Rafa's Boys: How Successful Was Benitez in the Transfer Market?
Part 1: 2004-2007
It is just over six months since Rafa Benitez was dismissed from Liverpool Football Club. In that time, both he and his Anfield successor, Roy Hodgson, have gone on to lose their new jobs. Hodgson had a poor start to his debut season in front of the Kop, whilst Benitez struggled to live up to the expectations left by Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan.
While Benitez was the manager of Liverpool, he enjoyed a good relationship with the fans, especially during the long, drawn-out war against previous owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. In his first season at Liverpool, Benitez led his side to European glory in the now infamous Champions League final against A.C. Milan in Istanbul.
Most of the team on the pitch that night were brought to Liverpool by Benitez' predecessor, Gerard Houllier, but over his next few years at the club, Benitez made the side his own, bringing in Spaniards from his homeland, a languishing home-grown Brit, and a fair few promising youngsters.
At times, Benitez received substantial financial backing in the transfer market. Upon arrival on Merseyside, Benitez spent over £25 million bringing players into the squad, but was forced to give up one of Anfield's most prized assets, Michael Owen, who forced through an £8.5 million transfer to Real Madrid after threatening to let his contract run down.
In the final summer of his Liverpool reign, Rafa was forced to sell players in order to buy, the owners going back on the promises they had made to back Benitez in the transfer market. That summer, Benitez spent £36 million, whilst also freeing up the same amount from player sales.
This slideshow article brings you a comprehensive list of all Benitez' signings from when he joined the club in June 2004, up until the end of the 2006/07 season, following the Champions League Final defeat at the hands of A.C. Milan in Athens. The article looks at how successful they were for Benitez and Liverpool. Each player has been given a rating out of 10 in relation to how much benefit they were to the club, through performances and through value.
The second part of this article will be published in the near future, detailing Benitez' signings from summer 2007 until his departure in summer 2010, including the successful capture of Fernando Torres, and the not-so-successful capture of Robbie Keane.
- This is my first article for Bleacher Report, please feel free to leave comments below -
2004/05: Istanbul and the Spanish Invasion
Rafa Benitez' arrival on Merseyside during the summer of 2004 saw the arrival of two other Spaniards who immediately gained the affection of the Kop. Benitez also brought in a full-back to provide cover for Irishman Steve Finnan, and when Michael Owen left the club, Liverpool gained a bargain from Real Madrid in return.
Josemi— £2 million from Malaga—made 15 first-team appearances in Liverpool colours, mostly at right-back, before a suspension caused Finnan to regain his place in the first 11. As Benitez' first signing, Josemi did not get the Liverpool fans into a frenzy, but he was a solid addition to the squad. Later exchanged for Jan Kromkamp. Rating: 5/10
Antonio Nunez—£1.5 million from Real Madrid (part of the Michael Owen deal)—Predominantly a winger, Nunez' only goal for Liverpool came in the 3-2 Carling Cup Final defeat to Chelsea. Bought for very little and eventually sold on for a slight profit at £2 million, Nunez left Liverpool with a Champions League medal, but was a poor player by the Kop's standards. Rating: 4/10
Xabi Alonso—£10 million from Real Sociedad—Xabi spent five years on Merseyside before leaving for a huge profit at £30 million, to Real Madrid. He was part of the Champions League winning side of 2005, the FA Cup winning side of 2006 and was an integral part of Liverpool's title challenge in the latter stages of the 2008/09 season. One of Benitez' great pieces of business, he was nearly sold in the summer of 2008 when Benitez chased the signature of Gareth Barry, but went on to have his best season for Liverpool alongside Javier Mascherano in central midfield. Rating: 10/10
Luis Garcia—£6 million from Barcelona—Garcia earned his place in the history books following his ghost goal against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals to send Liverpool through. He will be remembered for his thumb-sucking celebration, his winding runs and some of the great goals he scored from outside the box, his best arguably being his dipping shot over the Juventus goalkeeper in the Champions League. Sold on to Athletico Madrid for £4 million in 2007. Great signing and well-loved by the Liverpool faithful. Rating: 8/10
Fernando Morientes—£6.3 million from Real Madrid—highly rated Spanish striker Morientes arrived at Anfield during the January transfer window, but struggled to set the Premiership alight. He scored eight goals for Liverpool in his 18 months at the club before being sold to Valencia for £3 million. A great player that could not find his form in English football. Rating: 4/10
Scott Carson—£1 million from Leeds United—promising young goalkeeper, but struggled to gain a place in the first team due to competition from Jerzy Dudek, Chris Kirkland and, later, Pepe Reina. He has gone on to be an established first-team goalkeeper in the Premier League, currently playing for West Bromwich Albion, but a high-profile mistake for England cost him his chance of becoming an international regular. Sold on for £3.25 million. Good business by the club, but never got a real chance to shine. Rating: 6/10
Mauricio Pellegrino—Free transfer from Valencia—had experience playing under Rafa Benitez in Spain. The primary reason for his signing was to give Sami Hyypia a rest, which proved to be an excellent move at the end of the season in the Champions League final. He moved on to Alaves after his six-month contract expired before returning to Anfield as a first-team coach. Pellegrino then moved on to Inter Milan with Benitez after departing Liverpool once again. Rating: 6/10
Premier League: 5th
FA Cup: 3rd Round
Champions League: Winners
League Cup: Runners Up
Overall Transfer Rating: 6/10 - with a 10/10 signing in Xabi Alonso, Benitez brought in one of the best Liverpool players of the last decade, but he struggled to make a lasting impression with a number of other signing, such as Nunez, Josemi and Morientes.
2005/06: FA Cup Glory and the Return of God
Following the glory of Istanbul at the end of the 2004/05 season, Rafa Benitez was backed in the transfer market once again by the Liverpool board, amassing a net spending of over £12 million once players sold was taken into consideration.
The summer of 2005 saw a number of integral parts of Gerard Houllier's Liverpool squad leaving to make way for Benitez' new recruits. Champions League winners Vladimir Smicer and Milan Baros were sold, as well as unpopular Senegalese international, El Hadji Diouf. This resulted in replacement strikers being needed, one of whom was all too familiar to Liverpool supporters.
Peter Crouch—£7 million from Southampton—Benitez brought Crouch to the Premier League, and despite a long wait for his first goal, he made the step up from being a laughingstock to a lethal striker, earning his first of many England call-ups whilst playing for Liverpool. Many fans were sad to see the back of him when he left the club in search of first-team football following the arrival of Fernando Torres, but the club received £11 million for him, which proved excellent business for the club. Rating: 8/10
Pepe Reina—£6 million from Villarreal—one of the best players to play for Liverpool in the last two decades. Reina has become a world-class goalkeeper since arriving at Anfield and continues to do a great service for Liverpool. He has regularly earned the Golden Glove award for most clean sheets in the Premier League. He would have more national caps for Spain if it was not for Iker Casillas. Rating: 10/10
Momo Sissoko—£5.6 million from Auxerre—Sissoko is a promising central midfield player that had a couple of excellent seasons. He sustained a serious eye injury that kept him sidelined for months, and following that, he struggled to regain his previous form. Eventually sold on for profit to Juventus (£8 million). Rating: 7/10
Antonio Barragan—Free transfer from Sevilla—The full-back only made one appearance for Liverpool in 12 months at the club. Was sold to Deportivo La Coruna for £1 million, providing a positive result to his Liverpool stint. Rating: 2/10
Bolo Zenden—Free transfer from Middlesbrough—Zenden was brought in to provide cover in midfield, but unfortunately had an injury-plagued spell at the club. He was a solid playmaker in central midfield and on the wing. Two years later he moved to Marseille on a free transfer. Rating: 6/10
Robbie Fowler—Free transfer from Manchester City—Fowler signed in the January transfer window to be used as extra striker cover. Bringing Fowler ("God," as the Kop call him) back gave the Liverpool fans a proper chance to thank him for his services to the club in the 90s and early 00s. His departure under Gerard Houllier was less than dignified. Fowler stayed with the club for 18 months in this spell, scoring eight goals in 30 appearances. Whilst Fowler was a long way past his best, the reputation he already had with the club earns him a higher rating. Rating: 8/10
Jan Kromkamp—Exchange with Josemi, from Villarreal—The Dutch defender was unable to oust Steve Finnan from his regular berth at right-back. The summer following his January transfer saw him leave the club with only 14, particularly average, appearances to his name. He was sold for £1.75 million to PSV. Rating: 3/10
Daniel Agger—£5.8 million from Brondby—Agger has had an injury-plagued beginning to his Liverpool career. When Agger is not injured, he vies for a place in the starting 11 with Martin Skrtel. He has been a fantastic player already and he still has the potential to get even better. At less than £6 million, Agger was a bargain. If it were not for his injury problems, Agger would be worth a considerable sum. Rating: 8/10
Godwin Antwi (Free transfer from Real Zaragoza)—Ghanaian centre-back. Loaned out to various clubs before being released.
Besian Idrizaj (Free transfer from LASK Linz)—Midfielder that most recently played for Swansea. Tragically died on 15th May 2010, aged 22.
Jack Hobbs (£150k from Lincoln City)—English centre-back, unfortunately did not develop as well as many had hoped. Sold to Leicester City for £1.5 million.
Miki Roque (Free transfer from Lleida)—Spanish defender that spent four years at Anfield. Moved on a free transfer to Real Betis in 2009.
Paul Anderson (Exchange with John Welsh, from Hull City)—English winger had high expectations but failed to live up to the hype. Moved to Nottingham Forest for £250k.
Ryan Crowther (Free transfer from Stockport County)—English winger released in 2010 without threatening the first team.
David Martin (£250k from MK Dons)—English goalkeeper, currently still with the club, has spent the past couple of seasons on loan with Accrington Stanley, Leicester City and Tranmere Rovers. One to watch in the future—no threat to Pepe Reina's position but may find himself on the bench from time to time.
Premier League: 3rd
FA Cup: Winners
Champions League: Last 16
League Cup: 3rd Round
World Club Cup: Runners Up
European Super Cup: Winners
Overall Transfer Rating: 8/10 - some great signings with the likes of Reina, Crouch, Agger and Sissoko coming in, as well as the return of Fowler. Unfortunately, the major failings in the youth academy, along poor signings like Kromkamp and Barragan prevented it from being a perfect season of transfer dealings.
2006/07: Another Year, Another Final
The season of 2006/07 saw Liverpool once again embark on a memorable European campaign. Whilst they were victorious in 2005, this time it was not to be. Once again meeting A.C. Milan in the final, Liverpool went down 2-1.
The focus of Rafa Benitez' attention in the summer transfer window was on attacking players, with a Dutch international joining the Anfield ranks along with a well-traveled Welsh striker.
Craig Bellamy—£6 million from Blackburn Rovers—Bellamy is an aggressive, fast striker with great goal-scoring prowess. During his first, and only, season with Liverpool, he was involved in a controversy surrounding fellow teammate John Arne Riise and a golf club. Bellamy's apology for the incident was accepted, and he went on to score against Barcelona in the following game. At the end of the season, Bellamy was sold for £7.5 million to West Ham United, after scoring only seven goals all season. Since leaving Liverpool, Bellamy has rediscovered his form and become one of the Premier League's most prolific players. Surprisingly he moved on loan to Championship side, Cardiff City for the 2010/11 season. Rating: 5/10
Mark Gonzalez—£1.5 million from Albacete—The quick, Chilean, left winger Gonzalez started his Liverpool career off well with a goal three minutes into his debut against Maccabi Haifa, but unfortunately he could not keep up such promise, and he moved to Real Betis the following summer for £5 million. A player with a lot of potential, Gonzalez struggled to live up to the expectation bestowed on him, but still made the club a tidy profit. Rating: 5/10
Gabriel Paletta—£2 million from Banfield—The Argentinan centre-back's career at Liverpool never really got started. After only one season in England, Paletta moved to Boca Juniors in an exchange deal with Emiliano Insua. Rating: 3/10
Fabio Aurelio—Free transfer from Valencia—The Brazilian full-back relished the opportunity to work with his former boss, Benitez.. Aurelio is still part of the Liverpool squad now, having racked up over 110 appearances. Despite suffering from injuries, Aurelio has been an important member of the team, with his most memorable goal coming from a free-kick against Manchester United at Old Trafford. At 31 years old, Aurelio might not have a long-term future with Liverpool, but he has been a great servant since arriving from Spain. Rating: 7/10
Dirk Kuyt—£9 million from Feyenoord—Ever since arriving at Anfield, Kuyt has had a place in the heart of the Kop. His tireless efforts week-in, week-out have ensured that he is a fan favourite. Being brought to Liverpool as a striker, Benitez was quick to move Kuyt to the right-wing where he has regularly been played since. In the 2008/09 season, Kuyt scored 15 goals from his right-sided position, his best haul since signing for Liverpool. Dirk Kuyt could have a starting berth in Liverpool's starting XI for some time to come. Rating: 8/10
Nabil El Zhar—Free transfer from Saint-Etiene—Moroccan El Zhar moved to Liverpool at a fairly young age, but now, aged 24, he has not managed to crack the first team and has been sent out on loan. Benitez insisted El Zhar was destined to be a star of the future but that confidence never materialized into a good enough player. The fact that El Zhar was signed on a free transfer is the only saving grace. Rating: 3/10
Alvaro Arbeloa—£3 million from Deportivo La Coruna—the Spanish full-back was a bargain signing in the January transfer window. Arbeloa immediately managed to stake a claim for a first-team place, often pushing Finnan to the bench. Arbeloa's good performances in Liverpool colours prompted interest from Real Madrid, who paid £4 million for him in 2009. Arbeloa was a solid defender, who provided a couple of years of good service. Rating: 7/10
Javier Mascherano—£18 million from "Unattached"—the Argentinian midfield star took a while to settle into his role at Anfield, but soon managed to forge a fantastic partnership with Xabi Alonso in the heart of Liverpool's midfield. Mascherano's aggression, tackling and energy levels mark him out as one of the world class midfielders in the world. In the summer of 2010, he signed for Barcelona for a reported £22 million. Liverpool would have hoped to have made a bigger profit on a player they saved from the wilderness when he was languishing on the bench for West Ham United. Rating: 9/10
Martin Hansen (Free transfer from Brondby)—Danish goalkeeper, currently playing for Liverpool reserves.
Astrit Ajdarevic (Free transfer from Falkensberg)—Unknown Ajdarevic never managed to emerge as a potential first-team player and moved to Leicester in January 2009.
Alex Cooper (£100k from Ross County)—Cooper is a member of the Liverpool youth squad.
Jordy Brouwer (Undisclosed from Ajax)—Brouwer never made it past the reserve squad and joined ADO Den Haag in 2011.
Francisco Duran (Undisclosed from Malaga)—Spanish youngster was released by Liverpool in July 2010.
Ronald Huth (Undisclosed from Tacuary—Huth never made it through the Liverpool youth system and was released. He now plays for Italian side, Vicenza.
Premier League: 3rd
FA Cup: 3rd Round
Champions League: Runners Up
League Cup: Quarter Finals
Community Shield: Winners
Overall Transfer Rating: 6/10 - out of six youngsters bought by the club four years ago, only two remain at Liverpool and they have little chance of pushing for a first team place. Major signings like Kuyt, Arbeloa and Mascherano added lasting strength and depth to the squad, but players like Bellamy and Gonzalez were not so successful and only lasted a single season at Anfield. Paletta and El Zhar were the main youth signings of the season, and as such, were given first-team opportunities. They turned out to be poor recruits, despite Benitez' insistence that they had bright futures.
Successes and Failures
In the first half of Rafa Benitez' reign as Liverpool manager, he made a number of changes to his squad. By the summer of 2007, most of the first-team players were different from that of his predecessor, Gerard Houllier. The mainstays were players such as Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia. All of those who were mainstays in the team through the 00s. Unfortunately for Benitez, not all the changes he made were successful. For every success like Dirk Kuyt, there was a failure like Nabil El Zhar. For every Daniel Agger, there was a Gabriel Paletta. And for every Xabi Alonso, there was also an Antonio Barragan.
These are just my opinions and ratings. I am interested to hear who everyone else thinks were the successes and failures of Benitez' first three seasons as Liverpool manager and whether you feel my ratings for certain players are too generous or too harsh.
Stay tuned for Part 2: 2007-2010.