Whether interim, or 6 months with options, or whatever, it was a hugely disappointing piece of news and one which left me with mixed feelings.
It’s fair to say I went through several stages of mourning before I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t blame the man for taking another job; he’s one of the top 5 managers in the world and he’s been out of management for almost 2 years: why should he turn a top job down?
Since Wednesday, I’ve had a bit of time to think about the situation and how it affects us in the long-term and I came to this conclusion: Benitez being at Chelsea could make Brendan Rodgers’ job twice as hard.
It might seem like a strange thing to say, but before Rodgers took the job at Liverpool in the summer, Rafa emerged as the front-runner amongst fans and was pulling in around 60-75% of votes in fan polls across the internet right up to the day the Northern Irishman was appointed. And since then I’ve heard a number of fans (myself included) utter the words ‘Rafa wouldn’t have done that… ‘ in direct reply to a number of naïve or poor decisions that the current manager has made.
You see, there are many Liverpool fans that aren’t exactly fond of Rafa, despite Champions League and FA Cup wins and our closest ever run to winning a Premier League title but there are also those of us for whom he is the answer to all of our ills. For those of us, absence has only made the heart grow fonder and given how close he came to making us the finished article, we still harbour hopes that he could return one day and make us great again.
For the first 5-6 months of Rodgers’ reign as Reds boss he’s had it relatively easy. After a revolving door of men at the top most of us are just content to at least let him see a full season through and then make judgements. It’s been pretty tough at times, with some strange personnel and tactical decisions and if we end up with a couple of the more questionable transfer targets in January then I probably won’t be alone in banging my head against a wall at yet more missed opportunities (such as not making an attempt to sign Cavani when he is clearly interested!).
However, with Rafa Benitez now managing the club with whom he had the most intense rivalry during his tenure at the club things may get more difficult. If he should turn Chelsea into league or – god forbid – back-to-back Champions League winners, many of us are going to start looking longingly down toward the South and will begin to wonder why a bunch of fair-weather, plastic flag-waving know-nothings are cheering on a juggernaut of a team and thinking ‘that should be us’.
Of course, that may not happen. Rafa may just struggle to live up to extreme expectations and not make Chelsea ‘Barca mk.II’ as Abramovich so dearly wants. But that yearning will still be there, like watching the ex you should never have let go being happy with somebody else, who has more money, better credentials and has had a lot more success than you in the past 10 years.
My hope against all hopes is that Brendan Rodgers will turn Liverpool into a great side and, in time, a great football club again in the eyes of the world. His only problem is that Benitez came closer than anybody ever has to doing that, since we were the best team in the world over 20 years ago.
It’s that, that will take some beating and now that he’s back and working at a club that are operating at a different level to ourselves at present, any success that Rafa has at Chelsea will cast a huge shadow over Brendan Rodgers and he may well find himself being put under the microscope a lot more with many of us, as the next 5-6 months go by.
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