The Return of Rafa Benitez?

Posted: November 25, 2010 by mcdonaldtaf in Manager Talk, Team Talk
Tags: , ,

I never wrote about Rafa’s departure at the time, I think it would have just been a post full of expletives. But as Roy continues to struggle at Anfield I see tweets about Rafa’s return, while he also struggles at Inter. So now seemed a good time to get my thoughts out.

I was tweeting with a journalist last week, when he asked me who I’d like to see take over from Hodgson (should NESV decide to replace him). My immediate reaction was to say that Benitez should never have been sacked, and should return. His response was to suggest that too much water had passed under the bridge for that to happen. On reflection I had to concede he was probably right.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think about ‘what if’ whenever I hear Rafa talk about his connection with Liverpool, or how he’ll one day return to the UK. It’s the same ‘what if’ when I see that his Inter Milan side is struggling and their fans are getting restless.

In my more pragmatic moments though I think of other reasons why his re-appointment wouldn’t make sense. As much as it pains me to say it.

For a start there are not many figures who split opinion like Rafa. While his return would be welcomed by many, there would still be a strong contingent who would be up in arms. All at a time when the club is still repairing the wounds left by Hicks and Gillett. NESV are making tremendous strides in that regard. But at a time when unity is required, it would probably be a mistake to see such a divisive figure return.

There are still question marks over Rafa’s ‘coldness’ as well. I recall reading an article by Guileme Balague (at least I think it was Balague, but I’m dredging from memory) when he suggested that Benitez was restricted by not being able to freshen his squad. Something which was certainly true during the final years of the Hicks and Gillett era. He argued that Rafa required a turnover of players to, in effect, keep players on their toes. It is a different style of management employed by Rafa, compared to say Mourihno. But one which has brought him success. I believe Rafa would agree with NESV’s approach to recruiting young talent, but what of the senior squad? Without money to add senior players and the guaranteed resistance to offloading any talismans Rafa would again be restricted.

Others have recently pointed out the impact that the loss of Pako Ayestaran had on the club. In much the same way as Rijkaard never seemed to hit the heights like he did with Ten Cate, has Rafa struggled to find the right yin to his yang? The assistant manager role is all too often overlooked by fans. But it is certainly true that, despite Rafa’s best efforts, Liverpool struggled for results and consistency under the duo of Benitez and Lee. That is not to lay the blame at Sammy Lee’s door but maybe the shared vision wasn’t quite inline? So I guess what I’m saying is that Rafa needs the right team with him, to be successful somewhere else first.

Underlying all of this is how quickly pressure could mount on the team should early results not go their way. There are also potential concerns about which players would welcome him back with ‘open arms’.

The fact is (for me) Rafa shouldn’t have been let go after one poor season. I say poor, but it was only poor by the standards and expectations he had raised. Rafa had consistently over performed when you look at squad values. The fact he under performed by one or two league places and was sacked for it still grates with me. I think it always will. There were other more serious problems at the club and Rafa perhaps had more excuses than Roy does now.

Hicks and Gillett arrived with a vision of football success they couldn’t afford. Yet Rafa continued to try and deliver that vision with his hands tied behind his back. How much leeway was he given? None.

One thing I am of confident of though is that we would have had more points on the table this season under Rafa. With the way the league has panned out so far, who knows where we might actually be sitting now. We would have employed modern tactics which suited our players, not be trying to fit players into archaic tactics.

But as much as I would love to see Rafa back in the dugout, I have to concede that too much water has probably passed under the bridge. It would simply be too soon for both manager and club. Many wounds are still too fresh. I’ll never say never though, maybe in time it will be right to see him return. In the meantime NESV need to search for another modern, forward thinking, tactically astute manager who will share their vision.

  1. Interesting article from a clearly passionate Liverpool fan. While I would agree to a certain extent he over delivered early on with the European Cup at Liverpool. He did also have success with Valencia , which made his name, and you have to give him credit for breaking the Real/Barcelona duopoly in Spain.

    However it still seems strange that after such a poor season at LFC that he can not only receive an extortionate amount of compensation, but then walk into the European Champions! For more on my take on the managerial merry go round feel free to check out

    • James Owens says:


      Had a quick glance at that link, and I can only say this: Anyone who talks about Benitez spendnig “over $200m” at Liverpool effectively surrenders the right to be listened to when talking about the bloke. It’s simply wrong, his NET SPEND (the important figure) over his five years in charge was closer to £80-100m.

      And to say that HE took the club backwards completely overlooks the fact that the previous owners and the eventual £282 million of debt they put on the club was did the damage – Rafa made a net profit for his last two years in charge, now he made some poor signings in that time, but 1.) that wasn’t helped by the budgetary contraints due to the debt (harder to buy better targets with less money) and 2.) unlike most managers in that situation, he couldn’t really spend to put them right (witness Ferguson over the years after some unsuccessful signings).

      You shouldn’t pass comment on Liverpool if you can’t get the basic stuff right.

  2. RojoYoda says:

    Excellent piece!

    Yes I’m one of those who’d gladly have Rafa back in an instant but won’t happen for a while yet at least. It was Paco Lloret who said recently too that Rafa wasn’t too good in being successful in identifying successful transfer targets. That’s why I think working with Comolli and Henry they would have worked well together especially with Rafa’s analytical brain I think he would’ve understood the whole sabermetrics approach to help identifying successful talent. Every piece I watch/read with Comolli or Henry just convinces me even more.

    As for some of Hodgson’s so called targets they seem as archaic as his tactics. After saying he’d give youth a chance he seems to be rapidly unravelling all of Rafa’s hard work in the shortest time possibly. I don’t want to bash Hodgson on here but if reports in The Independent are true regarding Pacheco then I give up and questions may need to be asked about Henry and Comolli allowing talent like him go and Dalla Valle in order to buy Konchesky! Yes NESV weren’t in charge when that happened but it still bugs me today!

    As for Ayestaran, was watching him on La Liga and listening to his thoughts on the game this past weekend thinking much the same thing. In similar ways much like when Bergues left, all of his replacements never seemed the same. I’m still not convinced how good a number 2 Sammy Lee was with Rafa, is under Hodgson.

    In terms of a return by Rafa to Liverpool FC I still hold out hope that one day it will happen but certain elements within the dressing room will have to change first.

  3. Gary Bradburn says:

    More or less my own thoughts, but written in constructive sentences

  4. Very very interesting, I personally loved Rafa up until he became the political animal he was when he left our beloved Anfield.
    Unfortunately you hit on a very valid point in your article, being the loss of Pako. Much has to be credited to his influence on the manager as much as the team, and the club, his loss left Benitez having to deal with matters which were normally handled by the very adept Pako, minimising Rafa’s time spent on the key roles he had previously excelled in.
    What happened between Rafa and Pako only the 2 of them actually know “did Rafa get to big for his boots?” Did Rafa not give enough credit to his very capable sidekick? 1 fact is sure Rafa was never a capable manager without Pako long before his success at Valencia, and Anfield. “Fact” to quote the great man himself, he was never the same manager after Pako left.
    The importance of a number 2 in the game is very well portrayed in the film “the damned united”, although not about our great club, it is about a great manager, and his very capable 2nd in command, and how without him his world and reputation fell apart, until they were once again reunited “a great watch”.
    I would bring back Rafa in the blink of an eye provided his number 2 was at his side, “come on Rafa reconcile your differences with Pako, swallow your pride, you are a perfect pairing and together you will be successful once again”.

    P.S. the great man and his lovely family deserve the respect of the loyal Anfield faithful, they love Liverpool, and we all love them too. Remember his parting gifts to the charities of Liverpool, and especially the Hillsborough foundation he didn’t have to do that, and many other managers wouldn’t have, they would have just filled there coffers and took off “Jose Mourinho”.

    YNWA the 96, you and your families are in our thoughts always.

  5. Joe Singh says:

    Excellent Blog there. Very much along the lines of what i’m thinking.

    Just wondering about the approach to buying older players. Surely if the price is right you can pick up the odd gem here and there. The likes of Gary Mac, or as currently Maxi Rodriguez. Every side needs an old head in there so I don’t think NESV would be that strict on the policy.

    Another plus for Rafa to come back is the fact that he is one of us. Whether the Rafa Haters like it or not, he is a fan who loves the city and would do anything for us. He is a proven winner and I think thats a good enough reason to have him back.

  6. Ed Margerum says:

    Re: NESV’s recruiting new talent. NESV’s baseball practice may not be pertinent to football. The Red Sox have always had an objective of younger talent, but that goal has been enigmatic or, at least, requires interpretation. In football terms, the Red Sox have very good players at the developmental level, but the senior club consistently has been one of the older teams in the league. The Red Sox have a pronounced reluctance to give players contracts that would extend their time with the team past a certain age. Their parameters for building a football club cannot follow those of baseball, leaving me uncertain as to NESV’s intentions for LFC with respect to “youthful talent”.

  7. Ed Margerum says:

    “Hicks and Gillett arrived with a vision of football success they couldn’t afford.” Given the current global economic turmoil, there may be many clubs whose vision is unaffordable. Austerity by the government means fewer quid in supporters’ pockets and that will mean less revenue for many teams.

  8. john davidson says:

    For Rafa to return would not be a positive step or the best interests of the club, players and least of all the fans,
    The man who’s only principal was to divide and rule and once he achieved that he failed to cope with the job.

    What is required now is a united front, get behind the club, the players and Roy we are only 2 points behind compared with same period last year and have faced tougher opponents than last year.

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