“Liverpool is like an island, it is different to the rest of England.” The creator of last month’s Sea Odyssey wasn’t far wrong; in Liverpool we have a different mentality, a different way of doing things. It’s rare that an outsider enters the city and relates to the people on their level, indeed immerses himself in the culture and becomes one of the people. In 2004 an overweight Spaniard arrived on Merseyside to manage Liverpool football club and now, two years after having his contract ‘mutually terminated’, remains in the area, desperate for an opportunity to finish the job that he was unable to finish due to club politics. Unfortunately, these politics still look set to block the fans’ choice from returning as manager to finish the project that he was only just beginning to implement.
In his six year tenure as manager, Rafa Benitez made us dream. The ‘miracle’ of Istanbul needs no description, but the real miracle was the consistency with which his team played in the rounds preceding the final at the Ataturk. Liverpool’s squad was bad, in the last 40 years better only than the one that Roy Hodgson left in January 2011. Yet Benitez instilled a sense of belief and, perhaps more significantly, had the brains and tactical awareness to defeat teams far superior to his. The 2004-05 season remains as a surreal memory etched on the minds of Liverpool fans, it can only be described as a dream and it was Rafa Benitez that allowed our imaginations to run away with us, he allowed us to dream of being the greatest team in Europe, and he made those dreams come true.
Whilst the European Cup will forever be the pinnacle for Liverpool Football Club, it also desperately craves that elusive 19th league title. For the moment at least, that is the real dream. Benitez came closer to realizing that dream than any manager since the outgoing Kenny Dalglish last won the trophy in 1990. If it wasn’t for arguably the best of all Ferguson’s Manchester United teams coinciding with Liverpool’s 2008-09 season then Benitez could have had the Liverpool job for life. He was three points from immortality. He was a weaker year from joining the ranks of Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish. Liverpool’s points total would have won the league in almost any other year.
In May 2009 it was impossible to imagine any other man managing our football club. But at that time the depths of ineptitude, crookery and deceit of our American owners was hidden under the surface, when it’s depth emerged it would be Rafa Benitez that would fall as the biggest victim. Internal bickering led to out and out war. As Hicks and Gillett conspired to destroy Liverpool Football Club, the working conditions for the manager became impossible and results inevitably suffered. Rather than capitalizing on the club’s position after finishing a close second, the owners attempted to bleed the club of all that it was worth and it spiraled downwards towards mediocrity and almost non-existence.
Sadly, many fans failed to recognize the club’s situation. Blinded by below-parr performances and results on the pitch they campaigned for the genius of Rafa Benitez to be replaced. Eventually he was, by the delusional, incapable and infuriating Roy Hodgson. What followed requires no explanation, and now Liverpool Football Club is at a cross-roads; the next managerial appointment will shape the club for a considerable number of years. It is no time for giving promising young managers a chance, it is no time for rewarding a manager for saving Wigan from relegation, it is time for a proven manager with experience to continue the stabilization process and guide Liverpool through the vital years ahead. Liverpool is the pinnacle, not a learning curve for Martinez or Rodgers.
If only there was a European Cup winning manager living in the Merseyside area. If only there was a manager that loved Liverpool Football Club as well as having proved himself to be wholly capable of doing the job. Now is the perfect opportunity to allow Rafa Benitez to finish the job that he started. His legacy is obvious, the academy that he overhauled is producing the sort of talents that can break into the first team and his mentality resonates through the players that he left behind.
Let’s talk about facts. After his dismissal Rafa Benitez donated £96,000 to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign; he cares. He won the European Cup and finished runner up in the Premier League; he is capable. He galvanized a beaten team on the brink of failure; he believes. His tactics repeatedly allowed his team to win when his was an inferior team; he thinks. But does his attitude and reputation worry Fenway Sports Group and the business men behind the scenes at Anfield? If so, it’s irrelevant to the fans who want to see a winning football team. However, American owners want to make money and other candidates will provide greater commercial opportunity.
There is a mutual affinity and respect between Benitez and the Liverpool fans. “Before, I said that they were maybe the best supporters in England. Now maybe they are the best supporters in Europe,” he said in 2005. He understands the relationship between the fans and the players and is able to transmit what it means to wear a red shirt: “To work hard and have our supporters behind us and believing until the end, you run a little bit more.” The adulation thrown at Benitez from the fans, many of whom will surely regret that they wished him out of the club in 2010, speaks for itself. Scousers recognize someone who is one of there own, and albeit like an adopted son, Rafa was one such person.
At this point in time, we need a manager with the fans backing. We need a manager that is experienced and capable at the very top level. We need a manager that knows how the club works and what is expected of him and the team. Benitez fits the footballing criteria but sadly doesn’t fit FSG’s commercial mould and will certainly not be appointed as the next manager of Liverpool Football Club. Whoever replaces Kenny Dalglish can rely on the full backing of Liverpool fans, at least the supporters that matter, and will hopefully be granted ample time to be successful.
We can only imagine what it will be like to be managed by Roberto Martinez, but every night we can dream about Rafa Benitez as Liverpool manager.