29 November 2007

Benítez makes his point but owners remain distant

got to get me those white windbreakers...

Anfield backed their under-fire manager last night and sent a strong message to America
Richard Williams
November 29, 2007 12:58 AM

So now we know that a rainy November night in Liverpool 4 is not the sort of thing to drag George Gillett and Tom Hicks across the Atlantic, even when the team they bought with £298m of the Royal Bank of Scotland's money is facing a match on which their season may pivot. No wonder there is unrest at Anfield, where the symbols of the past - the Kop, the Shankly gates, the old terraced streets through which generations of fans have swarmed in hope and exaltation - seemed to gaze with grim suspicion last night on the Americans and the gifts they bring.
Last night several hundred of those fans set off for the ground with the intention of making their feelings known to two men separated from them by an ocean in distance and an entire universe in football spirit. As they left the corner of Oakfield Road and Houlding Street they were led by a man carrying a framed portrait of Rafa Benítez. The resemblance to a saint's day procession in Spain was not coincidental. A few marchers even reached up to stroke his face. And of the many banners they carried, one seemed particularly pertinent: "You are the custodians," it told Hicks and Gillett, "but the club is ours. Rafa stays."
Benítez took his seat in the dugout with his own name ringing in his ears as the Koppites gave voice to their belief that the new owners should defer to the judgment of the man who brought them a fifth European Cup, even if he has yet to show signs of emulating the success of his illustrious predecessors in the league. Last night Benítez was back in his customary grey suit rather than the training-ground kit he wore at St James' Park last Saturday, when he was sending a message of his own to the Americans, who had told him to stop whingeing about his transfer budget and get on with coaching his existing squad.
The decision to wear his tracksuit was the response of a petulant adolescent rather than a grown-up football manager, and Benítez showed a realisation he had taken a step too far by making more polite noises in the build-up to last night's vital fixture. But he is not a man who likes being thwarted, and even after this splendid win the delay in acquiring the owners' consent to the payments of £17m to buy out Javier Mascherano's contract and £4m to acquire the Georgian defender Kakha Kaladze from Milan will rumble on until the opening of the January transfer window.
Benítez is due to meet Hicks and Gillett in two and a half weeks' time, when they visit Anfield a few days after the now decisive trip to Marseille. They will attend the match against Manchester United on December 16, a highlight of the league calendar but probably less vital to the club's short-term interests than last night's must-win game. Goodness knows what kind of engagement Hicks and Gillett could have found more compelling than the chance to attend an evening on which Liverpool were fighting for the right to maintain their presence in this season's Champions League.
But that, inevitably, is the price of allowing foreign investors to buy control of a leading English football club. The majority of the old-fashioned chairmen may have been pompous and blinkered, but at least they turned up for every match, home and away, in fair weather and foul. Now the clubs have to take their place in the hectic schedules of men with much larger and more varied agendas, and Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini are not alone in fearing that the game will be the worse for ownership that is both emotionally and geographically semi-detached.
It was a pity, certainly from the manager's point of view, that the Americans were not present to hear the roar when Fernando Torres put Liverpool into a 19th-minute lead with a fine, if curiously unchallenged, header from Steven Gerrard's corner. Torres cost £26.5m from Atlético Madrid, and the speed, composure and skill with which he took his second goal made him the best evidence to date of the manager's oft-questioned prowess in the transfer market.
If Gillett and Hicks are interested enough to bother watching the video of last night's match, they will see Mascherano chase down a swift first-minute counter-attack and dispossess Mariano Gonzalez as he neared the Liverpool penalty area. The number of midfield players capable of such a clean and timely intervention is strictly limited, and on current values £17m is a fair price to pay, particularly for one who is only in his early twenties yet already has a depth of international experience.
Benítez watched in dismay as his defence lost their heads before the interval. A more spirited but still largely incoherent beginning to the second half prefaced the first of his substitutions, and if ever there was a night for a manager's decisions to make a difference, this was it. After the manager had signalled his gratitude for the crowd's support and followed the victorious players into the tunnel, the disc jockey played Bob Dylan's Knocking on Heaven's Door, a slightly curious choice unless you paid attention to the first line: "Don't take this badge off of me..." A win in Marseille on December 11, and they wouldn't dare.

No comments:



The GOLDEN Team of Kenny Daglish

The GOLDEN Team of Kenny Daglish
If we have them now, say farewell to Arsenal, Man.U and Chelsea... if...