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.
Filed under: Football
When I first moved to Bristol in October 2000, curiosity about my new home’s football scene led me to a Bristol Rovers game. I was underwhelmed by both the standard of football on the pitch and the standard of banter off it, and as I departed Bristol’s Memorial Ground having watched visitors Northampton Town steal a one-nil win, I felt pretty certain that it would be my first and last experience of football in England’s 3rd tier. However, last Saturday I found myself at Griffin Park to see Brentford take on Swindon, this time as a reporter for the Western Daily Press.
Having taken my seat in the press-box, it struck me as I took in my surroundings that I had very little to draw reference from. For example, although the pitch did not look as good as a Premier League pitch, and was much better than anything I’ve experienced myself on a Sunday morning, I had no way of judging whether it was any good or not by League One standards. The same went for the size and intimacy of the ground itself. Although I knew that Griffin Park’s capacity according to Wikipedia was about 12,000, and that this was fairly standard for League One, I had no way of knowing how it felt in comparison to other grounds of a similar size.
It was a strange feeling to be surrounded by fans getting ready for their weekly matchday experience, whilst I had zero investment in the result whatsoever. Usually when inside a football ground, I am used to feeling a mixture of intense nerves and excitement as time flies towards kick-off. But on Saturday I was more preoccupied with making sure my 3G internet connection was working whilst trying to glean as much information as I could from the local reporters. Even so, as the referee blew his whistle to get the match underway, I still felt a little buzz. Apart from anything else, I had to be switched on, because my stint at the WDP would surely be brief if my article was not accurate.
Here’s my match report:
Revell at the double as Swindon sting the Bees.
Swindon Town 3
An Alex Revell brace gave Swindon all three points against a spirited Brentford side in an exciting encounter at Griffin Park, ending a run of four consecutive draws and moving them up into the play-off places.
Although Swindon raced into a two-goal lead, Brentford twice reduced the deficit to a single goal, which given Town’s recent habit of throwing away leads late on in games, ensured a nerve-jangling finish.
The 1,244 Swindon town supporters in the Brook Road End began the game in good voice, and the players seemed to respond. After just 8 minutes, Jon-Paul McGovern found space to feed the ball through for Revell, and the on-loan striker did well to squeeze the ball over the line from a tight angle, scoring his first goal for the club.
Swindon continued to apply pressure, and 13 minutes later they doubled their lead. Ben Hutchinson showed good pace to get onto Anthony McNamee’s through ball, opening his Swindon account with a composed finish past Nikki Bull in the Brentford goal.
As the first half wore on however, Brentford began to gain a foothold in the game. Veteran striker Carl Cort had the home side’s best chance of the half from Ryan Dickson’s cross, but he was unable to keep his header down and Swindon went into the break two goals up.
The second half started in the same fashion as the first half ended, with Brentford pushing for a goal that would get them back into the game. Saunders cut in from the right and unleashed a spectacular left-footed effort, which hit the post having beaten Town keeper David Lucas. The resulting rebound presented Charlie McDonald with the easiest of chances, but the striker somehow managed to put his shot over the bar with the goal at his mercy no more than six yards out.
Brentford continued to press however, and with 15 minutes remaining, Carl Cort was rewarded for a hard-working display, as he thumped a shot past Lucas from the edge of the box.
But if Swindon fans’ thoughts were turning to their recent run of draws, they did not have to worry for long. Almost immediately after the restart, McGovern found Revel on the left-hand edge of the box. Full of confidence having finally found the net for his new club, the striker moved the ball onto his preferred right foot and smashed it into the roof of the net from 25 yards.
The Bees did not give up however, and scored again in the 82nd minute as some poor defending at a corner allowed MacDonald to head in. But with time running out for the home side, Swindon held on to seal a win that extends their unbeaten run in the league to ten games.
After the game, Revell spoke of his delight at getting off the mark: “It’s a massive relief to get my first goal for Swindon. It’s a great moment for me, but I’m delighted for all of the boys. We’ve deserved to win some games lately that we’ve drawn, so it’s just good for the team to get a win.”
Manager Danny Wilson was satisfied with his side’s 2nd away win of the season: “There’s a lot of teams that will struggle here, this is a tough place to come. Brentford have a great attitude and never seem to give up.”
Brentford (4-4-2): Bull, Wilson, Phillips, Bennett, Dickson, Saunders, Bean, O’Connor, Wood (Weston 73), McDonald, Cort. Subs not used: Price, Kabba, Taylor, Forster, Osborne, Legge.
Swindon (4-4-2): Lucas, Amankwaah, Greer, Cuthbert, Kennedy, McGovern, Douglas, Ferry, McNamee (Timlin 80), Hutchinson (Macklin 63), Revell (Paynter 85). Subs not used: Smith, Morrison, Jean-Francois, Peacock.
So with five goals, some of them of a decent quality, I was left with plenty to write about and some very enjoyable memories. My second experience of English League football had been better by far. However, as I left the ground, I was aware of a pang of concern. One thing that had struck me during the day was the average age of the supporters at the game. There were far more elderly fans and very few children. Although today’s ticket-prices probably prevent many pensioners from being able to attend Premier League games, but my feeling is that this is not the primary reason for the high average age of attendee.
It seemed to me that I was witnessing yet another symptom of the decay of the traditional aspects of the game in this country. Fans today (myself included) watch far more football on TV than in the flesh, and the community-based aspect of football is declining proportionally with the increase in Sky Television subscriptions. The idea of paying to watch your local club regardless of which division they play in is beginning to gather dust, and I fear that in a few years a valuable part of the infrastructure which serves as a platform for our more privileged clubs will become eroded beyond repair. In the meantime, I give total respect to the fans that were present on Saturday. Their love for their club as is it should be, unconditional, and for that I take my hat off to them.
Filed under: Football
The FA today handed Emmanuel Adebayor a £25,000 fine and a suspended 2-game ban for his rather idiotic celebration following his goal against Arsenal last month. But given that he’d already received a yellow card as a result, and other players have done similar things without further punishment, have the FA made a mistake in intervening amid the controversy? I think they have, and writing for EPL Talk, I’ve outlined why here:
It’s at times like 2030 BST last night when I have no inclination to write about football, especially Liverpool FC. But it has to be done, so I’ve duly posted my view up on Liverpool Banter. You can read it here:
Filed under: Football
Following Liverpool’s devastating annihilation of the immensely irritating Phil Brown’s Hull side at Anfield today, I’ve written a few thoughts on the game over at Liverpool Banter. You can read them by clicking this link:
Filed under: Football
Fredorrarci over at the excellent Sport Is a TV Show apologised yesterday and described his blog as “tumbleweed-friendly”. He’d been absent for 7 days. So going by that, in recent times Studs Up has definitely been an area in which evapotranspiration outweighs precipitation (look it up). I could list my excuses, but they’re not terribly interesting. So instead, here are some links to kick things off again.
Elliot Tucker‘s contributions to The Run Of Play have often been documented here on Studs Up in light of their bizarre blend of the surreal and the amusing that is almost unique in terms of football writing. Samuel L Jackson once starred in a film that loosely referred to events inside Anfield, but Tucker’s Premiership Fiction seems much closer to the sort of thing we’d get if Quentin Tarantino directed a Premier League season:
But guess what, there’s more. Tucker has his own blog called Futfanatico, and it’s even weirder. Having read his imaginary interview with Brazilian Interfaith novelist Paulo Coelho on the current fortunes of Liverpool FC, I think he may have taken football-related writing to new levels of peculiarity. But why Elliot, why?
Filed under: Football
Much has been said about Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva’s dive against Celtic during last Wednesday’s 2nd leg of the Champions League pre-qualifier, including an article I’ve written on the subject for my friends over at EPL Talk.
Check it out: