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Time up for Rafa?

Our man at the match gives his view on last weekend's big football story: This time: Liverpool, the FA Cup defeat and all bets off on Mourinho

Published on February 22nd 2008.

Time up for Rafa?

HALFWAY through the FA Cup and Champions’ League double header that will define the rest of Liverpool’s season and, possibly, Rafa Benitez’s Anfield tenure, things aren’t looking good for the Bearded One.

Unceremoniously dumped out of the former by a team with only two previous away wins this season, and out of the title race by spring, yet again, Liverpool’s entire campaign could hinge on Tuesday night’s game with Inter at Anfield.

A leading bookmaker refused my £10 bet
on the former
Chelsea boss being Liverpool’s next manager. Interesting

Regardless of the result against the side currently running away with Serie A, the seemingly untouchable Spaniard must be beginning to feel quite uncomfortable.

The vitriol of the Kop has, thus far, been aimed almost exclusively at the club’s American owners. But increasing numbers of non-Reds are asking questions about Benitez, and his faithful subjects in the stands should be too.

With their rivals from across Stanley Park still ahead in the fight for fourth place, Liverpool might have to rely on winning the Champions League to ensure their entry into next season’s competition.

With the cost of the new stadium seemingly rising every day, Liverpool can ill-afford to miss out on Europe’s premier club competition next term. Benitez’s many supporters will point to the trophies he has brought the club since he replaced Gerard Houllier in 2004. The first, and probably the principal reason for his continued employment, is the 2005 Champions League.

The Istanbul victory came just a year after his appointment. Benitez had had little time to put stamp his own mark on the club - the team that beat Milan on penalties was Houllier’s. And Steven Gerrard was the catalyst for the team’s brilliant comeback – not the manager.

The 2006 FA Cup final was, like the Champions League victory, settled on penalties. Rafa’s other two cup triumphs – the European Super Cup and the Community Shield – are nothing more the glorified friendlies.

And Liverpool are still as far away, if not further away, from winning the Premier League than they have been for many seasons. The fact his side are out of the running for the league just two thirds of the way through the season is a damning indictment on Benitez, especially with the hefty wads of other people’s money he’s spent building a squad.

Much has been made of the Spaniard’s penchant for “rotating” his players. Arguments for keeping players fresh and injury-free can be accepted when a team is doing well. But there is little doubt the Faffer’s frequent, whimsical changes are costing the club.

When your backup players are as good as Chelsea’s or Man United’s, Mr Benitez, then you can leave your stars out and not be made to look foolish. Arrogant team selections embarrassed the club and the fan’s against Luton and Havant and Waterlooville in the earlier rounds of the cup, and should have acted as a wake-up call.

Instead the man the fans call The Real Special One could be sleep-walking towards the Jobcentre.

The fact he left Gerrard and Fernando Torres out of his side on Saturday, the latter – the club’s record signing – not even named among the substitutes, just goes to show the Faffer hasn’t learnt his lesson.

Liverpool have dropped Premier League points on several occasions this season by resting the wrong players at the wrong times. They wouldn’t have won the league anyway, but it could cost them fourth place. And the fact the manager doesn’t appear to know his best team after four years in charge should be a cause of major consternation to even the staunchest Rafarite.

An interesting sub-plot to the soap opera which could give Brookside a run for its money is the Mourinho link. Unsubstantiated it may be. But inconceivable? No. After Saturday’s result, a leading high street bookmaker refused my £10 bet on the former Chelsea boss being Liverpool’s next manager. Interesting.

Discounting his apparent shortcomings you’d have to have a vehement dislike of Benitez not to admit he has been treated shabbily by owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, who inexplicably admitted holding talks with former Germany boss Jurgen Klinsmann about becoming Liverpool’s new manager behind the the current imcumbent’s back.

And the ongoing uncertainty over the future of the club at board level can’t be helping on field affairs either. Should, as the fans so wish, the Dubai consortium swoops in to save the club from Team America, they may well have their own man lined up to take over. Benitez might be better off out of it after all. The taxi may already be on its way, but who’s to say it wasn’t Rafa who rang it?

I wonder whether he’ll bid his old foe Jose good luck if he bumps into him.

“Old Red-Blue Eyes”

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

BullyFebruary 18th 2008.

How naive to think that Jose would want to go to Liverpool when Barcelona will be managerless in the summer. So the choice is between a club that is in the Champions League with some of the best talent in the world whom he had worked for before. Or a Liverpool team who will probably be in the UEFA cup with a failing team supported by fans who reported him to the police for inciting them to give him abuse. It's a tough choice.

DoddyFebruary 18th 2008.

Another season nowhere near the league leaders. Humiliated in the FA Cup. Even if we win the Champions League, it's time for to bring in a manager who acutally knows what he's doing. That's

Jim McCabeFebruary 18th 2008.

Ahem, I did, of course, mean to predict a 2-0 victory to Liverpool ;-)

TV KellyFebruary 18th 2008.

I don't think Liverpool are as good as they used to be. Mind you I don't think lots of things are as good as they used to be. But one thing I do know is that Benitez is steeped in "The Liverpool Way" and very much in the same mould as Liverpool's illustrious managers, great leaders of men like Souness, Houllier, Evans. Here's hoping they pull off a shock giant-killing act this evening.

FrankFebruary 18th 2008.

I am a blue girl but I would become a red overnight if Jose came here. Sexy networking here we come!

gwladys streetFebruary 18th 2008.

to be honest i was hoping for some righteous ranting here but even yr web pages have all the humour of a stevie g interview

Jim McCabeFebruary 18th 2008.

Gillett & Hicks' mendacity is now clear for all to see. I had my suspicions about them as far back as the press conference to announce their arrival last year. It's a pity that David Moores was suckered by the duo & paid off with £90m. However, the boardroom turmoil has obscured Rafa's shortcomings. The rotation policy might work with better squads, but not with a largely mediocre Liverpool outfit. I hope I'm wrong, but it's difficult to see anything other than a comfortable win for Inter tonight. Prediction: 0-2.

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