Has Rafael Benitez's Time at Liverpool Been a Failure?

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer INovember 16, 2009

LYON, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 04:  Rafael Benitez the manager of Liverpool looks on during the Lyon v Liverpool UEFA Champions League Group E match at the Stade de Gerland on November 4, 2009 in Lyon, France.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

The title of this piece may have surprised you.

Sure, Rafael Benitez is going through a bad patch, but how can a man who led Liverpool to fifth place in his first season and had turned that into second place by last season be a failure?

How can a man who won two of the biggest trophies in English football—the Champions League and the FA Cup—in his first two seasons be a failure?

How can a man who, while winning that Champions League, gave Liverpool fans arguably the greatest night in the club's illustrious history be a failure?

Well, in my last article, I looked at Benitez's future at the club and whether he had taken Liverpool as far as he could.

In this article, I will be looking at his Liverpool career so far and whether or not he has been a success at Anfield.

Since Benitez joined in the summer of 2004, he has been the subject of countless column inches and has courted controversy at every corner.

From his decision to let golden boy Michael Owen leave to his dreaded rotation policy, from his epic encounters with Jose Mourinho's Chelsea to his latest duels with Sir Alex Ferguson, including the infamous "fact" rant.

Incidentally, I came across an interesting fact of my own the other day: The first letters of the five teams Liverpool have lost to in the league this season (Fulham, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Sunderland) spell out the word "facts."

Benitez seems to either be a tactical genius, nullifying the effects of some of the world's best players, or a stubborn manager who refuses to change his game plan, whether Liverpool are playing at the Nou Camp or the...err...Sportsdirect.com@St. James' Park.

Quite simply, he has become a man people either seem to love or hate.

Until recently, all Liverpool fans seemed to adore him. After all, he gave us Istanbul.

But now, even some of the Anfield faithful have turned on him, which, for a club with such a rich history of supporting their managers, spells trouble.

Sure, the legendary stadium isn't filled with a constant tirade of abuse, but the trademark "Rafa Rafael, Rafa Rafael, Rafa Rafael, Rafael Benitez" chant is being heard less as each week goes by.

The reason for this? One win in nine matches.

Yes, that run of results is unacceptable for a club of Liverpool's stature, especially when it included the worst run of defeats for more than 20 years, but is it enough to wipe out five years of progression?

Quite simply, no.

Benitez's record at Liverpool, whatever the current state of the club might be, is actually very impressive.

The recent win against Manchester United was Benitez's 200th game in charge of the club.

His record of 114 (57 percent) won is only bettered in the history of Liverpool Football Club by "King" Kenny Dalglish, who won 120.

Which means that Benitez has had a better start than the great Bob Paisley (113 wins), the incomparable Bill Shankly (106 wins), and his predecessor Gerard Houllier (101 wins).

Sure, Shankly may have taken over a club floundering in the second division, but to top Paisley, who inherited Shankly's great team, is some achievement, even if it is just by one game.

Arguments may arise that the league was more competitive in those days, with no "Big Four" and a lot less money, so how does he compare with the longest current serving managers in the league?

Arsene Wenger, the man who transformed Arsenal from George Graham's boring outfit to the most watchable side in the country and arguably the world, won 110 of his first 200 games, a win percentage of 55.

Sir Alex Ferguson, considered by many as the greatest manager of all time, won just 87 (44 percent) of his first 200.

So, at this stage in his career, Benitez has done better than the two most successful managers of the Premier League era.

Does that mean he will go on to emulate them? Of course not. I believe he can, but you just have to compare Houllier's and Ferguson's stats to show that the first 200 games don't indicate the way your career is going.

What is does show, however, is that he needs to be given time. Ferguson and Wenger were given time and showed exactly what they can do. What if Liverpool got rid of Benitez and let a potentially legendary manager slip through their fingers?

But there is a flip side to every argument.

So far, I have argued the point that I believe is right: Rafael Benitez has not been a failure at Liverpool.

Others may argue that he has, and I can see their logic very clearly.

Benitez was brought in to win the Premier League title. Pure and simple. It may not have been his sole goal, but it was certainly the main one.

He was chosen largely for his work at Valencia, where he broke the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and the question on everyone's lips was whether he could do it in England.

So far, he hasn't. Therefore he has failed—and he will continue to fail until he does win the title.

Whether he wins another Champions League or two more FA Cups, he won't have been a success until he achieves his primary objective.

Can he do that? Only time will tell, and I pray that he gets that time.


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