- So, Rafael Benitez is at it already, is he? Bleating about transfer money before the season has even begun? Getting his excuses in first? This from the man who has spent £230 million in five years at Liverpool, and still has not won the Premier League title!
- Sorry about that. There is an unwritten rule that you are allowed to tell only one side of the story when analysing Benitez’s record at Liverpool, so it seemed only right to start in that vein. While we’re at it, Benitez blew their hopes of the Premier League trophy last season by ranting at Sir Alex Ferguson, refusing to pick Fernando Torres, selling Robbie Keane and insisting on zonal marking at corners. Of course he did.
- Benitez is not without his idiosyncracies, but to judge from some of the reactions to my Final Word column yesterday and to a couple of comments he made in which he was vague about the funds the club’s owners were making available to him, you would think he was the one who was responsible for Liverpool’s various ills.
Thrifty summer could cost Liverpool
- Someone e-mailed me yesterday with a list of Benitez’s 83 signings as Liverpool managers, listing six as successes and 77 as flops. Given that the flops included players such as Fabio Aurelio (first-choice left back signed on a free transfer) and Dirk Kuyt (£9m, vastly underrated) as well as nine home-grown players who have come through the youth academy, as well as the admittedly terrifying number of teenagers the club imported from abroad, you might say that the list was rather skewed.
- Clearly, Benitez has made a number of dodgy signings. At right back alone, you can list Josemi, Jan Kromkamp and Philipp Degen. Further forward there have been Antonio Nunez, Mark Gonzalez, Sebastian Leto, Fernando Morientes, Craig Bellamy and, of course Keane, none of whom lasted more than 18 months.
- But these are not the names that define Benitez’s success or failure at Anfield. He likes to wheel and deal, far more than is normal for a manager at a club of Liverpool’s size, but it is beyond dispute that his net outlay of £85m over the past five years (£230m spent, £145m recouped) has brought a huge improvement in a team and a squad that came within four points of winning the Premier League last season.
- My point yesterday was that Benitez would have needed only a reasonable amount of backing in the transfer market this summer in order to establish Liverpool, the second-best team in the country last season, ahead of a weakened Manchester United, a transitional Chelsea, an inexperienced Arsenal and an embryonic Manchester City as favourites for the Premier League.
- By reasonable, I mean even something like his past net annual budget, which has amounted to £17m. Nothing excessive, just the kind of outlay that might have facilitated a little fine-tuning. For a club that made a pre-tax profit of £10m in the most recent financial year, since which they have raised another £5.8m in the transfer market (with the outlay on Albert Riera, Peter Gulasci and Victor Palsson more than offset by guaranteed fees of at least £12.8m for the sales of Keane and Steve Finnan) and generated vast sums with their success in finishing second in the Premier League and reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
- On the face of it, he has made two big-money signings: Glen Johnson from Portsmouth for £17.5m and Alberto Aquilani from AS Roma for £20m. And yes, both fees look a little inflated. But they have been offset, almost to the pound, by the sales of Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sebastian Leto, Paul Anderson, Adam Hammill and Jack Hobbs.There have been notable costs this summer in the new contracts for Torres, Daniel Agger, Kuyt and others, including Benitez, not to mention the expensive business of paying off an enormous number of staff in a dramatic revamp of the club’s technical and youth academy staff.
- But by far the biggest drain on Liverpool’s resources is the debts brought on by those wonderful owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr – huge interest bills to be paid on money borrowed so that, erm, they could keep clinging on to a club that they clearly cannot take forward. Money well spent, I’m sure you will agree.
Benitez left with striking problem
- Could the Liverpool manager have made better use of his resources this summer? Time will tell. A personal view is that he needs another striker as cover for and sometimes as a counterpoint for Torres. But strikers (with the exception of Michael Owen) cost money. Benitez has had none. When it comes to the final reckoning at the end of the season, which admittedly is 38 games away, I wonder whether that might the difference.