The first problem I have with Mr Anti-Rafalution’s argument is his use of the statistic of how much Rafa Benitez has spent over his five seasons in charge. £230million is a lot of money in anybody’s book but you cannot discount in my view the player’s he had to sell to finance his purchases. £120million is effectively the net spend over his 5 years, which works out at approximately £24million per season spent on buying new players. This still seems a good amount but you have to consider the context in which it was spent.
At the end of his first season in charge, in a year he had won the Champions League, Rafa had a squad full of players who were not really good enough to play for Liverpool. Players such as Djimi Traore, Igor Biscan and Milan Baros were all effectively first team regulars, and combined with players such as Vladimir Smicer and Harry Kewell, the team was in no fit shape to win a Premier League title. Reshaping the team takes time and money, and over the season’s Rafa has gradually built up a squad of players including Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano, Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson, who are miles a head in terms of class.
An FA Cup win and another Champions League final ensued after his first season in charge and there was a visible progression in terms of performances. The sale of the club to American owners however was a watershed moment as although there was one marquis signing in Fernando Torres for £20million, a price that looks like a steal now, they have been no other big money offers to strengthen the squad which haven’t been financed by sales. The net spend since Tom Hicks and George Gillett took over has dipped markedly and it has left them falling behind their rivals. Since the American takeover back in 2007, the net spend stood at £23.3m for the 2007/08 season (most of which was spent on Torres), last season it was £6.45m, while this season it was a paltry £4.95m despite the loss of key player Xabi Alonso and the absence of any replacement for Robbie Keane.
If we look at Rafa’s rivals, certainly Arsene Wenger hasn’t had that much to spend either during Rafa’s tenure but his lack of spending power must be predicated by the fact that Arsenal were building the new Emirates stadium, while no such building work was taking place at Stanley Park. In any case Wenger has not won a trophy for five years, an indication that the lack of spending has hurt Arsenal, and it will be something that will be corrected in the summer. In regards to Sir Alex Ferguson, when has Benitez ever had the opportunity to spend £32million on a Dimitar Berbatov, £30million on a Rio Ferdinand, £28million on a Wayne Rooney, £28.5million on waste of money that was Juan Sebastian Veron or £17million on a crocked defensive midfielder like Owen Hargreaves?
This leads us to two rare big spends by Rafa in the guise of Alberto Aquilani and Robbie Keane. No doubt Robbie Keane’s purchase was a mistake, he never settled into the team, but one of the fundamental reasons why he lasted only six months was the fact Rafa wanted him to be part of a double signing with Gareth Barry. The Liverpool manager wanted to play both in a 4-4-2 formation but when the Reds board hesitated on signing Barry, the Keane transfer was only half of the puzzle. He didn’t fit in according to Rafa:
“Football is a funny game. The plan was for Barry to play on the left and feed the ball to Robbie Keane, who would play up front with Fernando Torres. This blueprint had to be scrapped. The collateral damage was Keane, who signed from Tottenham Hotspur before the Barry deal had been done. When we wanted to sign Barry, we were sure we were signing a good player with a very good mentality and the quality to play in the Premier League. The priority was Barry, then Keane.”
On Alberto Aquilani, when Xabi Alonso was sold for £30million, Rafa had to search for a replacement and Aqua seemed the ideal price for a player of his age and level of ability. The Italian was said to have been bought in installments with a £5million initial fee. It is certain though that not all of the £30million from the Alonso transfer was given to Rafa to put back into transfers. For me, the lack of transfer funds is directly linked to a massive turnover of players such as Peter Crouch, and even to some extent Xabi Alonso. Alonso would have had to be sold 2 years ago to finance the move for Barry and he then felt he wasn’t wanted at the club, leading to his departure last summer. If the owners had provided adequate funding for Rafa, I have no doubt that both Alonso and Barry would be at the club currently. When talking about the sale of one Peter Crouch, Rafa had this to say:
“I was criticised for selling one tall striker [Crouch] but his wages at Portsmouth were double what they were here. How could I keep him?”
It is all the more amazing then that Rafa was able to compete for the title last season, despite all this and why this season hasn’t been as successful. The loss of Alonso, without an adequately funded replacement who was both fit and prepared for English football, is key in my view to the bad season we have had. This is why it is not really a smokescreen in regards to attacking the owners rather than Rafa. Although Benitez is responsible for the first team, he can’t control what goes on off the pitch where he needs greater funds to get that elusive league title. Rafa does have his failings, but the real failings are in the boardroom rather than the dressing room. It needs to be sorted, and sorted out fast.