05 January 2008

Back Rafa.. or the Kop wilderness years could stretch on to eternity

Brian Reade 05/01/2008 (Daily Mirror)

The most depressing sound coming out of Anfield this week was not the boos from the stands or the desperate words from Rafa Benitez about the title still being winnable.
It was the eerie silence from the men who run the club. A silence which continues to deafen.
When the new owners handed David Moores £88million last February, they also tossed the fans some bold pledges: "This club is not far from being the best in the world. That's what we want. We need to look at all the resources we possibly can, to compete with Manchester and Chelsea", said George Gillett. And many Kopites believed that paradise was about to be regained.
A year on, those fans are still in purgatory, completely in the dark as to the thoughts going through the heads of the club's selfstyled "custodians".
There have been soundbites and flattery but little else. The new stadium plans, which were unveiled in July, have been ripped up on cost grounds. There are stories that the debt incurred in the takeover will have to be piled on to the club, Glazer-style.
Despite reaching two European Cup Finals in three years, Benitez is frozen out due to an ill-judged outburst, and is unsure how much, if any, cash he has for the January transfer window.
One of the few world-class players, Javier Mascherano, is left in limbo, with nobody prepared to say if the club will pay the going rate for him despite his desperation to stay. Every draw (not defeat) sparks speculation about Benitez's future, fuelled by informed sources saying the owners want him out before next season.
Well Texans like plain speaking, so here's some. If taking over Liverpool now looks like an expensive error, own up and sell. If you don't want Benitez, sack him instead of waiting for him to sack himself. If you believe in the Spaniard, then honour your pledge to the fans and give him licence to compete at the top end of the January transfer window.
Despite some terrible home form and bucketloads of hysteria, Liverpool aren't that far behind Manchester United. But there is a crucial factor holding them back. Alex Ferguson has superior quality all over his squad, meaning when he rotates (which he does as much as Benitez) he gets away with it.
That's because he has been allowed to compete for a decade with the Real Madrids, Barcelonas and the Chelseas.
From the £30m cheques written for Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney, to the £18m spent on Michael Carrick and the £60m-plus he's just spent on Nani, Anderson and Owen Hargreaves. Benitez has competed with the big boys once. And bought Fernando Torres.
Critics mock his transfer dealings, and there's been the odd howler, but last January, with little money, he brought in Alvaro Arbeloa and Mascherano. Runaway successes both.
If he was allowed to sell Peter Crouch, Momo Sissoko and Scott Carson this month, he could show a £15m profit from his own dealings.
Under Gillett and Tom Hicks (inset) he's had one transfer window, spent a net £24m on Torres and two outstanding prospects - Ryan Babel and Lucas Leiva.
So why don't the American businessmen do what they do best. Disregard personal differences, look at the hard facts and realise Benitez deserves more, not less, freedom to buy.
Starve him of funds, force him into a corner, and he will leave for a top European club with genuine ambition, along with most of the class talent he has brought to Anfield.
Then those pledges of a year ago will be truly tested as they give another manager the chance to start again, with a "five-year plan" and little financial muscle.
Down that road lies only one certainty. Liverpool will undoubtedly emulate Manchester United.
By going for 26 years without winning the league. Or even Chelsea, by going 40.

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