Liverpool's Champions' League Exodus: The Aftermath and the Road Ahead

raam shankerContributor INovember 26, 2009

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 25:  Manager Rafael benitez gives instructions as Steven Gerrard of Liverpool comes on as a substitute during the Champions League Round of 16, First Leg match between Real Madrid and Liverpool at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 25, 2009 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

From this juncture, one of two things can happen. Liverpool can either go down in the dumps and lose morale, their manager and their key players, wandering aimlessly for a couple of seasons before they regroup; or they can use this as a spring-board, focus solely on The Premiership, and get a Top-Four finish. If not better.

After Tuesday’s cataclysmic defeat emotions are likely running high in the Liverpool camp. However, great teams respond, they don’t react. Liverpool’s situation has the potential to rock the Top-Four boat yet again this season. There are, however, a number of variables in the Liverpool equation, which need to be solved sooner rather than later.

Ryan Babel’s outcry about lack of opportunities and the fact that he is looking for a new club might be a reflection of an ongoing civil war in a dressing room full of disgruntled players. Is Babel the only one, or are there potential departures waiting for the New Year?

Speaking of departures I am sure Benitez would love to offload some underachievers; however, will he be able to get a good price for them? The fact that they’re enduring a difficult domestic season combined with their exit from Europe is likely to put doubts in the minds of potential suitors as to whether the players are worth Liverpool’s evaluation. The players’ frustration and eagerness to move is likely to add to Benitez’s misery over sale proceeds.

Step into the Liverpool board-room and it was not so long ago when Hicks and Gillett had the huge public fall-out. Relations have become “better”, but it appears to be more of a media-centric gesture than genuine warmth.

There have also been rumors of potential buyers for Liverpool for the last few seasons. If Hicks and Gillett want to get rid of 50 percent of the club to a new buyer for a good price, it’s imperative that they show a unified stand and smile for the public. The emergence of a new owner brings another factor into play. How much money will Benitez get to spend on new talent?

That question, however, will only matter if Benitez is still retained at the helm. For a few years now the fans have been frustrated. When he came in as Houllier’s replacement in 2004-05 he won the Champions’ League with a stylish second half comeback in Istanbul. It was a great season for Liverpool, who were on the verge of being relegated to UEFA Cup.

Since then they have won The FA Cup, UEFA Super Cup, and The Community Shield. One trophy that has dodged Liverpool for a painfully long period is The Premiership. Despite having 18 titles to their credit, they’re yet to win the rebranded first division, which has been dominated by their bitter rivals Manchester United. For Liverpool players and fans alike, this has become the equivalent of The Holy Grail.

Their best chance came last season when they got 14 out of a possible 18 points against fellow Top-Four finishers, and won the double-header against United and Chelsea in convincing fashion. They were the only team in the Top Four who did not lose to the other three. Despite being in top shape for most of the season, they bottled it when it mattered most, and lost to United by four points. Could the title win last season have ensured a smoother state of play this season?

So, looking back at Rafael Benitez’s time at Liverpool I am tempted to say he had his best chance last season and did not take it. Whether he gets another opportunity, let alone such a golden one, is yet to be seen. Despite assurances of job safety, his future at Merseyside remains in question.