Benitez is the architect of his own misfortune
The Liverpool manager is paying for his transfer and team selection policies
The jeering began last night on 84 minutes, when Rafa Benitez took off Liverpool goalscorer Yossi Benayoun and brought on the unconvincing Andriy Voronin in a bid to find a winning goal to break the 1-1 deadlock against Lyon that would keep the Merseysiders' European dreams alive this season.
Ten minutes later, when the final whistle blew on the club's fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions, the booing "thundered around a disbelieving Anfield", according to the Liverpool Daily Post, as the Kop reflected on a 2-1 defeat to the French league leaders that was anything but unexpected.
Barring a pair of quite unlikely results for Benitez in the next two games against Manchester United in the Premier League and Arsenal in the Carling Cup, the chorus of disapproval from the usually impeccably loyal Anfield faithful will probably be regarded as the beginning of the Spaniard's final act at Liverpool.
Belatedly, Benitez is coming to be seen as the architect of his own misfortune. While the main focus of the Kop’s anger remains the bickering American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, who refuse to invest in the club or to sell up and let someone else, the transfer and selection decisions of the manager are finally coming home to roost.
As reported yesterday, Benitez has been criticised for not bringing in enough good squad players at Anfield, a policy which has been highlighted during the recent injury crisis. While the big-money purchases of Fernando Torres and - to a lesser extent - Javier Mascherano and Glen Johnson have paid off, Benitez has not bought the back-up players needed to bring the rest of the squad up to scratch.
But one of Rafa Benitez’s biggest crimes was his treatment of Xabi Alonso
Where Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger find players of the calibre of Nemanja Vidic and Thomas Vermaelen for £10m and under, Benitez has bought Andrea Dossena (£8m) and Lucas Leiva (£6.75m). When Torres and Gerrard aren't playing, there is rarely a player capable of stepping up to fill their giant boots. According to a diehard Liverpool supporter, "If you look at Rafa's buys, one in three is a success, one in three is mediocre - and one in three is a failure."
A further issue for fans has been the manager's quixotic team selection policy. For the first few seasons at Anfield, a novelty for fans was guessing who would turn out for the team, as each game seemed to bring a new rotation of the squad. Along the way players who have been brought in on big money have been left to rot on the bench, such as the £11.5m Ryan Babel.
But one of the biggest crimes in the eyes of the faithful was the treatment of Xabi Alonso, who left the club in the summer to join Real Madrid. Alonso had been an Anfield legend in the making, for his ability to turn a game with a moment of skill. Off the field he expressed his love for the club's fans and the city and the feeling was mutual.
Benitez first tried to sell Alonso during the 2008 summer transfer window, with an eye to bringing in the more prosaic English midfielder Gareth Barry from Aston Villa. His days were obviously numbered and despite playing superbly at the beginning of last season Benitez refused to use him on some occasions, playing the leaden Lucas instead. Alonso has since said the decision to try and sell him was the reason he left the club.
While every manager needs to have an abrasive nature, with Benitez there is the sense that he will actively pursue a fight to let his opponent know who's boss, as some suggested happened with Alonso. The problem with such tactics is that when you urgently need friends, as the Liverpool boss does now, you'll find them in short supply. ·
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