The Rise and Fall of Rafa Benitez
With Lucas Leiva set to leave Liverpool FC for Lazio there will no longer by any players left at the club, who were managed by Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard is a beloved figure at Anfield but the state in which he left the club, even though not entirely his fault, has left a bitter taste in some supporters. The fans saw Benitez build a finely tuned football machine over 4 years only to see it fail to win any silverware and fall from what looked like a potential dynasty to mediocrity in a matter of one season. Lucas is perhaps the perfect illustration of this, with his only winners medal coming under King Kenny Dalglish after the Reds won the League cup in 2012, still the last piece of silverware to enter the Anfield trophy room. Looking back what can Jurgen Klopp and FSG learn from Rafa’s accomplishments and failures?
Depth is key
The last time LFC was a favorite to win the league was back in the summer of 2008. Rafa’s project was near completion, we had the best midfield in the world, a solid defense and an explosive attacking partnership of prime Steven Gerrard and prime Fernando Torres. Probably the best starting 11 LFC had for a while. El Nino had injury issues, which limited him to only 19 starts. Gerrard had problems on his own, missing 7 games. The players that came in from the bench weren’t exactly world beaters – Nabil El Zhar and David N’Gog made a combined 29 appearances. The Reds came in 4 points behind champions Manchester United, having only lost 2 games all season. The most subbed on players for United that season, by the way, were Ryan Giggs and Carlos Tevez.
One can argue, that the depth issue was never really resolved since than. It is hard to remember the last time LFC had a super sub that can change matches. Hopefully Daniel Sturrdige can provide that spark in the coming season. Jurgen Klopp and FSG are also taking steps into improving the this aspect the squad. Salah will move one of our starting midfielders to the bench to make room for Coutinho as a number 8. With two or three more starting quality singing to come until the end of August, fans ca expect to see a nice mixture of experience, youth and talent on the Liverpool bench.
A win against Stoke is as valuable as a win against Man United
11 draws in 2008/2009 cost us the long awaited league title and quite possibly lead to a domino effect that saw the Reds play in the Champions League only two times since. Jurgen Klopp and the current Liverpool squad learned that lesson last season – LFC won 2 points per game against the top 6, same as against the rest of the league. The only side to beat the Reds in the top 10 was Bournemouth. Towards the end of the season however Klopp changed tactics and the Reds managed to comfortably win the last two matches. The additional of Mo Salah will also help unlock defenses.
An internal power struggle never leads to good results
Rafa Benitez is a well known wanting to control all football related activities in the club, he is managing. We even see that in him as he prepares Newcastle for Premier League season following their promotion. At the end of his time at Anfield he was in a destructive war with the LFC board at the time, leading to bad transfer windows. The best example is the transfer of Robbie Keane, who only spent 6 months at Anfield, only to be sold back to Spurs for 2/3 of the fee LFC paid for him. It was a good thing social media wan’t really around at that time, people would have lost their sanity. Benitez was not backed by the thankfully now former owners when the squad at its best and needed a little boost to go over the top. The Spaniard himself had some questionable ideas. But the lack of structure in the club hurt us much more than anything Rafa did.
FSG themselves had a similar experience with Brendan Rodgers and the transfer committee. Looks like they have learned from it and at least at the moment everyone involved in the club is happy with the way things are done. There are still things to improve though (cough – cough Van Dijk). Jurgen Klopp is also used to working under a football director and not pulling all the strings. Overall the environment around the club feels positive for the first time in a while and that is a factor not to be underestimated.
Trust the system
While Jurgen Klopp’s and Rafa Benitez’ systems are as different as footballing philosophies can be they have one thing in common – it’s proven that they lead to success. The Spaniard never really managed to fully assemble a squad good enough and deep enough to go all the way but Liverpool were a feared opponent all over the continent from Madrid to Moscow. Klopp’s system can also take us there. The players seem to have fully bought into it. The supporters should do the same – believe!
You need a talisman
To go all the way, specially in today’s stacked league, you need to have a talismanic presence on the pitch. Someone who can make the Kop bounce in anticipation just by touching the ball, someone like Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres or Luis Suarez. Benitez managed to get the best out of Captain Fantastic and El Nino. While none of the current players can claim that status, Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho showed us glimpses of that last season and we should expect more of that in the coming year.
End of an era
Lucas is the perfect player to embody Rafa Benitez’ time at Anfield past his early success. He is a central midfielder who came in young and was turned into a defensive midfielder. He was good, even great defensively before injuries stalled his career. Offensively he is nothing special. He could have won more trophies had it not been for incompetent owners. The Brazilian is beloved by the supporters even though he has his flaws. Hopefully the player that will best represent Jurgen Klopp’s time in Merseyside will have a few more medal to go with the love of the Kopities.