Liverpool FC: The 5 Worst Transfers of the Rafa Benitez Era
I should probably start by saying that I have never been, and never will be, a fan of Rafa Benitez.
During the summer of 2004, it was very clear who Liverpool should appoint as their new manager.
A man who had just had incredible success at a club nobody fancied to reach the heights they did. A man who openly begged to be given the job. That man was Jose Mourinho.
Instead, the Liverpool board went for Rafa Benitez.
My reasons for being unsure about Benitez were that he had first of all inherited an excellent team from Hector Cuper at Valencia and with just a couple of additions had taken them from contenders to champions.
There was no doubting his tactical ability, but some of his transfers at Valencia had been questionable and it remained to be seen if he was capable of building his own team which was something he would need to do if he was to bring sustained success to Liverpool.
The second reason I felt he may not be a good appointment was the sheer hatred directed toward him by his players at Valencia. This was a man his own players openly despised, and while people in certain quarters claimed he would bring the likes of Ayala and Aimar with him, both of those players were known to have serious personal issues with Benitez.
The final reason was the most worrying to me. Rafa was leaving Valencia after losing a power struggle, and the Valencia president referred to him as both power hungry and self obsessed.
Now I'm not saying I could see into the future or that I knew that these things would happen, but the failure to win anything with the team he built, his disgraceful treatment of certain players, as well as key members of his own backroom staff, and his power hungry battle to attain increasing control at Liverpool are what brought about his downfall.
There was also his incredible refusal to accept any blame for anything that went wrong during his time in charge.
Bad signings, someone elses fault. Poor performances, someone elses fault. Anything good was all down to Rafa, anything bad was down to someone else. Even when he was the only one in charge.
Of course, he did bring success initially. Nobody will ever forget the Champions League Rafa delivered, and regardless of the numerous occasions when Liverpool seemed lucky rather than good during that run, nobody can deny that it was his tactical nous and the signings of Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia added to the team built by Gerard Houllier that won the trophy for Liverpool.
He made a couple of additions in the summer of 2005 and followed up the Champions League with the FA Cup in 2006. That would however be the last trophy Liverpool won under Benitez.
After that, he began to assemble his own team in a bizarre manner, buying short-term solutions until the long term ones caught his eye, signings players to play them out of position and selling players to replace them with lesser ones.
Benitez failed to win a single honour at Liverpool with the team he built, although he really should have delivered the '08/'09 Premier League title. One can only point the finger at Rafa for that failure.
Liverpool were by far the best team in the league that season. Rafa's ridiculous and ill-timed rant at Alex Ferguson and his refusal to play Robbie Keane when Liverpool clearly needed him cost Liverpool the title with a very poor run in January.
Still though, Liverpool should have been primed to win the title the following season until Rafa embarked on one of the worst transfer windows any fan can remember, selling Alonso and replacing him with an injured player and wasting a staggering amount of money on Glen Johnson when Alvaro Arbeloa, also sold, was a far better defender and was coming off an excellent year.
A year later, Benitez was gone, and Liverpool were a mess. Javier Mascherano left the club after being mistreated by Benitez for the majority of the previous season and was soon followed by Fernando Torres, sick of broken promises during and after the Benitez era.
A lot of you may not agree with what I've just said, holding Rafa on a pedestal because of the CL success, but I write it how I see it.
Rafa's record in the transfer market was sketchy at best, and some of the moves were so bad that they really made you gasp, as the man himself appears to doing in the above picture.
On top of the transfers I have listed the following signings also rank as poor: Josemi, Ryan Babel, Peter Crouch, Andrea Dossena, Jermaine Pennant, Craig Bellamy, Sebastian Leto, Jan Kromkamp, The Greek Tragedy, David Ngog, Philip Degen, Charles Itandje, Mauricio Pellegrino.
There were also a couple of questionable sales, such as John Arne Riise's departure to Roma, Stephen Warnock's sale to Blackburn and the Michael Owen sale, which although inevitable really should have brought a greater return.
And finally, the sale of Alvaro Arbeloa which was widely forgotten about in the wake of the Alonso deal but in my opinion was almost as damaging to the team as his departure weakened the defense severely. The defense was of course what all of Rafa's success had been built on.
No. 5: Glen Johnson
I'm sure this one will be seen as a controversial choice, but simply, this list had to include Glen Johnson just because of the price involved.
Johnson is the third most expensive right-back of all time. Only Dani Alves and Sergio Ramos cost more.
Alves is the greatest attacking fullback on the planet and does a decent job defensively. Ramos is a superb defender who adds his fair share of goals and provides quality support going forward.
Johnson is classified as an "attacking fullback." This would seem to imply that he adds massively to Liverpool's attacks and tots up goals and assists at an impressive rate. Unfortunately this is not the case.
Since his move to Liverpool, Johnson has managed only five goals and five assists in Premier League. In that same period of time, Alves has eight goals and 19 assists.
For those who will claim that Alves plays in an easier league for attackers, in Serie A, which is unquestionably more defensive, Maicon has managed seven goals and 19 assists.
I would also put forward the argument that both of those players, as well as being far better and more productive than Johnson forward are better defensively than he is.
Sergio Ramos, for those interested has eight goals and eight assists in the same period and is a defense first fullback who's clearly better than Johnson at the back.
From the day Glen Johnson arrived at Liverpool, he has caused problems for his own defense.
The once rock-solid Jamie Carragher began to look finished as he struggled to cover not only his own position but Johnson's as well. It was no surprise that upon Johnson's removal from the right-back position last season, Carragher's performances improved massively.
Liverpool's defense went from being one of the best in the league to a pretty average one upon Johnson's arrival. His inability to get back into position, lack of awareness and poor positional sense have cost Liverpool massively since his arrival.
I would accept this as a hazard of having a fantastic attacking fullback if that was what Johnson was. But he's not.
If you want someone to run blindly down the flank and win you a throw in or corner, then Johnson is your man. If you want someone who can create and score goals and become a playmaker from the right back position, look elsewhere.
For the type of money Liverpool paid for Johnson they could have bought a far superior fullback who would offer more at either end of the pitch. There are so many superior fullbacks it doesn't even warrant a list.
I'm sure there will be the few who will claim his place as England's right-back in someway validates him, but it doesn't. He's in the team by default. England haven't had any other rightbacks of note over the last couple of years.
Thankfully for England, and Liverpool, Martin Kelly is ready to play on a regular basis and should, without question, take Johnson's role for the coming season. Dalglish and Hodgson both showed a preference for him over Johnson at right-back last season, and hopefully Fabio Capello will soon follow suit.
Again, I accept that people may not agree with this choice, but with the price, the poor performances, the lack of production and the damage caused to the Liverpool defense, I couldn't have leave him out.
No. 4: Robbie Keane
A fiasco. I can think of no other term to describe Robbie Keane's time at Liverpool.
In July 2008, Rafa Benitez splashed out £19 million to bring Robbie Keane to Liverpool from Tottenham Hotspur. Keane was coming off a very good season for Spurs, had a very solid career behind him and was a proven goalscorer and creator at the highest level.
Liverpool fans were excited at the thoughts of his link-up with Fernando Torres who had already established himself as the best striker in the Premier League. The pairing were seen as the right duo to fire Liverpool to the title.
With a midfield trio of Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano which was without question the best around and a solid defense behind them along with the best goalkeeper in the league, Liverpool seemed to finally have the team in place to finally end their barren spell.
Worryingly, Rafa made a bizarre comment about Keane's ability to play not only upfront "but also on the right."
Now Keane had, very early in his career, played a few games on the right wing, but he was clearly bought for his performances as a striker. If Benitez wanted a right winger which would enable Steven Gerrard to play a central role behind Torres, then why didn't he sign one?
Surely £19 million would have bought him practically any right winger he may have coveted.
Keane did, unquestionably, struggle at the start of his Liverpool career, but for me there were enough signs to suggest that the understanding between himself and Torres was something that could definitely become something very special.
Unfortunately Rafa didn't see it that way and began to leave Keane out of the team. Even with Liverpool desperate for goals, Keane simply couldn't get any decent playing time. Rafa began to make strange comments about not actually wanting to sign Keane and how signing Keane was only part of his plan if he could also sign Gareth Barry.
Keane's faith seemed sealed and at the end of the winter transfer window, he was shipped back to Spurs at a significant loss.
I fully believe that Robbie Keane could have been a very good player for Liverpool, but he makes this list because of Rafa's handling of him and his transfers, rather than anything he did wrong himself.
No. 3: Antonio Nunez
When Liverpool entered into talks with Real Madrid over the sale of Michael Owen, there were rumours abound that Liverpool would receive a player plus cash for the want-away England striker.
Samuel Eto'o and Fernando Morientes were two of the name being linked. In the end, Rafa Benitez returned with Antonio Nunez to a chorus of "Who?" from the Liverpool faithful.
Looking back, they probably would have preferred not to have found out. Blessed with nothing that resembled footballing ability, Nunez was a shocking player who contributed nothing to Liverpool's season other than scoring his one and only goal for the club in the Carling Cup final loss to Chelsea, yet somehow he managed to blag his way onto the bench for the 2005 Champions League.
A truly awful player, Nunez is unquestionably one of the worst players to ever wear a Liverpool jersey and that earns him the No. 3 spot on this list.
No. 2: Alberto Aquilani
First of all, let me say that I think Alberto Aquilani is a fantastic player, and I think he should be one of the first names on the teamsheet for this coming season.
A wonderfully gifted player, he has the vision and passing ability to be one of the best players in the Premier League.
He makes it onto this list due to the circumstances surrounding his arrival. Liverpool had just sold Xabi Alonso and were looking for a replacement to come into the midfield and pull the strings and dictate the tempo.
On paper, Aquilani was the ideal choice. In reality it was a disastrous choice. Having just had major surgery on an ankle injury Aquilani was facing a long spells on the sidelines when Rafa made his move. Rafa gave a bizarre press conference to announce the signing.
First of all, he announced that Aquilani would be back within six weeks from the beginning of the season. It didn't take a doctor to tell you that there was no chance that was the case, and it proved so as it was 11 weeks (weeks, not games) into the seasons before Aqua was fit enough to make an appearance.
Rafa also referred to an England vs Italy U-21 game which Aqua had scored twice in and been the best player on the pitch during a 3-3 draw. No such game had happened, so Rafa was either delusional or just telling lies.
It was not a great way for Aquilani's Liverpool career to start.
It didn't get much better from there as he was over-trained in an attempt to rush him into the team as Liverpool's season fell apart and continued to suffer minor injuries which impeded his progress.
When he did manage to get on the field, his class was evident to everyone, except Rafa. He was never given a good run of games in the team, and because of that, Liverpool fans began to view him as a flop.
A quick look at the facts dismiss that idea however, nine games, six assists, one goal and four Man of the Match awards. I don't care who you're talking about, those stats are impressive.
Although Aquilani is a fantastic player and will hopefully go on to become a Liverpool great if Kenny Dalglish decides to keep him after a very impressive preseason, he makes it onto this list purely because of the stupidity of Rafa Benitez.
How many examples did he need to be shown to convince him that it's never a good idea to sign an injured player, especially at such a critical time for your club when you've just sold one of your best and most important players.
No. 1: Xabi Alonso
Obviously I'm not talking about the signing of Xabi Alonso which is clearly one of the best moves Rafa made at Liverpool.
The reason I named these articles "5 Worst Transfers" rather than "5 Worst Signings" was simply so that the No. 1 spot on Rafa's list could go to the sale of Xabi Alonso.
Unless you've been living in a cave, you know the story. Rafa tried to force Alonso out of the club in the summer of 2008, so he could replace him with Gareth Barry, a player not qualified to make Alonso a sandwich, never mind replace him at the heart of the Liverpool midfield.
Alonso refused to leave and responded to the incredible disrespect he'd been shown by having the season of his career. A season in which he was without question the best player in England and the fact that he won neither the PFA or Writer's Player of the Year awards is one of the biggest farces in the history of both of those awards.
So how did Rafa repay Alonso for his brilliant season? He decided to get rid of him again! Only this time, Alonso was in a much stronger position and in much greater demand.
Real Madrid were reforming the Galactico's with a new cast, and they were desperate for Alonso. Xabi decided that since he didn't feel wanted at Liverpool, it was in his best interests to make the move.
Real offered not only huge amounts of money for him but gave Benitez a long list of players in which he could have any he wanted in order to seal the deal. One specific offer was Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and £5 million, basically £40 million, for Alonso.
Rafa turned that down and bizarrely settled for £30 million in cash. How that was a better deal only Rafa knows.
This deal turned out to be the beginning of the end for Benitez at Liverpool. Twelve months later he was sacked, and if you're looking for one specific moment when things fell apart for him, look no further than his disgraceful treatment of Alonso and his botched handling of the transfer that saw Alonso leave Liverpool.
For that reason, the sale of Xabi Alonso is No. 1 on my list of the worst transfers made by Rafa Benitez at Liverpool.
So there you have it, my list of the five worst transfers made by Rafa Benitez during his spell as Liverpool manager, and I can honestly say it was very difficult to pick a couple of them because there were so many possible candidates.
In the final edition of this series, I will be counting down the five worst transfers of the Hodgson era.
Thanks for reading. Hope you've enjoyed.
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