I am not Irish. No I don't live near any part of Great Britain. And I definitely don't subscribe the newspaper The Irish Times or daily visit their site for my daily news fodder. But after the passing second millennium the Internet has become a tool for producing rather 'out of the blue' results.
And so on 15th of December my search of Rafa Benitez gave me a result of Andy Hunter's “Benitez baffles the faithful” from the Irish Times. One read would be enough to ravage any of Liverpool's spirit to challenge for the title. The description of our latest comeback and Rafa's decisions against Premiership new boys Hull was quite deploring.
Let alone the fact that Liverpool pulled two points clear of Chelsea and avoided their first league home defeat since Man Utd's triumph 1-0 at Anfield on 16th of December 2007.
Overall the piece described Rafa as an arrogant and an erroneous manager whose tactics are not only peculiar but are quite flawed. And if that was not enough Hunter goes on to say that these flawed tactics do work as they did at Istanbul. But how much does Mr.Hunter know about Benitez? Or how much research and observation did he do before slapping Rafa with the Flawed Tactician Tag and an Arrogant personality insult?
David Prentice, Liverpool Echo's Columnist, noted in his column—after our success against Man Utd—that Ryan Babel's winner against Manchester United was the 50th occasion Rafa had brought on a player who had scored.
A tactician's part is not only sending out the right team but also bring in effective changes as the momentum of the match sometimes strays away from our plans. But only the right assessment of the flow of the game would result in a effective change. The manager would have to pick out the right player whose abilities would have positive influence for his team like Babel did on match day three.
So is Benitez flawed in the tactics department ? Certainly not. We all remember 25th may 2005 for being the greatest comeback against Europe's best. But we certainly forget the fact that it was the half time substitution of Dietmar Hamann, who did not take a penalty in the shootout let alone score in the match, that stopped Milan's domination of midfield.
Such was Hamann's influence on the game that the vital supply link between the midfield and the forward was disrupted within the few minutes of his introduction.
We all know what proceeded later which was christened as the "Six minutes of madness." And so our fifth European Success—with the final being regarded as the greatest game the competition had witnessed—Mr.Hunter, so methodically, in a highly frivolous manner labeled the success as an accident.
If his tactical brilliance is flawed then Messi's beleaguered look after the final whistle ,at Camp Nou on 21st of Feb 2006, was enough to prove how wrong Mr.Hunter is. Liverpool would comeback from behind to defeat the then title holders Barcelona at Camp Nou.
But the brilliance was of playing ,the then recent signing, right back Alvaro Arbeloa in a left back position. The reason being quite simple. Messi had the tendency to cut his runs towards the center of the field and Alvaro's stronger right foot could stop it.
Arbeloa kept Messi quiet during both legs of the round of 16. Liverpool would knock Barca out of the competition en route to another Champions League final in three years of Benitez charge.
Labeling Benitez with Arrogant tag would even make Mourinho blush. Mourinho's ,of not shaking hands with the Liverpool boss after the teams match, was one of the hotly covered controversy. Successful he might have been but in the end Mourinho could not cope up with his over confident and pompous attitude towards his team being the best and his team being world class.
Chelsea were and are still a world class team but sometimes even great teams fail to produce results. And that was the Inter boss's downfall at his former club.
Compare the the post match interviews of Rafa with other league managers and you get to know by his tone and speech that the manager still knows his feet are still supported by the earth. The manager never points out a single star performer of the match—even if the player single handedly put his team out on top—but credits the whole team.
Rafa's philosophy revolves around loyalty, discipline, hard work, and sincerity towards football. No wonder the team has been able to turn around matches from losing positions about seven times this season alone.
Yes it might be argued that the wrong team was sent out but changes are as crucial when desperate measures are required to get points out of matches.
But this also involves the collective character of the team to bring about the change. As Rafa himself stated some seasons back that they were not looking for stars but players who had the winning mentality with the right approach to the game. All Individuals at Liverpool whether the back room staff or the players share the common ideology “Winning.”
Thats the kind of players and staff that are being transferred in to Liverpool since his arrival. Since then it's been revolution with the club moving in the right direction and after 4 years of toiling the first spells of success are being envisioned.
Ever seen Rafa jump around or exult or even showing the slightest emotion when Liverpool score. No punches or no running on the pitch has ever been witnessed by any fan or captured by any live video archive.
When Liverpool scored the second goal through Garcia against Juve everyone associated with Liverpool—including me—were relishing the moment. But Rafa was at his feet—not because of the goal—but instructing players to get back to their positions before the restart. I still remember Martin Tyler's exclamation that Rafa Benitez is the only person associated with Liverpool FC who is not wearing a smile on his face.
Rafa has the ability, that most managers don't possess, to keep himself level headed even during the most electrically charged atmosphere.
The first Champions League Semi Final against Chelsea at Anfield was quite a test for the players , the fans and staff but after the fourth minute strike Anfield exploded but a glance of Benitez would have suggested as if everything was normal during that time.
If that wasn't it then the game against Olympikos was another insight into Benitez's calm demeanor. Gerrard's pile driver sent Anfield wild with celebration. The emotion was so infectious that Benitez was even hugged by a steward and a pat on the back was the compliment.
Being calm and level headed gives you an edge as a clear mind can make a better assessment of the game and get the better judgment out of a person. And Benitez has mastered this art certainly no wonder Benitez has never had any touch line bans or has displayed a celebration antic in his charge of Liverpool.
Manager's know the best for their teams not critics. Rafa's decision of not playing Keano has to be respected because he knew what the situation demanded against Hull.
Positive criticism is always accepted. But criticism for the sake of it—like one of many by Mr.Hunter—is not at all wanted. Mr.Hunter gets paid for the reporting not for managing so people expect that his pieces get the credit of every dime of what he earns.
Let's hope in the near future we don't have to deal to this sort of balderdash and hope people like Andy Hunter receive our voices of dissent.
So Mr. Hunter are you listening?