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.
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: Liverpool FC
Tom: Howdy partner?
George: Tom – good to speak to you. What’s up?
Tom: Tryin to figure out some new ways to milk our cow, ya know?
George: Sure! Gotta keep up the payments and still leave some room for skimming off the top, there’s a recession on.
Good that the Spaniard didn’t walk when we cut his transfer budget to zero – he figures he’ll beat us by winning the title anyway, can you believe? But we still need another 20m for the interest due till the next refinancing of the loan. You got any ideas?
Tom: I have a humdinger of an idea, it’s so cool: we bring in a membership scheme, and make 5000 seats available for each home game to sell online to the ‘official members’.
George: You mean ‘official mugs’, right?
Tom: Right. The loyal patsies will sign up in numbers far in excess of the available tickets, – so that’s just money in our pockets for nothing – and even those who do occasionally get tickets will be paying the regular rate PLUS their membership subscription for them: close to a 100% price hike if they are successful just once! And we’ll make sure the system is so bad they won’t succeed often. Whaddya think?
George: Gotta admit, I am impressed Tom. But won’t they get mad and want their money back when they all try to get online to buy their tickets and the system buckles every time? I mean: I assume we are not going to upgrade the server to cope with the traffic? That would cost us money.
Tom: Are you kiddin? We ain’t gonna spend a damn thing! Believe me, they’ll still be comin’ back all season long, bright and early, every time a sale is on, refreshing and refreshing, reloading and reloading, redialling and redialling.
George: Yeah, ain’t that strange? I mean, ain’t it curious how they go on paying, and putting up with us? Go figure.
Tom: Don’t knock it, George. It’s making us richer.
George: Amen to that partner.
This video might be a little bit close to the bone for Liverpool fans, but you have to be able to laugh in the face of adversity. Hats off to Jaimie Kanwar at Liverpool Kop for this one, as long as you don’t speak German, it is utterly superb:
PS The actual film is pretty good too.
It’s been a ridiculously long time coming, but Alonso has finally signed for Real Madrid. Rafa Benitez himself confessed yesterday day that Alonso had voiced his desire to leave way back in May, so the fact that it has taken 3 m0nths for the transfer to finally conclude must be frustrating for all concerned. Certainly from a Liverpool fan’s perspective, the fact that the whole thing has become a public saga chronicled daily on the back pages of every newspaper suggests that the trend of poor administration which saw Owen leave and Gerrard nearly follow him a few seasons back has not ended with the departure of Rick Parry.
Reports in the media suggest that Liverpool have already agreed a fee with Roma for their midfielder Alberto Aquilani. However, since Liverpool have been in contact regarding the player’s availability for weeks, this is not really significant news. Aquilani’s medical is the next major hurdle in that particular transfer. Either way, Alonso was widely regarded as a key player at Anfield, and Aquilani does not represent an exact replacement. So as many Liverpool fans make their voices heard in protest at what they perceive to be a voluntary and thus misguided sale on the part of Benitez, it’s interesting to ask the question, how badly will Alonso be missed by Liverpool this season?
Jan Molby was one of the finest central-midfield playmakers to play the game. His control and awareness were 2nd to none to the extent that he achieved a reputation as a truly top-class footballer whilst carrying an extra couple of stones in weight for his entire career. Indeed, since Alonso delivered his first passing masterclass on English shores on his home debut (Norwich gave him space and didn’t know what had hit them), he’s often been described as “at least the best passer of the ball since Molby”. So the fact that the rotund Dane regards Alonso as at least Liverpool’s 3rd most influential player is significant. And while I wouldn’t like to say that Alonso is necessarily more influential than the likes of Pepe Reina, Dirk Kuyt, Jamie Carragher and Javier Mascherano, I do feel that Alonso had an outstanding 2008/2009 season. At his best, he shows a wonderful ability to make maintaining possession significantly easier for his team mates by offering for the simple pass and then moving the ball on to another teammate who is in a decent amount of space. In terms of the process pundits refer to as “recycling possession”, there are none better than Xabi.
On the other hand, you could argue that during a season in which Liverpool scored more league goals than any of their domestic rivals, Alonso’s relatively meagre contribution of 3 goals and 4 assists suggests another view. Moreover, arguably Liverpool’s best result of last season (their 4-1 win at Old Trafford) was achieved with Lucas Leiva in central midfield, not Alonso. Dave Prentice, the Liverpool Echo’s Deputy Head of Sport, recently put forward his views on the matter in an interesting v-log. Although I’m not sure about the accuracy of his statistics, I think his argument that Alonso represents something of a luxury in midfield is worth considering. Prentice suggests that having 2 deep-lying central midfielders places too much responsibility of wide players to create and score goals, and argues that the money from Alonso’s sale could be used to strengthen those wide areas whilst bringing in a more attack-minded central midfielder. And the fact that recent successes of teams such as Man Utd, Barcelona and Chelsea have been achieved with only 1 holding midfielder supports this. So perhaps Liverpool will have a better balance next season if they replace Alonso with Aquilani (or a similarly attacking central midfield player) and use the surplus money from Alonso’s sale plus anything extra raised from selling remaining fringe players to reinforce the wide areas. It’s an interesting argument, but not one I actually buy into. Last season, Liverpool scored more league goals than any other team, and Alonso was voted the fans’ player of the season. As far as I’m concerned, any debate about his contribution and how he affects the balance of the team ends with those two simple facts. He was a key player, and not one who ought to have been sold voluntarily.
Which brings me to the next issue in the Alonso saga. Did Rafa Benitez decide to sell him? Could he have kept him? As I said above, Rafa Benitez admitted yesterday that Alonso had made his desire to leave clear right back in May, and Alonso confirmed this when speaking to the Spanish press following the completion of his transfer. Last summer, Gareth Barry and Cristiano Ronaldo were examples of clubs managing to withstand the rise of “player-power”, but those are the exceptions to the rule. These days, when a player wants to leave, he leaves, and a contract only gives the club who hold the player’s registration a little bit of extra bargaining clout in terms of the transfer fee. So in defence of Benitez, he might have had no choice. But actually, whether or not it would have been possible to deny Alonso his wish this summer, I think Benitez himself has contributed significantly to that the player having that wish in the first place. Firstly, it was clear to everyone last summer that Benitez wanted to sell Alonso and buy Gareth Barry, only financial constraints prevented him from doing so (and if he’d succeeded, then bearing in mind that he also signed Robbie Keane and Andrea Dossena, it would have been a summer of business on a par with Houllier’s infamous Diouf-Diao-Cheyrou fiasco). Ever since then, Alonso must have felt less wanted and valued on Merseyside. Secondly, even if he was wanted after last season’s vast improvement, since Benitez is notoriously aloof with his players, he may never have felt properly appreciated. Finally, although agents and journalists ensure that there can actually be plenty of smoke without an actual fire during the transfer window, I think Javier Mascherano has flirted with the idea of a move abroad this summer. Benitez’s response has been to completely deny him that option, so it can be done if the manager really wants it. Therefore, in my opinion Rafa Benitez will stand or fall by what I regard as his decision to allow Alonso to leave. If we slump back into a race for 4th place next season, with a midfield that lacks the balance of last season, then he’ll definitely have reason to feel hot under the collar. On the other hand, if our squad is stronger overall, then it will go down as a wonderful judgement. For now, all we can say is, “we’ll see”.
In the meantime, Liverpool fans will remember Alonso as one of the finest passers of the ball to wear the red shirt. His penalty in Istanbul, both his goals from inside his own half, his tremendous display during the 10-men demolition of Everton and his constant and total level of professionalism and dignity will not be forgotten. He travels to Madrid with the best wishes of every proper Liverpool fan.
Oh the man is a midfield maestro
And his passing is so delightful
Everyone wants to know
Alonso, Alonso, Alonso.
Good luck Xabi (I’ll miss that song).
Here’s a pair of handsome devils:
And saving the best till last:
These pictures are genuine, having been released on Liverpool’s official site. But I must say I’m not bowled over by them. The last time Liverpool began a season wearing a black away kit having finished 2nd the previous season, they went on to endure their worst run of form for 50 years and eventually failed to qualify for the Champions League. So from a superstitious point of view, the colour choice isn’t great news for Reds fans. Moreover charcoal and gold, whilst being a nice combination when considered in the abstract, are not really traditional colours for a football kit. I’m reminded of Spurs brown and purple efforts, which is definitely not a good thing. However, in football, looking alright is not the main thing. It’s a results business after all.
Next up, Manchester City’s gear for next year:
A fairly standard Umbro offering, suitably mediocre.
I’ve got that horrible early May feeling, a niggling sense of unease and foreboding, the season is nearly over. Following today’s victory in the Manchester derby, which was achieved with remarkable ease whilst resting several key players, Man Utd need just 4 points from their next 2 games to seal their 18th league-title. As I write, Barcelona are closing in on victory against Villareal, a victory that will confirm them as the champions of Spain. Hell, even my own Sunday League team played their final game of the season today (we won the league by the way). Unfortunately, this summer there is no World Cup or European Championships to keep my appetite for football satisfied. so what am I going to do with myself for the next few months?
I can’t stand the weeks of speculation in the transfer market. Scanning the papers for reports of rumours linking every player under the sun to every club under the sun? That’s not interesting, that’s really boring. I’d rather close my eyes and ears until the transfer window has closed, and then have a look at who’s playing where. But irritatingly, I know that once the final ball of the 2008/09 season has been kicked, I’ll find it impossible to resist the temptation to pick up the paper and turn immediately to the football pages. After all, what else have I got? It’s at times like these when I wished I was into cricket, but I’m not.
Having said all of that, perhaps I’m being a little premature. We still have the FA Cup final to look forward to, although given that it will be an all-blue contest, I will not be watching, But there is of course the final of the Champions League yet to come. When Barcelona and Man Utd meet on the 27th of May it will be the first time in 11 years that the final of the competition is contested by two domestic champions from the previous season. I’m not sure why this means anything to me, especially given that 75% of this year’s semi-finalists were from the same country, but I still believe that the European Cup would be a better competition if it were for champions and champions only. I would even swap what was a wonderful night in Istanbul for such a competition. But that’s another story, the point is the season isn’t quite over yet, and so perhaps I ought to learn to appreciate what’s left of it while it lasts.
But the fact is, I know that for 3 months that will seem like an eternity, my life will be missing a massive chunk. Then again, perhaps it will be the making of me and I’ll actually do something productive with my time. And in the meantime, COME ON BARCA!