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Toot Toot! All Aboard The Managerial Merry-go-Round! (2015 Edition)
The 200% Podcast 13: FOUL!
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The 200% Podcast 12 – General Election Special
Saturday Night On Channel Five For The Football League
The Decline & Fall Of Leyton Orient
Rape, Disrespect & Fury: The Oyston Family & Blackpool FC
Is It Time For A New Football Club For Newcastle?
Tranmere Rovers & Cheltenham Town Stare Into The Abyss
In footballing terms, the phrase “mutual consent” is often used when a club and a manager part ways, usually it’s just a nicer way of saying that the manager concerned has been sacked. As you’ll be fully aware from today’s news, Rafa Benitez, like his predecessor Gerard Houllier, has left Liverpool FC by mutual consent. Unlike his predecessor, however, Benitez has never really seemed that successful as a manager to neutral observers. Liverpool fans, on the other hand, in the main support him, citing the owners and the debt that they have brought onto the club with them. But is that a fair reflection of Benitez’s tenure?
The acquisition of the club by George Gillett and Tom Hicks initially seemed to be a good thing, and in their first close season at the club, they gave the green light for Benitez to spend relatively freely. However, as time went on, and the new owners admitted that they had indeed acquired through a leverage buyout, and therefore loading hundreds of millions of pounds of debt onto the club, it appeared that the amount of money that the club owed, would impact on it’s spending. Over the last three seasons, there have been regular suggestions of power struggles behind the scenes, and the biggest casualty before today was former Chief Executive Rick Parry. As early as 2007, Benitez claimed that he did not feel that he had the full backing of the owners, and has regularly suggested that he needed more funds in order to carry on challenging both domestically and on the European front – but did Benitez just use the fans justified hatred for Gillett and Hicks to cover his own inadequacies?
It was David Moores who appointed Benitez, back in 2005. In his first season Benitez had a net outlay of £15m, bringing in Xabi Alonso, Fernando Morientes, Luis Garcia and Josemi amongst others, while offloading Michael Owen and Danny Murphy. These additions, added to the squad that Benitez inherited, helped land the Champions League, after beating Milan on penalties. Another outlay followed in the summer of 2005 with £17m net being added to the side, with Peter Crouch, Pepe Reina, Momo Sissoko, and Mark Gonzalez all arriving for over £4m, and Milan Baros being the only major departee (for £6.5m), another £5.8m went on Daniel Agger (Jan Kromkamp being swapped with Josemi) in the January transfer window, but the only silverware that arrived was the FA Cup – like the Champions League, Liverpool winning on penalties after coming from behind. That was the last major silverware won by the club. In the summer of 2006 (the last before Hicks and Gillett arrived at the club and mortgaged the club’s future), Liverpool once again had a large net spend. Dirk Kuyt, Jermaine Pennant, Craig Bellamy, Alvaro Arbeloa and Gabriel Palletta spearheaded a £15.9m net spend, with Fernando Morientes, Djimi Traore and Neil Mellor the main sales.
While this was happening, one area that Benitez wanted control over was the youth team. Thanks to a power struggle that saw the Moores family want to retain the setup that had been so beneficial in the past, Benitez went his own way and brought in a lot of teenage talents from around Europe on professional contracts – inflating the size of the squad in the process. The vast majority of these players (such as Damien Plessis, Jack Hobbs, Peter Gulacsi, Antonio Barragan, Paul Anderson, Nikolay Mihaylov, Godwin Antwi, David Martin, Mikel San Jose, Astrit Ajdarevic, Miki Roque and the late Besian Idrizaj – and these were the relatively successful ones) flopped. Of the players who played last season for Liverpool, the only regulars who are Liverpool “youth products” are Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Emiliano Insua. That just three others (Daniel Ayala, Nabil El Zhar and Jay Spearing) made 4 Premier League starts between them and only five others (Stephen Darby, Nathan Eccleston, Martin Kelly, Daniel Pacheco and Jack Robinson) were substitutes in the League, shows how Liverpool’s youth system has deteriorated under Benitez’s watch, and that most of those newcomers had come through the traditional Academy setup suggests that his desire for total control was detrimental for the long term of the club.
Back to the spending – by the time that Hicks and Gillett arrived at the club, Benitez had built a side that was the second best in Europe for a net outlay £54.7m, yet despite fifteen multi-million pound acquisitions in three years, of the eighteen on duty in Athens five of the starters (Steve Finnan, John Arne Riise, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Bolo Zenden) and three of the substitutes (Jerzy Dudek, Sami Hyypia, Harry Kewell) had been inherited – Morientes, Josemi and Kromkamp had already left the club, and Garcia, Sissoko and Palletta were left out of the squad.
By now, Hicks and Gillett had acquired the club, and having told the fans that they had bought the club, rather than acquired it in the way that the Glazers had acquired Manchester United. The first summer (2007) saw them being perceived as putting ther money where their mouths had been and letting Benitez add Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun arrived for £43m, and £20.5m was raised through the sales of Craig Bellamy, Djibril Cisse, Mark Gonzalez and Florent Sinama Pongolle – meaning that there was a net spend of £23.5m. The largest spend in a summer since Benitez arrived at the club, despite a perceived lack of transfer spending, and reports that Benitez did not feel that Hicks and Gillett were supporting him. The winter of 2008 saw Liverpool spend Martin Skrtel arrive, Momo Sissoko depart, and Javier Mascherano’s signing become permanent – another net spend, this time of £16.4m, and in the summer, yet another net spend of £21.6m seeing Robbie Keane, Alberto Riera, Andrea Dossena, Diego Cavaleri, David Ngog arrive, and Peter Crouch, John Arne Risse, Scott Carson and Danny Guthrie depart. The winter transfer window saw Robbie Keane depart (for £12m), and no-one arrive – the first time that Benitez saw a net outflow since he arrived at the club, but that was rectified last summer, when Alberto Aquilani, Glen Johnson and Sotiros Kyrgiakos arrive for £40m, and Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sebastian Leto and Paul Anderson all left for £35m. And it’s the departure of Alonso that was key – but that was not a case of needing to raise funds in terms of squad strengthening, or servicing the debt. The sale of Alonso was due to Benitez unsettling him the previous summer, with Benitez publicly courting Gareth Barry as Alonso’s replacement. With Barry staying at Aston Villa, Alonso stayed as the fulcrum of the Liverpool midfield, and by the season’s end his form had alerted Real Madrid. Alonso handed a transfer request, and Benitez decided that Alonso’s replacement would not be Gareth Barry, but Alberto Aquilani of Roma. However, Aquilani has been notoriously injury prone throughout his career – Aquilani had featured just 108 times in his last four years for Roma, and indeed this last season Aquilani did not start a game for Liverpool until December, and managed just thirteen starts all season. In a position as important as one that Alonso had held (the very position that allows Steven Gerrard to fulfil his best for the club), signing a player who has such an injury record as Aquilani showed poor judgment. And that is what hurt Benitez the most.
Under Moores, Benitez spent £54.7m net in six transfer windows, in the same number of transfer windows, £54.5m net has been spent under Hicks and Gillett. In real terms, taking into account inflation, less money has been spent with the new owners, and that doesn’t give the greatest hope for the future, but to see Benitez spend £109.2m on almost forty first team players in six years, to see the club go backwards – in terms of Europe, the League and even domestic cups – is not healthy, and not the sign of an improving manager. Since the first three seasons where Benitez delivered two Champions League finals, and two trophies, Liverpool haven’t challenged, despite a net outlay of £71.4million. This season’s finish of seventh (Liverpool’s worst finish since 1999), and being knocked out of the Champions League group stages (a first since 2003) sees a reduction in prize money, and that will reduce the options of whoever replaces him, and that would have been the case regardless of who owned the club – after all, before Hicks and Gillett, the club spent what they raised, rather than rely on a sugar daddy. That Liverpool have such appalling owners hasn’t been the reason that Benitez failed, they were just the excuse he was able to hide behind for his recent failings.
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
This article is so full of inaccuracies and negative spin against Benitez that it’s hard to conceive of what motive inspired it. If we take your stats as approximate then a net outlay of £71.4million over six seasons is hardly a lot particularly when compared to the revenue he brought in through repeated Champs league success. Benitez’s main problem was that he could not beat the hegemony of Man U and Chelsea. When his team finished above above, it couldn’t finish above the other. But who has? And you saying that his system deteriorated the standard of youth development is quite bizarre when his predecessor was no more successful (Owen, Carragher and Gerrard were blooded under Evans with no one else of note breaking through since). You also say that “Benitez decided that Alonso’s replacement would not be Gareth Barry” which is blatantly inaccurate, a bid was made for Barry but he opted for Man City. You say that H&G have not contributed to the failure on the pitch but it is clear that the club is operating at net profit on player sales (over the last 3 windows) in order to help pay over 80 million in interest at a time when Spurs, Villa and City are outspending LFC. It’s true that Rafa has some failings, not least in his purchases of Keane and Aquilani, but for those I can give you Schevchenko, Veron, Hargreaves, Anderson, Crespo, Berbatov, Mutu et al. No manager is perfect in his transfer choices but Benitez’s mistakes have been crippling in light of the club’s financial constraint. I can put a more favourable spin on Benitez achievements: 6 years = 2 champs league finals, 1 fa cup final, 1 league cup final, and 2nd in the Prem and his team had a far higher average points total than his predecessor. Benitez had made good and steady progress with the team until last season’s uncharacteristic hiatus which was due to many factors including Benitez own under performance. With H&G still owning the club and a divisive self serving board, LFC are now primed for rapid decline a la Leeds and Benitez’s days will be looked back on with fondness when we tasted glory and could have been a contender.
spot on! Benitez ruined this teams youth and development, haven’t seen a youth player make a splash in his tenure. though he received shaky support, Rafa did not make the best moves in the transfer market.
*Deleted as abusive*
Do we have to do this every time one of our writers dares to criticise a Premier League club? If you can’t keep it civil, you’re not welcome here.
@alan – “Negative spin” would suggest I have a vested interest either way, when that isn’t the case.
if you’re complaining about inaccuracies, it’s probably best not to start with one yourself. The net outlay in six years is £109.2m, the £71.4m net outlay is since Benitez last delivered a trophy in 2006.
“Benitez’s main problem was that he could not beat the hegemony of Man U and Chelsea. When his team finished above above, it couldn’t finish above the other. But who has? And you saying that his system deteriorated the standard of youth development is quite bizarre when his predecessor was no more successful”
I can’t decide whether that is damning by faint praise, or an attempt to put a positive spin, where there is no positivity. That no-one else has managed to finish above Chelsea and Manchester United is good enough for Liverpool fans these days? That Houllier failed to bring in youth players means it’s acceptable when Benitez not only repeats it, but spends excessive money brining in youth “talent” on professional contracts (and the higher wages they command) to bypass the club’s existing system, the most successful of whom proved to be El Zhar?
“You say that H&G have not contributed to the failure on the pitch”
Except I don’t.
“but it is clear that the club is operating at net profit on player sales (over the last 3 windows)”
Is extremely selective (another attempt at positive spin?), considering it includes the one time Benitez made a profit (Winter 2009, with the sale of Robbie Keane), which you will note I did actually mention in the article. In every other transfer window – including the other two in your selective three window area – Benitez has had a net spend. That that net spend is reducing has been mentioned as a bad sign, and neither this article or this site is going to pretend that Hicks & Gillett are a good thing.
“I can put a more favourable spin on Benitez achievements: 6 years = 2 champs league finals, 1 fa cup final, 1 league cup final, and 2nd in the Prem and his team had a far higher average points total than his predecessor. ”
Higher average points, two trophies in six years, League Cup Finals – is that really acceptable for Liverpool fans these days?
“Since the first three seasons where Benitez delivered two Champions League finals, and two trophies, Liverpool haven’t challenged, despite a net outlay of £71.4million.” Erm…excuse me but didn’t Liverpool finish 2nd the season before last with a points total that would have won the league in a number of other seasons? That’s without mentioning two further European semi-finals in that period where you are saying Liverpool didn’t challenge. In six seasons under Benitez, Liverpool had one truly bad season (the last one): the previous five years had seen constant improvement.
The comments about the youth system are just as stupid. Conveniently you forgot to mention the number of home grown players that Gerard Houllier had used in his final season (to pick one random instance, as you did with Benitez). The total would have been easy to count: 0.
Benitez was simply repeating what his predecessor was saying, that the quality of players coming through wasn’t good enough. True he bought a large number of players some of whom weren’t good enough. But to say that Mikel San Jose – who has just had a brilliant season at Atletico Bilbao – Paul Anderson who is one of the best players in the Championship and likewise Jack Hobbs at Leicester were flops is another convenient piece of revisionism. Perhaps they didn’t mature fast enough and up to Liverpool standard, but the potential for them to be good players was there.
You also conveniently fail to mention Peter Gulacsi, one of the finest young goalkeepers in Europe, Daniel Ayala who looks like he could become a real player or Dani Pacheco who will certainly become that. All three were brought in by Benitez just as he also brought in Rodolfo Borell to oversee a significant improvement in the style and quality of play of Liverpool’s U18s. A side which,incidentally, gave England two of its starting 11 in the recent success in the European U17s.
I could go on and argue how Jermaine Pennant was bought because money for Dani Alves wasn’t made available or how Benitez proved everyone wrong with Peter Crouch but I won’t. The truth is that Benitez often had to take bets on players who weren’t of the quality that he wanted. Some turned out very well (Arbeloa) others didn’t (Pennant). But to claim that he was a bad judge of players, as you are hinting, is ridiculous.
Benitez wasn’t perfect and perhaps too many people within the club were having doubts about him for it to make sense to keep him. But to twist arguments as you have is shameful although unsurprising seeing that you are simply parotting what others have said. The only saving grace of this piece. is that at least you didn’t bring up zonal marking.
PS – If I really wanted to be pedantic, I’d also point out that Bolo Zended was actually signed by Benitez, not Houllier as you claim.
“Higher average points, two trophies in six years, League Cup Finals – is that really acceptable for Liverpool fans these days?”
The problem is that a Liverpool manager is judged against the history of the club. Meanwhile Liverpool are no longer financially simply in the same league with Chelsea or Man United. As a club Arsenal have a lot better infrastructure and Wenger has had over a decade to build his team – and what has he achieved in the past few years? Added to that, there are other clubs, like Man City, that are now almost stronger than Liverpool.
You have to remember Benitez started with a squad hugely inferior to that of Chelsea and Man United. Has he really been able to strengthen more than these two clubs? These two clubs have made mistakes in the transfer market but having already excellent squads they have been able to get away with it. Benitez’s failures have had a more detrimental effect.
A year ago Liverpool came very close to winning the Premiership. That would have been an outstanding achievement considering how much better resources Man U and Chelsea have. They simply overperformed even if they won nothing.
Now Liverpool have had one poor season. This came after a lot of infighting and instability brought by the ownership situation. Benitez surely is one to blame for the poor performances but the situation has hardly been enhanced by the conditions.
Sacking Benitez is probably a good thing in the short term. After all, the negativity has become so strong. A new man can be a breath of fresh air.
But in the long term, is Liverpool really going to find a more capable manager? If it wasn’t for the latest season, his time at Liverpool has been a success shadowed only by the inability to overcome two stronger and bigger (financially) clubs in the long run of a league season.
Considering the financial situation, it is easy to see Liverpool slipping even further behind and to become equivalent to Tottenham, Aston Villa. Champions League spot at best and upper mid-table as a norm.
“is that really acceptable for Liverpool fans these days?”
It’s going to have to be for the foreseeable future, because they aren’t going to be challenging for much more than that unless they are bought by a Sheikh Mansour/Roman Abramovich style figure.
And they are thin on the ground these days.
@Paul – Mikel San Jose came from Athletic Bilbao, and three years later he’s back there – is it Liverpool’s job to school Athletic Bilbao’s players? No. Paul Anderson is now a Championship player, which is a fine achievement for a player than Liverpool signed from (then) Championship club Hull City. Jack Hobbs is also in the Championship – is that what Liverpool’s Academy system has become? A far for Championship clubs?
I did recent Tranmere loanee Peter Gulacsi (one of the finest keepers in Europe? Let’s see after he’s regularly played a level higher than League One, eh?). I also mentioned Daniel Ayala and Daniel Pacheco, who may be fine prospects, but Titus Bramble looked like Franz Beckenbauer at the same point in time (4/5 games in the Premiership. I see you mention the two Liverpool players in the U17 tournament, but don’t point out how these are the first Liverpool players in a England European Championship U17 squad since Benitez took over. I also wonder if Connor Coady and Andre Wisdom look enviously at team mate Connor Wickham and all the games and attention he’s getting, having chosen a smaller club.
I had forgotten that the Moores family had refused to meet Seville’s asking price of £8m for Dani Alves, only to waste £6.7m on Pennant.
PS If I wanted to be really pedantic, I’d point out that Bolo Zenden arrived on the 4th July 2005 – after Benitez had won the Champions League.
Rob, the more you type the less you say and the more your arguments unravel. It is very clear that you are applying a distorted spin on your analysis, but its only you who knows if you have a vested interest other than not liking Benitez. To dismiss LFC’s achievements of finishing higher in the league than Arsenal, Chelsea and Man U is not “damning by faint praise” in the slightest, to suggest so is ludicrous. Those 3 clubs operate in the highest echelons of European football and regularly appear in the latter stages of the Champions league. To finish above any of those is a significant achievement even for Liverpool and this is not a positive spin, its a statement of fact relative to the club’s last 20 year history.
“Higher average points…is that really acceptable for Liverpool fans these days”. Your’re just repeating yourself now. Benitez’s points haul and win ratios were a great improvements on his predecessors and on a least 2 occasions his points total could have won the title in recent years. But that misses the point, I think most LFC fans are realistic, and although we would love to win the Prem we understand that we haven’t done so in 20 years and is a difficult task. Only 3 clubs have done so in the best part of a generation. For most fans visible improvement and a still in the hunt by May is sufficient not make knee jerk reactions calling for a replacement.
Paul also pointed out that you were incorrect to state that Zenden was inherited by Benitez so I don’t know why you tried to be smug and draw our attention to it again.
“That Houllier failed to bring in youth players means it’s acceptable when Benitez not only repeats it, but spends excessive money brining in youth “talent” on professional contracts (and the higher wages they command) to bypass the club’s existing system” This argument is so flawed I’m embarrassed for you. Firstly I never said that it was acceptable, however I do point out that your argument that Benitez had “deteriorated” the standard of youth system is a completely erroneous one. Your supplementary analysis shows just how far you are off the mark. It is common and standard practice for top teams to offer their promising players professional contract following their 17 birthday or following the end of their youth scholarships. Spend time looking at the reserve squads of Man U, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea et al and you will see dozens of players on pro contracts many of whom are in youth teams and haven’t made the reserves yet. For every Astrit Ajdarevic I can give you a Oguzhan Ozyakup or a Matthew James, or for Jack Hobbs I can give you Roarie Deacon or Scott Wootton or Oliver Gill. It’s also common for the top clubs to cherry pick youth talent from across Europe with the competitve advantage of placing them on pro contracts. They have been doing so at least since Newcastle acquired Oliver Bernard in 2000. In such instances this has worked spectacularly (Fabregas to Arsenal) but the vast majority less so and others like Pacheco at Liverpool, Kakuta at Chelsea or Pogba at Man U its a case of wait and see. But top youth talent often comes at a high cost: Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Mikel and the da Silva twins all came at a premium. This is the way of modern football. But this system or approach was also in evidence under Houllier who famously bought Le Tallec and Pongolle at relatively high cost. Many of the LFC’s reserve players such as Barragan, Palletta, Mikel San Jose or Leto were also sold on at reasonable even profitable fees and many are still assets even if they do not go to great success in the LFC first team. The only club people would argue have a successful youth policy is Arsenal, but Wenger has won much in the last 6 years has he? So unless you have an evidenced based benefit cost analysis of youth development at LFC relative to that of Houllier’s and relative to that of the contemporaneous systems in the EPL your argument is groundless and based purely on your negative preconceptions.
Rob, thanks for replying.
I agree, the purpose behind Liverpool’s academy isn’t to supply players for the Championship. But that wasn’t the point I was arguing. You dismissed a lot of the young players that Benitez had bought off-hand as being flops, as if he just brought them in to make up numbers. My point was that Liverpool had signed players with potential to do well and their subsequent careers has proven that the potential was there. They simply weren’t good enough for Liverpool.
In the meantime, can you indicate where your original piece you said that Ayala and Pacheco were ‘fine prospects’ as I must surely have missed them? Is it the bit where you simply say that they had played some games last year? And Peter Gulacsi has played at a higher level than League One: he was considered the best goalkeeper at the World Under 20 Championships when Hungary (containing 3 Liverpool players that Benitez had signed) came third.
As for Coady and Wisdom, there’s no need for them to look at someone like Wickham at Ipswich as they can simply look at Liverpool team-mate Jack Robinson who made his senior debut on the final day of last season.
Oh, and playing for a small club struggling to avoid relegation from the Championship like Ipswich is no guarantee that you’re going to get a fair chance. Just ask Danny Haynes who everyone was saying was going to be a star only for a new manager to come in and decide to ship him off.
It would have been nice of you to say something about being wrong with respect to Liverpool not challenging but we can’t have everything, can we? But at least you did re-inforce what I was saying by admitting that David Moores (not the Moores family: where did that come from?) forced Benitez to look for cheaper alternatives who weren’t good enough.
PS Thanks for indirectly acknowledging that you were wrong in your piece when you said that Zenden wasn’t one of the players inherited.