    To cut a long story short though, the problems that would ultimately lead to Benitez's downfall were evident right from the start, but I didn't publicly acknowledge them until 2007.

    Re that quote you highlighted: I still think it applies to Benitez in some ways. He does have guts, and he does have the balls to make unpopular decisions. However, if he's left unchecked, his guts turn into dictatorial stubbornness, and that's never good.

  27. You are right, Dillionyong. Have readers noted what was said between Lucas and Benitez. Hope history doesn't repeat itself.

  28. caught_pants_down4:33 am, October 21, 2011

     I could never do that. That is, get behind Hodgson. I was personally upset when Rafa left and would have loved for Kenny, Pellegrini or O'Neill to step in straightaway. Like a certain section of fans, I did some homework and it was very clear that Roy was going to be a big mistake. I was majorly disappointed when he was appointed and found it impossible to get behind the guy. There is no question that sometimes the quality of the team and the league have a bearing on a manager's win ratio and this certainly reflected on O'Neill's, Kenny's and even McLeish's records, but Roy has consistently been a 40% man. Roy is certainly reliable for any club whose intent is promotion to the top flight and subsequently staying put, or to avoid relegation. However, he proved all my suspicions/analyses to be true during his tenure as Anfield boss.

  29. caught_pants_down5:45 am, October 21, 2011

     I disagree he didn't have the legs for it. He is very pacey and can run the pitch for the whole 90 minutes like Dirk. He was garbage for a long time largely because he didn't play his own game. He would come on the pitch and attempt to play either Masch's or Alonso's games which he totally sucked at. His failure to match his colleagues at their own games also meant his confidence took a further knock and reflected in many despirited performances which only reinforced his inadequacies back then. It is no coincidence his performances improved with both Masch and Alonso gone and Gerrard largely out injured. He had no one else to try to copy and was forced to play his own game. It also helped immensely last season that he had great chemistry with Meireles and Spearing who also play a very mobile short passing game. Right now, we are witnessing Henderson going through the same process, lacking what it takes to stamp his own style on the team and going invisible as a consequence. Lucas never had the luxury to disappear, he was in the thick of everything. No surprise all eyes were on him when he struggled to keep afloat at the deep end.