Rafa's Legacy: What His Latest Euro Scalp Tells Us

Matthew MaloneyCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2009


The ramifications of Liverpool's latest major European scalp under Benitez are earth-shaking.

Now I'm not Benitez's biggest fan, God knows I've nodded off many a time while I've watched Liverpool "play". The absolute dearth of creativity on the pitch from Liverpool can be shocking at times for such a massive club, with such a unique and rich history. But you have to hand it to the man, he can certainly get his results in Europe, not least because nobody ever really expects him to for some reason (believe it or not, like many others, of the English teams, Liverpool were the team I expected to fare the worst before the 1st leg had even begun).

What Benitez's team prove time and again can be taken in two ways: First, that Liverpool's domestic form is strangley only weakly related to its European form and second, Liverpool are an awesome team in Europe, full stop. 

Don't agree? Ask Capello's Juventus '06 vintage (which many believe to be their greatest team of the last decade despite their match-fixing mischief), not bought? 

Look for evidence in their performances against Mancini's Inter, Milan's greatest team of the past 20 years (whom they met in the final-twice), Rijkaard's magical Barcelona, or even Mourinho's Chelsea juggernaut which failed to defeat Liverpool in two semi-finals running.

These teams were all favourites before their respective ties with Liverpool yet somehow, Benitez, ably led by miracle-worker Steven Gerrard on the pitch, keep pulling the white rabbit out of the hat ad nauseum.

Many football purists like myself have not been pleased however. Jorge Valdano, Argentine legend and former Real Madrid sporting director was moved to brand Liverpool's football as "s***t on a stick" and lamented the way football was by then becoming more akin to chess than anything bordering on artistic expression.

But put simply, one cannot put Liverpool's European record over the past few years down to luck (although it has reared its ugly head repeatedly). You can't help but be amazed at, on paper, a record that belies not simply a great but even a legendary team, even by Liverpool's hallowed standards.

So what were these ramifications I flagged at the beginning?

The Spanish league has been in decline over the last few years. Barcelona aside, this year's Spanish representatives have been poor fare. Villarreal scraped by a Greek team, as I write Atletico Madrid don't look certainties to qualify, while Barcelona, perhaps the only team outside England capable of winning the Champions League, should not have been the Premiership's only European rivals in this or any edition of a competitive European Cup.

The pace of English football is almost unbearable for most continental footballers. Call it "tactical", "technical" or whatever euphemism for SLOW you want, world beaters in their own league like Gago, Cannavaro, and Raul were made to look West Brom grade due continental football inability to prepare them for the highest level.

Spanish football has a bright future, five of Liverpool's own tonight shone on football's brightest stage. All of whom make the bench at best for the Spanish national side. Benitez, a Madrista through and through, has probably established himself as the finest Spanish manager of the past few years and his only opponent to that title, the cup whore Juande Ramos was in silence on the opponent's bench tonight. Both have excellent European records.

An English winner this year seems inevitable. In fact I'm going to put the boat out and say we are now firmly rooted in an era of Premiership domination. The best players are playing in England, and due to the lavish TV deals and credit crunch I expect the rest of Europe to fall further behind for a long, long time.

It's already been noted how the top four have dominated European transfers and with Man City taking up the "new Chelsea" mantle we are either in for a "dark age" of English dominance or interpreted differently a renaissance in the game from its creators.

Is English dominance a good or bad thing? Who should we attribute English team's achievements to-the strength of the game or the foreigners it entices? What should be done to restore balance? Should there be a balance? The ramifications of Liverpool's mauling of the nine-times European champions are truly era defining.