When I was a little boy I used to cry a lot. I cried a lot at the slightest thing. If I fell over and grazed my knee you can expect me to make a big deal of it as though I’d broken my leg. If I wasn’t able to get the biscuits I wanted the level of bawling that would take place might give someone the thinking that some level of great abuse had taken place. What was often the case was that I’d over-react at the slightest thing against me before considering a better response.
Of course I mention that because it’s very similar to the uproar that has hit Anfield following the defeat to Reading in the FA Cup this week. I’m not downplaying the result. It is a game we are expected to win, especially at Anfield and for the chances we had it was not unreasonable to expect us to run out winners by a fair few goals. I also recognise that being knocked out of the FA Cup now realistically leaves our trophy chances to just the Europa League. With the inconsistent form the team has endured so far this season and the noted lack of capitalising on the good end to the end of the season and a number of players under-performing or not being up to it, the discontent among the fans is understandable.
On top of that we consider what the business of being Liverpool Football Club is all about. As with many other top clubs the deal is to win games in the hope that we will win trophies. We have not won a trophy in four years and that’s not good. As well as winning trophies we also want to finish in a good position in the league playing a key part in the outcome of the trophy. We have not won the league in 20 years. The goals set at the beginning of the season would have made it clear that what is expected is not unreasonable. There would not be a problem with Liverpool going out of the cup competitions if it looked like we could make a serious challenge for the top trophy a bit like we did last season. That has not happened.
For all that, however, I’m suggesting the calls for the resignation or dismissal of Rafa at this stage are similar to the reactions of me as a child. It’s not a scrape on the knee, it’s more of a serious cut on the knee. Hey it’s a bad falling off the bicycle where you’re limping for a while because of the serious cuts and grazes that cover especially your legs. For all that, though, it’s hardly a leg break.
So far this season, Rafa has not successfully met the objectives set for him and the club. However the season is not over and with players purchased on his recommendation, it is only fitting that he is given the rest of the season to prove himself at being able to get the team gaining the results that see us inch closer towards the absolute minimum requirement of finishing in the top four. At the end of the season his position can then be reassessed and if it is deemed necessary to relieve him of his duties then that can be done appropriately and the new guy can hopefully be brought in asap to get to know the lads in the pre-season friendlies and establish a team in his image for the start of the season.
Rafa has said that he’s confident that we can still attain a place in the top four and for all the mediocre season we’ve had to date his track record suggests he is more than capable of churning out a side that will go on a run that could bring about that position. It’s not impossible. Of course that we’re talking about salvaging a place in the top four as opposed to challenging for the top position gives a great indication of just how much we’ve not met our objectives this season. To make matters worse, to realise that despite the possibility of finishing in the top four the difference a season has made means even that outcome isn’t likely shows the advance that other teams have made as we have stagnated.
Perhaps stagnation is a hard word. It’s more accurate to highlight that we have not progressed from last season. Player-wise we haven’t made progress and tactics-wise we have not made progress. Indeed tough games against the hard teams that we would have battled a draw or sneaked a win from last season are being lost this season. This was a problem we had hoped to have overcome following last season’s noted record of only losing two games in the league. This season not only have we lost virtually triple that number already, but we’ve deserved to lose those games. Indeed we have not hit a patch of quality football that I am aware of. As I’ve said, that can change – it’s not impossible. The latest wins give hope even if the weather blitz has stifled momentum and the latest Stoke match was a disappointing result.
I was very hopeful going into the match last night that we could do well and even after the injuries to Gerrard and Torres I actually thought the team were released to play some better football. Lots of chances were created but just not taken. Not only that, however, there was also a lack of aggression about the side that would get them going into the tackle and putting as much pressure on Reading and they were gamely putting on us. After a bright period in the second half we just seemed to get complacent. The game opened up to Reading and we gifted them the penalty before slack defending again cost us the game in extra time.
It’s all well and good Jamie Carragher apologising for an unacceptable performance because it has been the fault of the players who played, but there’s also an issue of where does it become the manager’s responsibility for what we see. Speaking of which he comes out and apologises himself. So to speak. That’s cool and I’m into apologising as it recognises what is what – now it is to see where they improve from there or show due repentance for what has been erred.
This went to show that even before the result last night, winning a trophy like the Europa or the FA Cup does not address the reason why we have not achieved our main goal of this season. What’s more at this stage of the season I would rather see other teams finish above us based on the quality of football they have played to this point.
At one point this week John Aldridge was reported to suggest the board to sack Rafa now. Then according to this report Aldridge never made those comments at all Reading his alleged arguments I agreed with most of them, where I differ, however is the need to sack the brother now. I’d prefer to see how things pan out for the rest of the season and by April we’ll be in a great position to see how to go forward.
Where Aldridge is reticent and recants, Whelan just wades in there and says the Benitez brother should resign. The statistic that Liverpool have lost 10 of their last 20 matches is a pretty damning one and would swing it for some. The Times also puts a strong case in favour of the brother leaving also. Robbo on the BBC web-site kicks the man when he’s down with an on the spot rip against the trying times at Anfield. Still at the BBC, though, McNulty the guy who had said Liverpool would win the thing in the first place, pulls a doozy of an assassination piece on the reign of Benitez.
Reading ITV’s five reasons for and five reasons against Rafa’s sacking gives some illumination to the problem at hand.
Jibran wants to put down the problem to funds, but I don’t buy it at all (I don’t suppose Hicks and Gillett could afford it either). It’s not funds that prevent us having a quality side, it’s poor signings, under-performing players, quizzical formations and team selections and a blatant over-reliance on a limited style of football. On a number of occasions last night I was asking about strikers and that just typified what the problem has been. We’ve wasted and misused Crouch, Keane and Bellamy. Guys like Ngog remain unproven and to me the idea of playing Gerrard behind Torres as our attacking threat was so puzzling that it’s no wonder we’ve struggled without them. That brings the quandary of Kuyt who is a striker that’s been converted into a wide midfielder and is a tremendous hard worker, but hardly a world beater in the position he’s been in.
This is a very good argument about the state of the team and club at the moment. I enjoyed reading it even if it went with the financial stuff I still saw where he was coming from in stating the problem and solution is the attitude and performance of the players.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of wasted opportunities that have not had anything to do with funding. The blame has always fallen at the door of the manager. The funds issue has been a smokescreen for where the real responsibility lies and Benitez played that political situation to his advantage last season, when the team still finished second. Now he’s been found out and doesn’t have a political crisis to hide behind.
He cannot be sacked if he wins a trophy – we’re not Real Madrid and his contract would suggest we cannot afford it (as in if you calculate the winnings, kudos and potential earning power next season). If he wins nothing and fails to gain the fourth place spot then he’s failed in his minimum requirement and should be released from his contract however costly that would be.
Sacking the brother now would actually waste the season completely because any new guy would take a while to sort out the mess of a squad not made in his image and without talent overflowing. It’s not like Hiddink taking over the star-studded and under-performing Chelsea.
I believe by April we would all know where we are and if he’s got us to the Europa League final it would suggest he’s improved significantly on the start of the season. However if he gets us that far but our league position is poor (i.e. outside top 6) then I’d still reconsider his position. Also as with any wise and prudent forward-looking organisation I’d hope the Board would discreetly be about the business of identifying potential candidates to replace him. I mean realistic candidates – not Dalglish who is done with management now or other Liverpool old boys who are unproven or lacking i.e. Barnes, Beardsley, etc. Let’s give him some time.