Friday, June 04, 2010

Liverpool Sack Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez’s Anfield reign is over.

The decision was taken to sack the Liverpool manager after the club board came to the conclusion he had lost the dressing room.

Player power proved his downfall after several of the Reds’ biggest stars, including Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, made clear their loss of faith in the manager.

Some had even stated privately that they would leave if Benitez stayed.

Benitez, who is on holiday in Sardinia, was hanging on only to negotiate his payoff. He has a £16million clause in his contract that must be paid in full if he is dismissed, and the only detail left to be finalised late last night was just how much of that money he would receive.

The Spanish coach could walk straight into another job after his dismissal at Anfield, with Inter Milan keen to make him the replacement for treble-winning manager Jose Mourinho.

And Liverpool have already drawn up a short-list of possible replacements for Benitez, with the highly respected Roy Hodgson and Louis Van Gaal topping the candidates, along with Benfica manager Jorge Jesus, and - before he accepted the Italy job - Cesare Prandelli of Fiorentina.

Sammy Lee, the current assistant manager of the Reds, will step in as a caretaker in the short-term, until a replacement is announced, with the club hoping to find a successor in the next few weeks.

Benitez has presided over a disastrous season, losing 19 matches and seeing his side slip to seventh place in the table, which has caused major damage to the club’s precarious finances.

More seriously though, he lost the support of senior players at the club, with top stars like Torres, Gerrard, Carragher, Javier Mascherano and Yossi Benayoun offering public displays of their lack of belief in the manager.

The board was left with the painful decision of choosing between Benitez and their world class players, and in the end they decided they simply couldn’t trust the manager to spend the money that would be raised by the sale of so many big names.

The five-man Liverpool board made the unanimous decision over the weekend, and they also have the backing of chairman Martin Broughton, who is thought to believe that the club can only move forward by bringing stability to the football side of the club.

Benitez has always been a highly skilled political operator, and his tenure in the final two years was punctuated by an increasingly fraught situation at Anfield, where he was fighting against his own board and his own team.

The directors have decided that situation can’t be allowed to go on any longer, and they will now move quickly to appoint a more statesmanlike manager who can work with colleagues.

The new boss WILL be given money to spend, with around £20million set aside for new players, with a guarantee, too, that any money from sales will be used solely for recruitment.

The likes of Albert Riera, Ryan Babel, Alberto Aquilani and Benayoun could all be sold to raise another £25m or so, and several fringe players will also be sacrificed, to generate a kitty that could be as much as £50m.

Talks will proceed swiftly over a replacement, with Hodgson’s calm approach sure to make him among the favourites, given the turmoil that has engulfed Liverpool in recent seasons.

Benitez has been exploring possible escape routes over the past six months, and he came close to joining Juventus at the end of the season, until the Italians got a new president who favoured a home-grown boss.

But Inter remains a strong possibility, especially given the news in the past two days that their first choice - Fabio Capello - looks likely to remain with England.

This week, the Milan club’s president Massimo Moratti confirmed he is an admirer of the Spaniard, when he said:

“Benitez is a man I’ve always considered very good, but for the moment he is engaged.”

The Reds boss still wants a pay off, and he was juggling those balls last night, as he prepared to accept a lower compensation figure to ensure he remains in the running for the Inter job.

Benitez though, has certain reservations about following Mourinho - one of his biggest enemies in football - but now that he can no longer remain with Liverpool he may feel he has no other choice but to take the poisoned chalice of following the special one.

Who Are The Favourites To Replace Rafa Benítez As Liverpool Manager?

With Rafa Benitez’s future in doubt at Liverpool, we look at the runners and riders who may replace him as Martin O’Neill, Roy Hodgson, Laurent Blanc and Alex McLeish continue to dominate the bookmakers’ thoughts.

Martin O'Neill

Current club: Aston Villa
Fair Kop: O’Neill has been successful at what ever level he has worked at, winning titles in Scotland and rebuilding Aston Villa. Hasn’t always had a lot of money either, which might be a plus for the Liverpool board.
This isn’t Anfield: Success in Scotland is one thing but O’Neill appears to have plateaued at Aston Villa and unproven at the very top of the game.
Fan’s favourite: O’Neill plays a pragmatic, direct, if exciting brand of football that may not sit well with some. But his belt and braces approach might be just the thing they crave in austere times.
Current odds: 13/8

Roy Hodgson

Current club: Fulham
Fair Kop: Hodgson’s stock has never been higher after taking ‘little’ Fulham to the Europa League final. A deep thinker on the game with bucket loads of experience, both at home and abroad.
This isn’t Anfield: While Hodgson is well regarded he falls short of the kind of box office name Liverpool fans might expect.
Fan’s favourite: Everyone loves ‘Uncle Roy’.
Current odds: 9/2

Kenny Dalglish

Current club: Liverpool
Fair Kop: Dalglish gave Liverpool their last title and is a club legend, as well as knowing the inner workings of the place better than anyone.
This isn’t Anfield: Been out of the management game for a while now and risks staining his reputation if he returns in difficult circumstances and fails.
Fan’s favourite: Yes.
Current odds: 10/1

Laurent Blanc

Current club: Available
Fair Kop: Hugely respected after taking Bordeaux to the title and quarter-finals of the Champions League in his first job in management after an illustrious playing career, including a spell in England.
This isn’t Anfield: Still callow in managerial terms and that his time in England was spent at Old Trafford goes against him.
Fan’s favourite: If they can look past the feeling he is being groomed to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson at United.
Current odds: 11/1

Jorge Jesus

Current club: Benfica
Fair Kop: A measured, intelligent coach Jesus made his name at Braga before taking Benfica to the Portuguese title and back in to the Champions League in some style.
This isn’t Anfield: No experience of the Premier League might count against him.
Fan’s favourite: The Kop saw first hand the quality of his team in this year’s Europa League and can’t fail to have been impressed.
Current odds: 12/1

Alex McLeish

Current club: Birmingham City
Fair Kop: In the running for manager of the year for a short while as Birmingham City enjoyed a fantastic season in the Premier League when tipped to struggle.
This isn’t Anfield: Liverpool would be a step up and he is being backed by the Birmingham board at present and might favour that to the madhouse of Anfield.
Fan’s favourite: Again not the big name fans would crave but a solid record at Birmingham and Rangers would buy him some grace.
Current odds: 14/1

Benitez Agent Silent On Exit Talk

Rafael Benitez's agent refused to discuss reports the Spaniard is set to leave Liverpool.

Benitez experienced a dismal 2009/10 season as his team finished only seventh in the Barclays Premier League and suffered early exits from the Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup.

According to several reports, Liverpool have made Benitez an offer to walk away from the club, however there has been no official confirmation.

Agent Manuel Garcia Quilon said: "We don't know anything more than what's being said.

"We're not saying anything."

Benitez, 50, signed a five-year contract in March 2009.

He joined Liverpool in 2004 after a successful spell with Valencia and led the club to Champions League victory in his first season, however the Premier League title has been elusive and Benitez's team were unable to build on a second-placed finish in the 2008/09 season.

The former Valencia manager has recently been linked with the vacancy at Inter Milan, following Jose Mourinho's move to Real Madrid.

Liverpool also refused to comment on the reports that Benitez is nearing the end of his spell at Anfield, after six years at the helm.

Several of Benitez's first-team squad have recently been linked with summer moves, including captain Steven Gerrard, Argentinian midfielder Javier Mascherano and star forward Fernando Torres.

Co-owner Tom Hicks recently said Benitez would have a "substantial" transfer budget this summer despite he and George Gillett trying to sell the club, a process which could take 18 months.

It has since been reported that the funds available to Benitez could be as little as £5million, before selling players.

Benitez had suggested he would require in excess of £50million to put the club back in contention for the Champions League places, never mind the Premier League title.

Speaking last week, Benitez rubbished reports that he has been offered the chance to become coach of the United Arab Emirates.

He told the Liverpool Echo: "I was very surprised to read about this story (being offered the UAE coaching job) but it seems more and more as if they keep happening from somewhere.

"I am very happy here in Liverpool. I have always been happy and I want to stay here for a long time - if it is possible."

Liverpool were put up for sale in April, with an asking price of between £600million and £800million, and Hicks had claimed there is a large number of "interested buyers".

Parent company Kop Holdings were £351million in the red last summer with annual loan repayments of £40million.

John Aldridge: Liverpool Will Replace Rafael Benitez Within A Week

Former Liverpool striker John Aldridge is sure that the the Reds' hierarchy will replace Rafael Benitez as manager within a week.

But it is not the Spaniard who should be carrying the can for the club's recent disappointments, according to the former Republic of Ireland international.

Rather, it is time that the owners accepted their share of the blame and came to a swift resolution of the ongoing and often confusing situation regarding the club's sale.

"Nothing surprises me about Liverpool any more," Aldridge told The Liverpool Echo.

"The ones who should be getting out of the club are the owners, Hicks and Gillett. They should be going before anyone else but Rafa is going first.

"It’s a bold move as it’s always a gamble to change the manager. A lot of supporters haven’t been happy with what Rafa has done this year and the way the team fell away.

"He had a lot of injuries to contend with but some of our football away from home was really poor. It went stale last season and it could be time for a change.

"I just hope it is all sorted out in the right manner. That the two parties get together amicably and agree it’s the end of the road and go their separate ways.

"The last thing we want is any more rows. We’ve already hung enough of our dirty laundry out in public."

There have been reports in recent days that a lack of cash being made available for summer transfers is one of the issues behind Benitez's likely departure.

Even if that is the case, Aldridge believes that the Reds will have no problem attracting a high-quality successor to the Spaniard.

"Liverpool is still a massive club with a massive history – we won’t struggle to attract a big name," he added.

"Okay, we don’t have a lot of money but what a challenge it is to come in at this time and try to turn it around.

"I can’t for the life of me believe they are going to let Rafa go without having someone else lined up.

"You don’t make a decision like that without knowing who you are going to get in his place. When Gerard Houllier went, Liverpool had Rafa lined up.

"Some people will say give the job to Kenny Dalglish in the short term. Of course Kenny knows his stuff but we need a permanent boss in place within a week.

"This is a crucial time for making signings and deciding who to get rid of. The new man has to sit down with the players and tell them where he sees Liverpool going.

"Of course Jose Mourinho is out after he went to Real Madrid but there are plenty of good coaches out there like Martin O’Neill, Guus Hiddink and Louis Van Gaal."

Aldridge does feel it is important that Reds fans remember the success that Benitez has brought to Anfield during his six years in charge, but now also acknowledges that it is time for a new era at the club.

"We mustn’t forget what Rafa’s done for the club and it’s been so much better than Houllier’s reign," he said.

"He’s taken us to two European Cup finals, including that amazing night in Istanbul, and has always done his best for the club.

"It’s a pity that he wasn’t backed in the transfer market as much as he should have been. If he had been backed a bit more we might have won the league title.

"Things just didn’t work out last season and we went backwards, big time.

"No-one is bigger than the club and Liverpool have to move on now. We have to put the foundations down for a new era."

Liverpool FC Star Fears Steven Gerrard Will Quit Club

Jose Reina hopes Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard will not be tempted by Real Madrid and will instead see out his career at Anfield.

Gerrard has long been linked with a move to the Spanish giants and speculation has increased since Jose Mourinho took over the reigns as the former Chelsea manager is a long-time admirer of the Liverpool captain.

The England midfielder has progressed through the ranks at Anfield but is thought to be increasingly disgruntled with his team's lack of success.

However, Reina has begged him not to abandon Anfield for the Bernabeu.

"I hope Gerrard doesn't bring anything to Real Madrid and that he stays a long time at Liverpool, that he is with us for the rest of his career." said the Spain goalkeeper.

"I understand that something will happen, that Real Madrid's interest in Gerrard will become manifest because Mourinho knows him very well and he is a footballer who can play in any team in the world.

"He is part of the elite, among the 10 best in the world because he is a very complete footballer.

"Let's hope they don't take him away."

Inter Not Behind Benitez Exit Talk

Inter have reacted to speculation that they had any role to play in Liverpool's decision to offer Rafael Benitez a severance package.

Last night it emerged that the Reds, perhaps mindful of not being able to keep the promises they made to Benitez, offered him £3m just to walk.

Inter have been linked with Benitez over the last week as they look for a high profile tactician capable of replacing Jose Mourinho who formally joined Real Madrid on Monday.

When asked for Inter's reaction to the news, a source from inside the club told La Gazzetta dello Sport: “It's clear that we are not behind this.

“It's an internal matter for Liverpool. But it is a fact. We have no hurry [to find a replacement]. We haven't gone looking for anyone and we don't intend to fuel disputes to free Coaches who are actually contracted.

“If Benitez, once out of contract, were to show interest in Inter's bench, then he would enter among the candidates, knowing that he wouldn't be the only one.”

La Gazzetta dello Sport understands that Inter would use Benitez's reported negotiations with Juventus in the spring as a reference point for any deal, meaning he'd be offered a four-year deal worth €3.5m a season.

Inter would also have few problems integrating his staff, as the team's Argentines reportedly get on well with Benitez's assistant Mauricio Pellegrino.

Furious Liverpool Fans Blame Disrespectful Tom Hicks And George Gillett For Rafael Benitez Exit

Liverpool fans are holding Tom Hicks and George Gillett responsible for forcing Rafael Benitez to leave the club, UK can reveal.

Supporters’ union Spirit of Shankly (SoS) said the American owners had made Benitez’s position “untenable” and urged them to sell the club immediately.

It emerged on Wednesday night that the Spaniard is in pay-off negotiations with the club after agreeing to end his six-year reign at Anfield.

“This situation shows clearly the problems created by Tom Hicks and George Gillett at our club,” SoS spokesman James McKenna told UK.

“The position of manager has been continually undermined by those in the boardroom, and now the manager’s position is made untenable by the money men at the club.

“For the position of [Liverpool] manager, a position with such prestige in world football, to be treated in such a way, shows the lack of respect that those in the boardroom have for LFC and its history, and shows just how much they never have and never will understand the Liverpool way.

"They need to go now, before we have no club left.”

Hicks and Gillett officially put Liverpool up for sale two months ago and drafted in British Airways chairman Martin Broughton to help speed up the process.

Supporters have said they are considering a boycott of season tickets in the summer in protest at Hicks and Gillett’s ownership unless the pair sell up.

Liverpool are currently £237 million in the red. Concerns grew stronger recently with the revelation the Merseysiders registered record annual losses of £55m for the year ending July 2009 and are paying £110,000-a-day in interest payments.

Liverpool Analysis: Rafael Benitez's True Transfer Spending

So Rafael Benitez is set to walk, or be pushed, through the Shankly Gates as it looks as though his Liverpool reign has come to an end.

Despite a European Cup success and an FA Cup success, both won since Arsene Wenger last delivered a trophy to Arsenal's trophy cabinet, the 50-year-old Spaniard has faced a torrent of inexplicable pressure from the media, ex-players and other 'expert' commentators on his contribution to the Merseyside giants.

Zonal marking and wasteful expenditure in the transfer market are two of the sticks with which Benitez was regularly beaten. But how much of it is genuine criticism and not a load of hot air?

The denunciation of zonal marking reminds me of a time when English pundits laughed at and mocked continental goalkeepers for opting to punch clearances instead of claiming the ball in a commanding strong-arm fashion. Or the days when football formations were 4-4-2 v 4-4-2. Nowadays, punching clearances is the norm. 4-4-2 is a standard long since deviated from. Times change.

New ideas, so wrong at first, are slowly, although reluctantly embraced - the zonal marking system will be too, eventually. Whether you are pro or anti-zonal marking, it didn't stop Liverpool winning those two trophies, or finishing second in 2008-09. So it obviously isn't the flawed system the ignorant proclaim it to be. It does work.
Let's then explore the transfers. Over 150 between comings and goings in five years does seem a large number. Compared to other clubs? Manchester United, the benchmark in English football, released or sold upwards of 75 players during the same period so it appears normal.

Excluding those players signed by Gerard Houllier, Rafael Benitez's transfer record is far more impressive than we have been led to believe by the agenda-driven onslaught of misguided criticism levelled at the Spaniard.

Examining the figures closely actually shows that the net cost of the players bought by Benitez and later sold is virtually non-existent, in fact there is possibly even a small profit when you take into account the small army of free transfers the former Valencia man has acquired.

No doubt Robbie Keane was a failed transfer. Benitez's fault? We assumed so at the time but we have since learned that Keane wasn't a player the Spaniard wanted - not without Gareth Barry in the mix at least.

Andrea Dossena was an undeniable flop, with one momentary exception at Old Trafford, and a sizeable financial loss. Jermaine Pennant too, the heaviest in fact. Fernando Morientes, yes, another failure in the transfer market on the part of Benitez. So in terms of players he bought that have since departed, three absolute disasters in six years, with a total loss of £14.5 million can be attributed to Rafael Benitez.

In that time, Manchester United brought the likes of Owen Hargreaves, Anderson, Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov into their ranks, with a total value of in excess of £75 million. Perhaps not deemed complete failures yet but it's proof that even the best make transfer blunders. Juan Sebastien Veron, Louis Saha and Eric Djemba-Djemba are further examples of that from days gone by.

Yet at United, such ill-fated heavy spending is masked by the success of a well-established team built on the foundation of the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. Benitez's Liverpool simply didn't inherit that base of proven winners. Yet to those proven winners, Sir Alex Ferguson was allowed to add £15 million-plus investments like Rio Ferdinand, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Carrick, Hargreaves, Berbatov, Antonio Valencia. Seven in total, and three costing well in excess of what Liverpool's most expensive player Fernando Torres cost. Liverpool have only ever bought four players worth more than £15 million and one of them left within a matter of months.

In fact if you take out Keane, and Aquilani, who was merely a lower-cost replacement signing and not a major one-off expenditure, Glen Johnson has been Benitez's only big money extravagancy outside of Torres.

Of the players he has purchased that remain at Anfield, I have taken the liberty to apply a conservative current value. Again the dozens of free transfers yet to filter through the Liverpool system are omitted as we don't know the net value/loss that they bring to the club. The figure as detailed below shows that there is a conservative decrease of a little over £5 million in the current value of the players Benitez brought in. That is nothing to do with the likes of Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, who nobody can deny, have improved significantly during the Benitez era.

Player Net Transfer Cost:

Fernando Torres
£20 m (worth £30m)

Alberto Aquilani
£20 m (worth £13m)

Robbie Keane
£7 m loss

Glen Johnson
£18 m (worth £12m)

Ryan Babel
£11.5 m (worth £8m)

Xabi Alonso
£19.5 m profit

Dirk Kuyt
£9 m (worth £8m)

Albert Riera
£8 m (worth £2m)

Peter Crouch
£2 m profit

Andrea Dossena
£4.5 m loss

Lucas Leiva
£6 m (net worth £5m)

Jermaine Pennant
£6.7 m loss

Martin Skrtel
£6.5 m (worth £6.5m)

Pepe Reina
£6 million (worth £12m)

Luis Garcia
£2 m loss

Craig Bellamy
£1.5 m profit

Daniel Agger
£5.8 m (worth £8m)

Momo Sissoko
£3 m profit

Fernando Morientes
£3.3 m loss

Yossi Benayoun
£5 m (worth £7m)

Diego Cavilieri
£4 m (worth £3m)

Sebastien Leto
£2.5 m profit

Mark Gonzalez
£3.5 m profit

Gabriel Paletta
Exchanged for Insua (worth £2m)

Net Profit/Loss
£8 m Profit

Net Increase/Decrease (teams value)
£5.3 m Decrease

There is a continued list of players that Liverpool have signed during Benitez's reign that have cost downwards of £1 million that have not made a substantial profit or loss and would not sway the argument in either direction.

On the basis of the transfer activity of the last few years, the fact that Liverpool have maintained some level of competitiveness with the top three at all is in itself an achievement. Benitez has done marvellous work. Sure he's not a transfer whizz like his Arsenal counterpart, but nobody is.

But by the same token he didn't join a club backed by a billionaire owner and add £70 million worth of talent to a squad on the verge of competing for the league title as Jose Mourinho did at Chelsea.

Instead, with restricted funds and without the budget for one-off big money purchases, he has done all he can, all any honest evaluation could genuinely expect - he's taken small steps forward, slowly building an ever-improving side. Sure 2009-10 was a step in the wrong direction, but to make Rafael Benitez the scapegoat for the turmoil at Anfield is entirely wrong.

If, as expected, he moves on, Benitez will undoubtedly continue to excel, more so if he gets the backing the likes of Ferguson, Wenger, Benitez and Guardiola enjoy. He's done it in Spain, in England and perhaps next in Italy. What happens next to the wounded, debt-laden Liverpool Football Club he will leave behind is a scary thought.

Seven Friendlies Announced

A John McMahon managed Liverpool XI have announced the following seven pre-season friendly matches.

The Reds XI start their preparations for 2010-11 with a trip to Wrexham on Wednesday, July 21 at 7.45pm.

Liverpool will then face Oldham Athletic in the final of the Lancashire Senior Cup, at the Lancashire County FA Ground in Leyland, on Saturday, July 24 at 3pm. Please note if the scores are level at the end of 90 minutes then no extra-time will be played. Instead the tie will be decided via a penalty shoot-out.

The Reds XI travel south for a friendly with Luton Town at the Kenilworth Stadium, Kenilworth Road, on Tuesday, July 27 at 7.45pm.

Local pride will be at stake when McMahon's side faces Skelmersdale United in the final of the Liverpool Senior Cup at the Ashley Travel Stadium in Skelmersdale, on Saturday, July 31 at 3pm. Please note extra-time will be played if the scores are level, followed by a penalty shoot-out if needed.

A Liverpool XI takes on Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park on Tuesday, August 3, at 7pm.

A two-game Irish tour completes the schedule. A Liverpool XI will face Galway United at Terryland Park, on Monday, August 9 at 7.30pm.

The squad will complete their schedule in Northern Ireland when they face Dungannon Swifts at Stangmore Park, Dungannon, on Thursday, August 12 at 7.45pm.