Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Early Window: Is it time for Benitez to move on?

Liverpool could be out of the Champions League tonight and as the pressure mounts on Rafael Benitez, we ask is it time for a managerial change at Anfield?

Rafael Benit├ęz Liverpool Pool - 0

There is little room for emotion in football as Benitez showed when he discarded Champions League final heroes Jerzy Dudek, Vladimir Smicer and Igor Biscan immediately after the dramatic 2005 penalty win over Milan in Istanbul.

Fans will stick by Rafa through thick and thin due to the fact he brought the European Cup back to Anfield in his first season, but his stubborn refusal to adapt means he has so far failed to bring the league title back to Merseyside.

Benitez is a top coach, of that there is no doubt. But - as regular viewers of Liga games that do not involve Barcelona and Real Madrid will testify - his conservative attitude does not wash with the rough-and-tumble of English football.

To win the Premier League, you have to attack, to try to win games against any opposition. Playing for a point, shutting up shop by taking off Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard or - as seen last weekend - Yossi Benayoun when playing top-half rivals at Anfield is simply not good enough.

Of course defending is paramount, but as Manchester United in particular have shown in recent years it is a foundation, not the be all and end all.

And, this season, Benitez's side cannot even do that.

Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel are decent players but not Liverpool class. Plus they are frighteningly injury prone. The normally dependable Jamie Carragher appears to have lost all confidence in his team-mates, and himself. And at full-back, Fabio Aurelio is lightweight and Emiliano Insua nothing more than a prospect.

Benitez has had an age to sort this out. Prior incumbents Steve Finnan and John Arne Riise were begging to be upgraded, yet - and this holds true all over the park - Benitez does not seem to know what is required for the Premier League.

Players such as Philipp Degen, Andrea Dossena and Lucas Leiva are not good enough, lightweight and bereft of the technical quality for which one would forgive physical fragility.

Time and time again, multi-million pound signings have come and gone.

Jermaine Pennant, Alvaro Arbeloa, Gabriel Paletta, Jan Kronkamp, Josemi, Antonio Nunez - the list goes on, a mixture of players meant to hold down first-team places or fill out the squad and they all had one thing in common all dross.

Benitez constantly bemoans injuries but he constantly selects players who are not physically up to the demands of the Premier League. There are concerns that Alberto Aquilani, Albert Riera and (whisper it) Torres may fall into this category.

And what of the players he has let go, treated with little more than disdain but who clearly could have done a better job than the likes of David N'Gog, Andriy Voronin and the aforementioned Insua? The likes of Peter Crouch, Robbie Keane, Craig Bellamy and Stephen Warnock, who are clearly better than what turned out for the 2-2 draw with Manchester City? All tossed aside, ignored at times by a manager who apparently rarely talks to his players.

Had he taken Xabi Alonso under his wing after bizarrely trying to flog the world-class Spain midfielder to fund a move for the quite good Gareth Barry, he may have been able to convince him to stay, or even gauge his intent to leave and prepare what would have been a cut-price move for the England international.

But he did not, pretending nothing happened in his now typical, borderline sociopathic manner. Meanwhile, he rucked with the club's owners, who admittedly tightened the purse strings - although who can blame them given how much trash he has bought and cast adrift in the last five years?

And do not get started on his rant against referees and Manchester United last season, piling needless pressure on his players and writing Sir Alex Ferguson's team-talks for him as Liverpool capitulated from a position of strength.

This leads to the final, crucial point. Benitez wants to control everything: training, scouting, youth development, financial affairs. And yet his man-management skills seem worryingly weak when the ability to get the best out of players, to harness egos, reward endeavour, play the dreaded mind-games and deal with cash-conscious business executives are regarded as the most important tools in modern club management.

Coaching is left to the coaches, but Benitez also dispensed with assistant Pako Ayestaran - who did much of the work behind the scenes - after a minor disagreement.

The former Valencia boss seems, alas, to fall well short of Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho when it comes to the art of managing.

Fan view: Reds divided

LFC_SOFA_SUPPORTER: Are things so bad at Liverpool football club. We've got Alberto Aqualini who can play in five positions in midfield and could be a better player than Xabi Alonso. Yossi Benayoun is a good player who can play on the wing or in midfield and Albert Reira isn't too bad although we could get a better player if need be. Glen Johnson can only get better and better, as can Martin Skrtel while Daniel Agger is very good. We're strengthening bit by bit. Chelsea were a mid-table side until Roman Abramovich came along. Liverpool have always been in the top 10. So yes Abramovich bought Chelsea's successes, much like Man City's improvement with the Arabs. If LFC had the monies of Man City or Chelsea no doubt we'd have won the league by now.

Kopalot79: I'd still take Martin O'Neil or Martin Jol over Rafa all day long. Both are quality managers who players respect. I mean who'd fight Jol?

Kuen is angry that big signing Alberto Aquilani still is not trusted to make an impact when Liverpool need a win: He was on the bench? Why didn't Rafa use him? I have no idea. We paid £20 million for the man, not just to warm the bench. If he is good enough to be on the bench, why not give him the 10 minutes, instead of Aurelio? Rafa, you are unbelievable.

The alternatives:

Jose Mourinho (2/1) - the smooth-talking Portuguese has won consecutive titles at Inter but, frustrated by the relatively weaker domestic competition and the demanding Italian media, has struggled continentally and hankers after a return to his beloved England.

Kenny Dalglish (3/1) - the former Anfield boss is second favourite despite being out of management for nine years since leaving Celtic after one disastrous season. The Scotsman, who managed the Reds with some success in the early 1990s, is a Liverpool legend and is currently running their International development and scouting division. Surely then he should be held at least partly responsible for some of the dreadful signings in recent years?

Roberto Mancini (5/1) - the man Mourinho replaced at Inter is a more sensible option as he won titles with the Milan club and has a grasp of the English language picked up while at Leicester.

Guus Hiddink (12/1) - the thinking-fan's choice: a tough disciplinarian who is happy to work with limited resources and has a proven track-record of quick success. Players love and fear him, he gets results and he adapts like a chameleon. The only surprise is that, after Russia's failure to qualify for the World Cup, he is not heading the list.

Juergen Klinsmann (12/1) - an ill-fated spell as Bayern Munich coach and primarily a motivator with no real experience of field coaching or budget management, he would only really be able to work with an experienced director of football. Dalglish, perhaps?

Oswaldo de Oliveira (14/1) - the Kashima Antlers' Brazilian coach has never managed in Europe. Chelsea made a similar mistake with Luiz Felipe Scolari, so do not expect Liverpool to follow suit.

Martin O'Neill (16/1) - many Reds fans would love an Irishman in charge and O'Neill has proved himself adept at over-achieving with Leicester, Celtic and now Aston Villa. He has Premier League pedigree, has taken a team to a European final and is loved by both supporters and the press. A mini Mourinho, if you will.

Manuel Pellegrini (20/1) - the Real Madrid boss could soon be fired in the insane world of Spanish football if they lose the Clasico against Barcelona, even though Real are top of La Liga. The Chilean worked wonders with Villarreal, will be able to manage the Hispanic contingent, plays attacking football and - crucially - speaks pretty good English for someone who has worked only in Spanish-speaking countries.

News: Yahoo Uk Sport

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