The Rafalution — Where did it all go wrong for Benítez?

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles

rafael benitez

Rafael Benítez’s reign at Anfield came to an end yesterday after the Spanish coach accepted a severance deal.

It marks the end of a six-year spell in charge of Liverpool, a period which saw the club enjoy mixed successes: Champions League winners in 2005 followed by an the FA Cup triumph a year later, plus a European Super Cup and Charity Shield.

But despite Benítez’ endeavours, the Holy Grail at Anfield—a Premier League title—evaded the coach, who had previously won two Primera División titles with Valencia.

The Merseyside club came agonisingly close to winning the elusive title in the 2008-09 campaign, but a club record 86 points proved insufficient and bitter rivals Manchester United claimed their 18th title. It signalled the beginning of the end.

Benítez arrived at Anfield in June 2004 immediately faced with the task of holding on to Liverpool’s prized assets, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen. The newly-appointed coach convinced the former to remain but the latter left for Real Madrid.

However Owen’s transfer proved inconsequential and in his first season Benítez’s assembled squad marched to the Champions League final in Istanbul following memorable victories over Olympiakos, Juventus and Chelsea.

In the final against AC Milan, goals from Steven Gerrard, Vladmir Smicer and Xabi Alonso helped Liverpool to an astonishing revival after being 3-0 behind at half-time. The club secured a fifth European Cup on penalties. FA Cup success over West Ham followed a year later.

Benítez’s crucial signings helped propel the club into becoming one of the main forces in Europe. José Reina, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Agger and Fernando Torres formed the nucleus of the side along with local heroes Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

There are, however, blemishes on Benítez’s recruitment record. An unfavourable list of flops includes names such as Andrea Dossena, Antonio Nunez and Jan Kromkamp. Perhaps the most expensive errors the Spaniard made in the transfer market would include the £19 million paid for Robbie Keane.

Off-field wrangling with Liverpool’s owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, overshadowed the last two seasons. The unpopular American pair compromised the Benítez’s position and the manager deserves credit for persevering under the constraints placed upon him where other coaches may have resigned.

Looking beyond his final season, which has somewhat unfairly overshadowed his term at the club, Benítez vastly improved upon the squad he inherited. Furthermore the Spaniard re-established Liverpool as a force in Europe and the Premier League.

The Merseyside club will now begin the lengthy search for a manager who can build on the progress made under Benítez.

Liverpool fans — join in with our live Liverpool webchat from 2.30pm this afternoon

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