Return Of Rafa
Posted by Craig Muncey | Published on April 22, 2016
On Saturday afternoon, Newcastle United travel to Anfield to continue their fight to avoid relegation. Also on Saturday, Rafael Benitez returns to the ground where he had successes as a manager, and I fully expect the man to get an excellent reception from the home crowd. This piece looks at Benitez career as Liverpool manager and also some of the reasons he is still held in high esteem by many LFC fans.
“Rafa” took charge of Liverpool FC in 2004 following the sacking of Gerard Houllier. Almost immediately he had to try to deal with the loss of one of the club’s star players, Michael Owen, who was destined to join Real Madrid. As a manager new to a club to lose one of your stars immediately is not the grounds for a great start. But Benitez took this in his stride and started to build his team together.
In terms of his signings, he had some successes, some turned out to be outstanding buys such as Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Pepe Reina, Luis Garcia, Dirk Kuyt, Daniel Agger and Javier Mascherano, big stars who moved Liverpool onto another level of performance from where they were. There were however a few signings, who did not make the grade such as Ryan Babel, Mark Gonzalez, Josemi, Andrea Dossena, Fernando Morientes, Jermaine Pennant, Alberto Aquilani and Robbie Keane. Big transfer fees paid, and all failed.
In terms of transfers the one I felt Benitez got completely wrong was a transfer that never happened. Benitez was keen to bring in Gareth Barry into the squad to replace Xabi Alonso. The move did not happen but unsettled Alonso who then moved onto Real Madrid.
Under Benitez command Liverpool did win trophies and competed strongly for others. In his 6 years tenure, Liverpool won an FA Cup, FA Community Shield, UEFA Super Cup and of course UEFA Champions League in the never to be forgotten final in Istanbul in 2005. In 350 matches in charge of Liverpool, the team only lost 79 matches, a very decent record.
The league eluded Benitez as has with all managers in 26 years at Liverpool, in the 2008-2009 season, Liverpool had a fantastic opportunity to win the league. Defensively, Reina, Carragher and Agger were in great form and Gerrard and Torres had an unbelievable partnership going on. They were top of the league, but after an ill advised press conference where Benitez decided to use the opportunity to question Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, and the undue pressure they put on officials and their fixture list being less strenuous than others, Liverpool fell away, eventually finishing second, 4 points behind the winners, Manchester United.
Tactically Benitez was very astute, especially in Europe, he set the team up very well, each man knew their jobs, with some very famous wins. However, he made in my view a few strange decisions as his tenure went on with signings and tactics, famously replacing Steven Gerrard in a Merseyside Derby when poised at 1-1 in a game Liverpool needed to win as well as the transfer buys he made which I have mentioned previously, his most successful signings were all before 2008, with two exceptions, Mascherano in February 2008, on a permanent signing after initially being on loan and a signing made for the future, Raheem Sterling in 2010.
What you could never question about Rafa was his love for the club. Even after being asked to leave by mutual consent by the club in 2010, he donated £96,000 to the Hillsborough Family Support Group, which was a fantastic gesture from the man. Benitez has always talked with much fondness for the club and has returned to Liverpool for many functions over the years, and is widely respected and loved by Liverpool football club supporters.
I as many will, be happy to see Rafa back at Anfield in an official capacity, but sentimental feelings will stop once the game starts, and I will be cheering on Liverpool to pick up another three points which may send Rafa and Newcastle even closer to relegation. I don’t wish this on Rafa or Newcastle, but their owner Mike Ashley… Well that’s another story.