With the well documented and discussed troubles at Liverpool this season, Adamo Digby takes a look at the man at the centre of it all. Held up as a tactical genius and hero worshipped on the red half of Merseyside, this article scratches the surface and asks, "Rafael Benitez, Is He All That?"
First, a quick look into the past of the man, to see where he came from. The widely held view is he broke up the Madrid-Barca duopoly in Spain, winning La Liga and UEFA Cup with Valencia.
Delve a little deeper and you discover he was at Madrid in the late '80s and early '90s as a youth team coach. He left in 1994 and was appointed manager of Real Valladolid but was sacked after only two wins in 23 games with the club bottom of La Liga.
In 1996, Benítez took charge of Osasuna in the Second Division, but after only nine games and one win he was sacked. In 1997, he joined another Segunda División side, Extremadura, and led them to promotion, finishing second. They only survived one season in Primera División, however, and were relegated in 1999 after finishing 17th.
Benítez subsequently quit CF Extremadura and took a year out. In 2000, he was appointed manager of Tenerife in the Segunda División, a team that boasted Mista, Curro Torres and Luis Garcia. He gained promotion to La Liga by finishing third.
So, three second division jobs, two sackings, but success with a well-equipped team brings us to Valencia. At the time, Barcelona were almost bankrupt, anyone who has seen the Laporta documentaries knows this; he spent two years rebuilding the club. Real Madrid were at the tail end of the first Galactico era, and we all know how that story ends.
So along comes Rafa, with a club that, before he arrived, was good enough to reach the Champions League Final. He spends countless millions on Marchena, Mista, Curro Torres, Rufete, de los Santos, and Salva—and in doing so delivers two La Liga titles and a UEFA Cup.
Then he leaves for Liverpool, and Valencia are almost bankrupt, still battling today to pay for the excess's of delivering that side. He sells Owen, buys Alonso and Garcia. With no small amount of luck, he takes Houllier's team to a penalty shoot out cup win and is hailed a genius.
Then he wins the FA cup, relying on the individual brilliance of Gerrard to overcome West Ham.
Since then his only achievement of note is last season's second place. The stats are there, best goal difference, most goals, highest number of points in Premier League blah blah blah. Two wins over Manchester looks impressive, but they were still two points ahead, despite dropping all six to their nearest rival. Not only that, but United also made it to the CL Final, while Liverpool went out in the quarters.
Now I'm not saying everything he has achieved is down to luck, merely pointing out a few (*cliche warning*) facts. Benitez has achieved some remarkable things, no question. But it is also worth pointing out that whilst he did win the CL, no mean feat, he then completely dismantled the team and demanded total control of player acquisitions.
So now the man runs the club top to bottom. Are Liverpool a better, more competitive outfit for it? Is the team, man for man, better than in Houllier's era?
If indeed Torres is the worlds best striker, at one of the worlds biggest clubs, playing alongside another world class player in Gerrard, then surely the trophies should come? Surely players should be queueing round the block to run through walls for the man in charge?
No, in fact, almost the opposite is true. Robbie Keane's treatment will put off many, Xavi Alonso could not wait to get away. Peter Crouch and Jermaine Pennant have had their say. Even players still at the club like Ryan Babel have openly criticised the manager.
So no trophies to compete with Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho. Neither has Arsene Wenger. Where is the well balanced expenditure of Arsenal? Where are the bright prospects coming through?
Where is any evidence that he is the right man doing a good job for such a prestigious club? I'm sure if Liverpool trounce Lyons this week, Liverpool fans will be shouting "In Rafa we trust" just as they did after beating Manchester United.
But the question remains the same one I asked at the start of this article; Rafael Benitez, is he all that?