In light of Liverpool’s struggles this season, Rafael Benitez currently experiencing more criticism from his own fans than ever before. Liverpool’s record in the UEFA Champions League up until now is still enough to conclusively show that the Spaniard is one of the best in the world at negotiating his way through Europe’s top competition. But the lack of quality in the squad is as painfully evident as it was when Benitez arrived at Anfield, and barring a strong 2nd placed finish last season, he has been unable to bring a Premier League title any closer than either Gerard Houllier or Roy Evans did during their tenures.
There are lots of examinations of Benitez’s record in the transfer market currently doing the rounds on the internet, so for the record here is mine:
£10.7m – Xabi Alonso: Possibly the best deep-lying playmaker in the world.
£6m – Luis Garcia: Scored some wonderful goals and provided the unexpected at a reasonable price.
£0.75m – Scott Carson: A good young reserve goalkeeper.
£2m – Josemi: No pace, no skill, fouled a lot. A very poor signing.
£1.5m – Antonio Nunez: The reasons for including him in the Owen deal remain unclear. He was clearly not good enough to play for Liverpool.
Free – Pelligrino: Never adjusted, total misjudgement. A poor signing even for free.
£6.3m – Fernando Morientes: Never settled, poor signing ultimately, but nobody could have predicted that.
Total bought: £27.25m
Free – Marcus Babbel
£2.5m – Danny Murphy: For a lowly £2.5m, Benitez should have tried to keep him in my opinion.
£8.5m – Michael Owen
Free – Stephane Henchoz
Total sold: £11m
2004/05 net spend: £16.25m
Losing a world-class striker at the age of 25 for £11m had a catastrophic effect on the squad. Benitez made the decision that balancing the midfield was a priority, but this left Liverpool without a single top-class striker in their ranks.
Although Alonso and Garcia were great signings who played a key role in the European Cup success, other players Benitez brought in contributed equally to our dismal domestic season.
Free – Boudewijn Zenden
£6m – Pepe Reina: Terrific signing. World class keeper bought with at least a decade of football in him, all for a very reasonable price.
£5.6m – Momo Sissoko: Eventually lost out to injuries and competition from Mascherano, but was worth the fee paid.
£7m – Peter Crouch: To the surprise of many (including me), Peter Crouch’s time at Liverpool was a success.
£5.8m – Daniel Agger: Injuries have prevented him from being a fantastic signing. Still decent value.
Free – Robbie Fowler: “Pay as you play” – no risk. A disappointment but worth a go.
£4.5m – Mark Gonzalez: Had pace and came with a reputation for scoring goals from the wing, but never settled into the UK’s style of football.
Exchange – Jan Kromkamp: Swapped for Josemi. Another budget attempt to provide competition at right-back was unsuccessful.
Total bought: £28.9m
Free – Vladimir Smicer
£3.5m – El Hadji Diouf
Free – Pellegrino
£2m – Alou Diarra
£2m – Antonio Nunez
£6.5m – Milan Baros
Exchange – Josemi
Total sold: £14m
2005/06 net spend: £14.9m
Benitez’s dealings were mainly effective and he seemed to be quick to recognise his own mistakes in Josemi and Nunez. Good work overall.
£6m – Craig Bellamy: Value for money and sold at a profit (£7.5m).
£9m – Dirk Kuyt: Great signing.
£2.5m – Alvaro Arbeloa: Great signing, sold to Real for profit (£3.5m). Shouldn’t have been allowed to leave ideally.
Loan – Javier Mascherano: Great loan signing which put us in pole position to secure his transfer.
£2m – Gabriel Palletta: Waste of time and should never have been given a game. Poor signing.
Free – Fabio Aurelio: Injuries have prevented him from being a great free transfer, but Rafa did know all about his injury problems before he came.
£6.7m – Jermaine Pennant: Bad choice, and badly man-managed. The collapse of the deals for Simao and Alves were not Benitez’s fault, but his solution to the problem failed miserably.
Total bought: £26.2m
£1.5m – Bruno Cheyrou.
£3m – Fernando Morientes
Free – Didi Hamann
£2m – Djimi Traore
£500,000 – Neil Mellor
£1.75m – Jan Kromkamp
£1.5m – Steven Warnock: A very poor bit of business.
Free – Salif Diao
Total sold: £8.75m
2006/07 net spend: £17.45m
A very mixed bag of transfer deals off the field saw the team’s league challenge on the pitch slide backwards.
£6m – Lucas Leiva: Made sense to acquire a young winner of Brazil’s Golden Ball, but he’s been average value for money so far.
£20.2m – Fernando Torres: One of the world’s best strikers for a quarter of the price Real Madrid paid for Cristiano Ronaldo.
£5m – Yossi Benayoun: Excellent value for money.
£1.3m – Emiliano Insua: A good early signing, will hopefully settle into a world class full-back but still very much a work in progress.
£6.5m – Martin Skrtel: Value for money (although an alarming dip in form threatens that).
£18.6m – Javier Mascherano: Completion of loan deal
£1.8m – Sebastian Leto: Never looked good enough for Liverpool.
Free – Andriy Voronin: Worth a punt for free, but things haven’t worked out for him.
£11.5m – Ryan Babel: Possibly the most talented yet inconsistent player I’ve ever seen play for Liverpool. Expensive, badly utilised, under performing. Not good at all.
Undisclosed – Charles Itandje: Not good enough for Liverpool. Now released.
Total bought: £71,425,000
£2.7m – Florent Simana-Pongolle
Free – Jerzy Dudek
Free – Zenden
Free – Robbie Fowler
£4m – Luis Garcia
£6m – Djibril Cisse
£7.5m – Craig Bellamy
£3.5m – Mark Gonzalez
£1.2m – Gabriel Palletta
£3.5m – Chris Kirkland
£8.2m – Momo Sissoko
Total sold: £36.5m
2007/08 net spend: £34,925,000
Benitez was given more money to spend than he’d had at his disposal before. And for the most part he used it pretty well. Torres and Mascherano are world class. But having spent that money, Benitez came under pressure for the first time when the league title seemed no nearer.
£8m – Albert Riera: Good value and adds balance on the left flank, but poor man-management seems to be causing an issue.
£1.5m – David N’gog
Free – Philip Degen: Came with a reputation for being injury prone and has been constantly injured. In conjunction with the subsequent sale of Finnan, a very poor bit of business.
£7m – Andrea Dossena: Dreadful.
£3.5m – Diego Cavalieri: If the transfer fee is correct then it is poor business.
£19m – Robbie Keane: A total fiasco.
Total bought: £39m
£4m – John Arne Riise
Free – Harry Kewell
£11m – Peter Crouch: Should not have been allowed to leave.
£2.25m – Danny Guthrie
£3.25m – Scott Carson: Benitez dithered on the deal and lost money as a result.
£1m – Steve Finnan: Should have been kept on.
£16m – Robbie Keane
£1.5m – Jack Hobbs
Total sold: £36.5m
2008/09 net spend: £2.5m
Although Benitez cannot be expected to revitalise a squad for £2.5m, the 08/09 season saw some dreadful business. The decision to sell Crouch and replace him with Keane was a catastrophic blunder. Benitez was all for replacing Alonso with Barry also, sowing the seeds for his eventual departure, awful. Although Liverpool actually mounted their strongest title challenge in over a decade, the squad’s quality overall took a big step back.
£17.5m – Glen Johnson
£17.1m – Alberto Aquilani
£2m – Sotirios Kyrgiakos
Total bought: £36.6m
£250,000 – Paul Anderson
Free – Jermaine Pennant
£3m – Sebastian Leto
£3.5m – Alvaro Arbeloa
£30m – Xabi Alonso: Although we made a good profit on him, Liverpool are supposed to keep their best players.
Total sold: £36.75m
2009/10 net spend: £-150,000
No money for Rafa again, and the cracks that began to appear last season become visible. It’s too early to judge the signings made most recently, but so far this season the squad seems roughly similar in quality to the one Benitez inherited.
Total Players Bought: £230,531,000
Total Players Sold: £143,600,000
Total Net Spend: £86,931,000 = about £15m per season.
Leaving to one side the very pertinent issue of Rafa Benitez’s working relationship with Rick Parry, the list of transfer deals above seems to me to be patchy at best. Some poor signings can be excused through mitigating circumstances, but others cannot. Also Benitez doesn’t seem to be able to make the best use of certain players, with many leaving the club amidst rumours of a poor relationship with him.
It worries me that Benitez’s dealings have been worse of late than they were earlier in his reign. This can partly be explained by the fact that he has been forced to sell to buy or buy cheap recently, but even so the Robbie Keane fiasco and the departures of key players such as Alonso and Crouch were surely avoidable.
But having said all of that, every manager makes mistakes. Benitez is being asked to build a team capable of challenging for the title, but he is not being given a transfer budget that compares to the two teams who have won the league for the last five seasons.
If Benitez was as good in the transfer market as he is tactically, then Liverpool would have a stronger squad, there is no doubt of that. But he cannot be expected to win a league title with an inferior budget. Even Arsene Wenger, possibly the most shrewd transfer market operator the Premiership has seen, has been unable to achieve domestic success since Roman Abramovich arrived at Chelsea.
So overall, I feel that although Benitez should not be exempt from criticism, he deserves more support than he is currently getting.
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