The team lately has been bi-polar. We win brilliantly in the cup one week, and stumble dismally in the league the next.
The unpredictability of our performances has left fans divided and unsure. Do two cup finals in a year make up for the relegation form we’ve been demonstrating in the second half of our league season?
Does attractive attacking football played mostly on the ground (most of the time at least) excuse the fact that we’ve been hitting the posts more often than the back of the net?
And most of all, does King Kenny still deserve to hold on to the managerial crown he’s been bequeathed?
It’s all very complicated, and I’m not sure I know the answers. One thing I do know though is that the name Rafa Benitez seems to be popping up a whole lot more on Liverpool forums everywhere.
The famous Spaniard, much like Dalglish, will forever split opinions at Anfield. While he did win us the Champions League in 2004/05 and earn for us our highest ever Premier League points finish in 2008/09, many still doubt his credentials.
Regardless, Rafa still has legions of fans among the Liverpool faithful, and the same can also be said of Dalglish in spite of Liverpool’s many failings this season.
There are of course those who would shudder at the thought of having either manager at the club next season, but for today, it might be interesting to do a head to head comparison of the two.
Managers are often judged primarily by their transfer dealings, and of all the players brought in by Rafa,the likes of Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Pepe Reina, Lucas Leiva, Yossi Benayoun, Fernando Torres, Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Dirk Kuyt, and Alvaro Arbeloa can be counted as unquestionable successes.
Moderate successes during the Benitez era include the likes of Maxi Rodriguez, Peter Crouch, Albert Riera, Luis Garcia, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Fabio Aurelio, and Mohammed Sissoko
And then we have the players who famously failed to live up to their hype: Alberto Aquilani, Robbie Keane, Ryan Babel, Andrea Dossena, Jermaine Pennant, Fernando Morientes, Antonio Nunez, Mark Gonzalez, David Ngog, Philipp Degen, Andriy Voronin, Jan Kromkamp and Josemi.
Rafa’s transfers look to be pretty evenly split between successes and flops, which probably explains why Liverpool fans are so divided in their opinions of him.
A similar analysis of Dalglish’s signings during his second spell at the club reveals the following:
His transfer successes include, Luis Suarez, Jose Enrique, and Craig Bellamy. Arguably, his only moderate transfer success has been Charlie Adam, and his transfer flops, judging on the whole, have been Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, and Andy Carroll. It would be hard to say anything about Sebastian Coates and Alexander Doni, since they have hardly played since joining.
It is also worth looking at the number of expensive flops (Aquilani, Keane, Henderson, Downing, and Carroll each cost more than £15m) and cheap successes (Maxi, Arbeloa, Benayoun, Lucas, Agger, Skrtel, Reina, Bellamy and Enrique each cost under £7m) each manager was responsible for.
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First Season In Charge
Dalglish has yet to complete a full season in charge at Anfield as full time manager in his second spell at the club, and it wouldn’t be fair to compare his first season at the helm against Rafa’s best seasons. Let’s therefore take a trip down memory lane and recall 2004/05.
Rafa was left with a team that had just finished fourth in the Premier League under Gérard Houllier. His first order of business was to convince Liverpool’s English stars Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen to stay.
He succeeded with Gerrard, but was forced to sell Owen to Real Madrid or risk losing him on a Bosman. Rafa did not need to get a replacement striker though, since Gerrard Houllier had secured the services of Djibril Cisse just before leaving.
Rafa therefore set about reshaping the rest of the team, releasing Danny Murphy, Markus Babbel, and Stephane Henchoz, and bringing in Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia, Josemi, Mauricio Pellegrino, Scott Carson, Fernando Morientes, and Antonio Nunez (as part of the Owen deal).
All this was done for a net spend of £32m. Rafa also deserves credit for breathing life into what was then the stagnant career of a certain Jamie Carragher.
Rafa finished the season 5th, one place lower than the year before, but we did win famously the Champions League in Istanbul, which got us into Europe’s premier competition the following year and forced many to overlook our poor league form that season.
The start of Dalglish’s second stint as Liverpool manager was somewhat similar to Rafa’s. While still caretaker manager, Dalglish, like Rafa, was forced to oversee the sale of his star striker (Torres) who handed in a transfer request. He sold Babel as well, and spent their combined transfer fees on two replacement strikers, Carroll and Suarez.
Dalglish then began remoulding his squad by releasing in bulk ‘deadwood’ players such as Konchesky, Jovanovic, Kyrgiakos, Insua, Poulsen, Ngog, Degen, and El Zhar. Raul Mereiles was also sold to Chelsea, while Aquilani and Joe Cole were loaned out.
Having trimmed the squad substantially, he then bought the rest of his transfers, who were mentioned earlier in the article. All this was for a net spend of about £30m – £40m.
Dalglish’s new and expensive Liverpool team, like Rafa’s, failed to deliver in the league. They did however manage to go on two very good cup runs, and with the Carling Cup in hand, Liverpool has already qualified for European football next year, though not at its highest tier. Another cup final at Wembley came on the May 5th along with the chance to appease even the most critical Liverpool fans, who want nothing less than to be crowned champions of England yet again, but it wasn’t to be.
This is one area where Rafa’s pedigree really does shine through. Not many would argue that under Rafa, Liverpool became a European force to be feared and reckoned with.
Dalglish on the other hand has never led Liverpool in a European tie as manager, except in two Europa League matches in 2011. The Reds ended their European run that year after losing the second of these two matches to Braga in the round of 16.
The media is where most of the money in football is made, and therefore, doing well in an interview is almost as important as performing on the pitch.
Rafa seems to have the upper hand in this respect. Aside from the infamous ‘Rafa Rant’ which many said cost us the league in 2008/09, Rafa was mostly dignified in front of the camera and respectful of the media.
In contrast, Dalglish seems to have lost his patience with the press. While he started off charming and witty, some of his recent interviews have been almost cringe-worthy. His handling of the whole Suarez affair was questionable as well. All in all, 2011/12 has been a PR disaster for Dalglish and his club.
Here, we talk about fans’ pet peeves. There were many during Rafa’s reign. Some of the more memorable ones included overly defensive tactics, a starting eleven that was never the same two matches in a row, the use of zonal marking, and playing players out of position.
With Dalglish, there haven’t been as many such annoyances. Liverpool’s football has generally been positive, but again we don’t stick to a starting eleven. Other than the lack of appearances of some of our more regular goal scorers (Maxi and Bellamy), and perhaps the repeated use of Jordan Henderson on the right, Dalglish’s tactical choices do seem to go down well with the fans most of the time.
And so there you have it – a head to head comparison of two Liverpool managers who have been loved and hated by Liverpool fans in near-equal measure. Who would you prefer in charge of Liverpool, and why? You decide.
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