Tuesday December 11, 2007 The Guardian
"He is a stubborn man," Boudewijn Zenden admitted when asked about Rafael Benítez's decision to chop, change and rotate Liverpool to defeat at Reading on Saturday. "And he is not going to change, is he? He believes in his system and is going to stick with it."
"As a player," Zenden added, "it can be frustrating to be part of a squad like that because you want to play all the time but he is a very determined man and he is, above all, a winner. Look at his record at Liverpool and Valencia and that is enough to stop the discussion."
The Dutch midfielder watched parts of Liverpool's implosion at the Madejski Stadium at the weekend and quite liked what he saw. Not because he is bitter about his departure from Anfield in the summer after two fitful years but because his new club, Marseille, are likely to only need a point at Stade Vélodrome tonight to eliminate last season's finalists.
"We are a confident team at the moment," he said. "We played well when we beat Monaco at the weekend and we will make it difficult for Liverpool, especially as our fans will be on top form."
It is a stark contrast to a few months ago when Marseille were infuriating their fans with insipid performances as the manager, Albert Emon, was too afraid to drop under-performing stars such as Djibril Cissé, Karim Ziani and Benoît Cheyrou. The nadir was reached when, after a defeat at Auxerre on September 22, a few of the players asked management whether they could have time off to go to a party in Paris. Emon was sacked soon afterwards and replaced by the Belgian Eric Gerets.
Within days, Marseille had beaten Liverpool at Anfield and have not looked back since. "In my previous clubs, like Chelsea, Barcelona and Liverpool, we always played in a very collective way - when I arrived at Marseille I discovered a more individual game," said Zenden. "But then Gerets came in and has made a team out of us.
"We have got some really skilful players but at the start of the season we were playing as individuals. Gerets is keen on his players to work hard and having disciplined players is important to him. It is actually a bit like the Liverpool way where everyone has to work for each other."
Zenden is playing his best football of the season and has scored two league goals this campaign, which is as many as he did in two full seasons at Anfield. He does, however, realise that Liverpool will not be as inept as they were on Saturday or as subdued as they were when Marseille won 1-0 at Anfield. "I think they may have underestimated us a little bit at Anfield but knowing the Liverpool players who played that night I find that hard to believe. I am sure they are going to be a different side [tonight] compared to the one that played against Reading. They have players such as [Steven] Gerrard, [Dirk] Kuyt and [Peter] Crouch, who can decide a game in an instant, which is what you need in the Champions League."
Zenden still believes Liverpool can win the domestic title this season, despite the setback at Reading. "When people say the winning mentality is missing because they haven't won the league for so long, they don't know what they are talking about. The winning mentality is there. I was there for two years so I should know. When I was there, for example, we started badly in the league and had too much to catch up. That is not the case this season."
Tonight, though, Zenden and the other former Liverpool player at Marseille, Cissé, are aiming to throw a spanner in Benítez's European works. Cissé has been castigated for his poor displays this season but Zenden is confident the striker will recover, perhaps with a goal tonight.
"He is a strong character and he will soon be back to his best. He hasn't played that much in recent weeks so it is unfair to blame him for not scoring from the bench. But every player has to spend some time on the bench at some stage of his career and it is just a matter of how you deal with it. Cissé will be fine."