Why Rafael Benítez is still the right man for Liverpool

By Michael Owen
Rafael Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez

It is only natural for supporters to get frustrated when their club is going through a bad spell, and finger-pointing is always going to occur, especially when one of the top clubs in Europe is having such a torrid season.

But Liverpool fans shouldn’t be blaming their side’s poor form on Rafael Benítez, in fact if anyone’s the man to get the team out of this bad run, it’s him.

The defeat at Wigan Athletic on Monday night was the final straw for many Liverpool supporters. Despite sticking behind the manager through thick and thin over the last five years, a limp and lifeless performance against one of the League’s strugglers was a step too far for even some of the most staunch backers of the Spanish boss.

As with last season, many feel the bad result at the DW Stadium put an end to Liverpool’s domestic ambitions; last season it was finishing top, this season it is to finish a lowly fourth.

An ever-increasing percentage of Liverpool’s support is calling for the manager’s head, but it’s time for these fans to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Since Benítez’s arrival at Anfield in 2004 Liverpool have qualified for Europe’s top competition year-on-year, an accomplishment never achieved by any Liverpool manager before him. Up until this season, the earliest Liverpool were ever knocked out of the competition under Benítez was the first knockout round, to Benfica in 2006. Over the last five years the Spanish boss has taken his side to two Champions League finals, one semi-final, one quarter-final and one last-16 knockout round — a record most of the top managers in Europe would be proud of.

Whilst many Liverpool fans will suggest that the League should be the main target, the back-to-back qualifications for the Champions League demonstrate how much their domestic form has improved under Benítez, finishing in the top four in four of the five seasons. The only season Liverpool failed to finish in the top four was the one in which they won their fifth European Cup in Istanbul.

The quality of the team itself is another major issue at Anfield, which many say is lacking strength-in-depth and relies too heavily on two key players, Fernando Torres and captain Steven Gerrard. It should be evident to anyone who has any knowledge of the game that Liverpool do lack depth, but when the manager has been forced to sell in order to buy for most of the last three seasons, it is something of an inevitability. A prime example is the sale of Craig Bellamy to help fund the Fernando Torres deal. Despite the Spaniard being a much better player, Liverpool could now certainly do with Bellamy as a back-up.

The other major thorn in the side of Benítez is the club’s owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. The two Americans have seemingly done everything in their power to hinder the manager’s attempts to improve the squad to challenge for the title in recent years. Whether that be not giving him the financial backing to bring in Gareth Barry, or going behind his back to discuss the manager’s position with Jürgen Klinsmann.

It would be fair to say that outside of Fratton Park, Benítez endures the worst working conditions of any manager in the Premier League. He has had his authority undermined on a number of occasions and has seen money from the sale of players being used to help finance the crippling debts placed on the club by its current owners.

Yes, Benítez can and does make mistakes and yes, it’s happened more often than usual this season. But the implications of him being removed from his post are unthinkable. Say what you like about the prestige of the Liverpool manager’s job, when you have no money to spend and are expected to win the League, no world-class manager would look twice at the position.

And that’s the problem Liverpool face. It would be close to impossible to find a manager with anywhere near Benítez’s vast experience who would go anywhere near the job.

Some of the short-term problems on the pitch may rightly be laid at the door of the manager, but if you want to find Liverpool’s long-term problem look no further than Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

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