Mark Twain once said, "It's better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt." Never before has a quote epitomized a person more so than Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.
Unfortunately, another well-known quote doesn’t do the Spaniard much justice either: “Actions speak louder than words."
In early January 2009, as all football fans recall, Benitez delivered an unexpected, albeit pre-written, scathing attack of “facts” on Man United manager Alex Ferguson. A rush of blood to the head from Benitez, which has been labelled since as “Rafa’s Rant."
Nonetheless, such a mind game tactic was gripping and emotional for every football fan, especially for Liverpudlians. In fact, the only thing that can come close to such a speech was Barack Obama’s inauguration speech and how emotional that was for African-American’s.
But make no mistake, Rafa’s Rant was of a higher importance.
Despite how it was blown out of proportion, looking back in hindsight, I am sure Benitez wishes he wore a tie for that particular press conference. There are far too many critics out there who are lining up to have a pop at Benitez, but I for one will deliver my own “rant” if you will, backing Benitez and his managerial ways.
Who are we to argue with a man who won the Champions League in his first season in charge and nothing in three years? Even if only two players who starred in Istanbul that night remain at the club.
Say what you want about Benitez, he has instilled a transfer policy at Liverpool that results in buying skillful Brazilians and mediocre Spanish players including Jose Reina, Xabi Alonso, and Fernando Torres. A transfer policy that has Arsene Wenger looking over with envy.
Benitez may be criticized for his dealings in the transfer market, but one has to look past the big name signings and high wage bills and know that Benitez is a shrewd businessman and knows a bargain when he sees it. His first act of business was selling Michael Owen to Real Madrid for £8 million and getting Antonio Nunez as part of the deal; safe to say Madrid got the short straw with that particular transfer.
There has often been a sense of hesitance when buying players on a free transfer, but that has not been the case with Benitez snapping up Mauricio Pellegrino and Andry Voronin. Two men of whom so much was promised but were unable to deliver due to their lack of ability.
After two successful years at the club, Voronin decided it was time to take on a new challenge and left for Russia. It was notable that at this time Phil Thompson was not present in the Gillette Soccer Saturday studio as he was personally driving Voronin to Russia to make sure he got there safely.
Unfortunately, Benitez has been culpable for some poor and inexcusable signings during his reign at Liverpool, most notably Xabi Alonso. No one wants to come to a football match and see a player dominate and control the match, spraying 40 yard passes to a teammate all in the name of scoring a goal. No thank you.
Fans would rather see a simple pass back to defence and the odd 10 yard pass if you’re really feeling adventurous. With this particular player on the books, there’s only one thing for it; publicly show an interest in another player and use Alonso as bait or advertise his availability for transfer to generate funds, simple.
But for some reason, Alonso refused to budge for his love of the club and fans, whilst the potential signing of Gareth Barry would move to big-spenders Manchester City for a cut price.
In the midst of all this, Alonso didn’t take too kindly to being publicly made for transfer and decided to leave for Real Madrid, so much for loyalty.
Not to fear of course, Benitez is always one to have a reason behind his genius transfer dealings; the skillful Brazilian Lucas Leiva will fill the void. That’s of course while his actual £20 million replacement Alberto Aqualani is fully match fit.
Arguably, and there have been many, the best signing of Benitez’s tenure has been the Italian who came with an injury record and wasn’t available for three to four months; bargain!
But of course, with that kind of player you cannot just put him into a match when he is back in training and fully match fit, that would be ridiculous and absurd. You must wait for the right moment, like entering the field in 92nd minute in the Champions League for a 30 second cameo; it’s a good thing for his rehabilitation that he didn’t actually touch the ball in those vital seconds.
If there is one thing you can count on Benitez, it is his management skills and his player positioning. When he arrived at the club, he was forced to deal with long-term target of former manager Gerard Houllier, French hotshot Djibril Cisse.
This was not Benitez’s signing, and despite having an impressive goals-to-game ratio there was only one thing for it, stick him on the right wing. Another bit of tactical genius from the Spaniard was to put a striker on the wing to attempt to cross balls into the box and sell him when he fails to do so.
Time for someone else to step up to the right wing; enter Dirt Kuyt. One may question his work ethic at times, but his pinpoint crossing for a striker playing on the wing is second-to-none.
More recently than that has been the acquisition of the star of the Under-21 European Championships, Ryan Babel. A young striker who earned praise for his scoring performances which orchestrated a move to play left wing or left...back on the bench. Either position is fine for a player who has so much potential. If players cannot adapt to playing out of position then they are simply not good enough.
At the end of the day, Benitez is human and is accountable for mistakes, however rare they may be. Many will point to his “guarantee” of finishing fourth at the end of this season, but surely there are certain things that are out of his hands.
He can’t be held responsible if the players he’s signed to play the way he wants with his tactics aren’t getting results.
Nevertheless, if there is one manager who can get a club out of a sticky situation, it’s Harry Redknapp and if there is one team who you can guarantee will fight their way out of the “crisis” they are apparently having, it’s Chelsea.