27 November 2007


By Frank Malley, PA Chief Sports Writer

There are millions of reasons why Rafael Benitez is on dodgy ground in his most recent spat with Liverpool's American owners.
Actually, 122 million to be precise. That is the amount of sterling Benitez has spent since joining Liverpool in the summer of 2004.
By even money-mad football measures that is a vast sum.
Around £50million of that was made available to Benitez by owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett after last May's Champions League final defeat against AC Milan, half of which was spent on bringing Fernando Torres to Anfield.
The point is that Benitez can hardly complain that he has not been supported. He can hardly claim he has not been given the tools to do the job.
He can hardly complain his authority has been usurped the way Jose Mourinho felt his had at Chelsea.
Sure, it is easy to see why Benitez wants to ensure Argentina's on-loan Javier Mascherano remains at the club and why he wants the £17million that would cost to be pledged sooner rather than later.
Benitez fears a player he believes is crucial to Liverpool's immediate future might be spirited away by one of their competitors.
You can see, too, why Benitez, whose team face a crucial Champions League tie against Porto at Anfield on Wednesday, wants to sign £15million Argentina defender Ezequiel Garay.
But you can also see why Hicks and Gillett might want to say: 'Hold on'.
The proposed cost of building Liverpool's new ground has soared £150million to £400million.
That new 60,000 capacity stadium is the long-term future of Liverpool, just as the Emirates stadium was the vehicle which ensured Arsenal's ability to continue to mix it with Manchester United and Chelsea.
I do not recall Arsene Wenger posturing and demanding to spend countless millions when the transfer shackles were applied at Highbury.
By contrast I recall Wenger buying in to the dream that good housekeeping now would pay dividends down the line.
Of course, that takes a man of patience and intelligence, as well as a shrewd coach confident in his own ability to mould his players into a winning team.
The truth, however, is that on that score Benitez has failed to convince.
Why? Mainly because there is no pattern or purpose to his work.
Despite the 8-0 slaying of Besiktas in the Champions League and the 6-0 destruction of Derby in the Premier League this season and the latest 3-0 win at Newcastle on Saturday Benitez has been unable to deliver a sense of momentum.
He does not suggest he is building a dynasty, more that he stumbles from match to match not knowing his best side, alienating men such as Peter Crouch and Yossi Benayoun who never know whether they will be selected from one game to the next.
After three and a half years there is still no pattern or identity to Liverpool's team, even after two Champions League final appearances, including the triumph in Istanbul.
Where is the surge of belief? Where is the conviction that consistency can be found to add to their 18 league titles?
A draw away at Porto and defeat at home to Marseille has left their hopes in the Champions League hanging precariously.
They languish fifth in the Premier League despite being the only team, other than Arsenal, in any of the divisions to remain unbeaten in the league this season.
It is why Benitez plays a dangerous game when he dons tracksuit rather than lounge suit on the touchline and chides his employers in a press conference by responding to almost every question with: "As always, I am focused on coaching and training my team."
With the advent of powerful foreign owners steeped in the world of business, men who want a return on their investment, football managers can no longer demand huge cheques be written willy-nilly.
Where I do have sympathy for Benitez is in the fact that Hicks and Gillett have each been to only one Liverpool match this season, while the manager claims he has spoken to them just once in three months.
That does not suggest Liverpool is their number one priority, nor exudes the passion for sport they claimed when they took control at Anfield.
It also does not suggest Liverpool are any closer to regaining their position as Britain's elite football club.

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