Posted by Garstonite on September 2, 2005, 02:41:05 PM
I hope Rafa is going to like it at the play. Because when Liverpool face Newcastle this season and beyond, it could very well be a case of “he’s behind you!” For the Reds to escape the inevitable Michael Owen haunting, it’s going to have to take some truly solid defending, and a quick call to Ghostbusters.
I will not lie; this week has really tested my faith in Rafa (yes, the man who brought home number 5). How could we pass up the opportunity of signing a player who will score us 100 goals over 5 seasons? Was it a case of Benítez having to swallow his pride? Either that or he truly did/does believe that the current players do the job.
Following the hysteria, I had to fix my television set, bandage myself up after the knee-jerk reaction, and come to my senses. Had I really been so uncertain of the smiling assassin? After all, he's only just brought home a big-eared cup that, even long after he’s gone we’ll still all be talking about.
I admit that I was out of order. But it has to be remembered that most of the criticism thrown around by Liverpool fans was out of sheer frustration.
Was this the same man who was pictured in Papa Joe’s Biersalon with Liverpool fans, the same man whose face was turned into the Rafatollah in Cardiff? You would have thought he was some impostor who had come in, labelled the Scouse pie as inedible and given the V-sign to The Kop.
Some fans will continue to criticise the manager's decision for as long as Michael Owen is scoring goals for Newcastle. But ultimately was it really feasible to sell a player for £8m and then buy him back for double that fee a year later? To Rafa it wasn't, obviously: "When we spoke to Madrid, they only ever talked about £16m. We couldn't spend that much money on a player we sold for £8m."
Hit. Nail. Head. Complain all you wish, but at the end of the day Michael Owen would have been a pleasure, not a priority. The main concerns were bringing in a centre back and a right-sided winger.
In my opinion, we do have sufficient cover in these areas - Benitez made a lot of how versatile players are imperative for any squad, and we have the likes of Traore and Josemi who can fill in the void at centre half, and Garcia, Potter and even Mr. Gerrard for the right hand side of our midfield.
Wednesday was deadline day and, as ever, nobody knew what to expect. Following the disappointment over Michael Owen, many believed that Rafa would pull out all stops to try and pull a rabbit out of the hat. It was a game of cat and mouse Tom and Jerry-style between Liverpool and Benfica - Simao Sabrosa was the name on the agenda. It was a frantic case of "who do you believe most?" Some sources claimed he'd passed his medical in Portugal, others that he was on Merseyside and was on the verge of becoming a Liverpool player, yet more claimed that the deal had broken down. The latter were correct, unfortunately. Benfica upped the ante and asked for £13.6m at the last minute, whereas Liverpool stood firm with their final offer of £10.2m.
That failed deal epitomised our entire transfer dealings to a tee: frustrating. Even the player himself, who was Benfica's top scorer last season, was hoping for the move, "The decision is exclusively Benfica's,"
said Simao. "An offer from the European champions is enormous for any player."
To rub salt in the proverbial wound, Newcastle United pipped Liverpool to another transfer target - Peruvian winger Nolberto Solano. Both players who made the switch to Newcastle had previously stated their interest in coming to play for the European Champions. As we now know, neither players pleas became reality. It almost seemed as if Rafa and the board was trying to hurry any kind of deal through just the please the fans. A deal for Daniele Bonera of Parma, another Liverpool target, never materialised.
Rick Parry speaking yesterday at a press conference reflected upon Liverpool's activities in the transfer market, "Have we got a better squad to do well in all competitions this season? Rafa's answer to this is yes."
When all's said and done, that is the only thing of importance. It's already becoming a cliche, but one of which sums up my feelings right now: 'In Rafa we trust.'
Arguably, the first team is not much, if at all, stronger. Sissoko is a better player than Diao, but should we have the same sort of injury crisis as the last two years, can he replace both Diao and Biscan? Perhaps not, but then again, we now have the versatility of former Middlesbrough Dutch star Bolo Zenden - a player who can operate on the left wing, play in at left back, slot in behind the strikers or, as he did on the opening day of the season, fit in at the heart of team in the centre. We also have goalkeeper Pepe Reina, who recently turned 23. From what little I have seen, and looking back at his impressive records from the SpanishLa Liga, Rafa has spent some smart money on him. And finally there is 6 foot 8" of Peter Crouch - recently given his first England cap and a player that scored more goals last season in the league than our own top scorer, Milan Baros, but without the service of the likes of Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso etc.
When your side is linked to the likes of Raul, Owen, Figo etc, you have every right as a fan to be slightly miffed when you don't get them, and instead get players whose names wouldn't get the blood pumping. Yet these less glamorous players are the ones Rafa wanted, and these are players who will give 100% every game. Besides, and as much as it pains me to say, Fernando Morientes is a classic example of how a "big name signing" doesn't always work out.
The team might not be much stronger, but the squad is. At the beginning of last season, Benitez stated: "It's not just about 11 or 12 players anymore and over the next few months it's possible we could lose more players to injury, especially with the international games that are coming up."
A year on, and he's stuck to his word. Bolstering the reserve and youth side was at the top of his "to do" list and with signings of Besian Idrizaj, Ramon Calliste this week, on top of the acquistions of Godwin Antwi, Miquel Roque, Jack Hobbs and the player that won the reserve match against West Brom on Tueday, Antonio Barragan.
As Rafa said, "You shouldn't just buy players to go straight in your first team"
. Arsene Wenger's Arsenal are the best example of a club who have bolstered their youth system recently with positive effects on the first team. What it ensures is the standard of the squad rises, and the battle for a place in the first, senior side is more difficult. Although "Benitez's babes" impressed in the Carling Cup last season, the reserve side and U18s struggled last season, scraping around the wrong end of their respective tables, and Benitez clearly saw the need to act on this.
Rafa also spoke today of how his new scouting system is working tirelessly in order to "raise the bar" for the entire squad: "We have changed the entire scouting system and replaced some of the old scouts,"
Benitez told Liverpoolfc.tv. "We now have scouts working tirelessly on our behalf right around the world and we have situated these in what we believe to be the most important countries."
It seems that for the first time in ages we are taking scouting seriously, and whilst most fans won't be too concerned about anything besides the senior side, it is important to let the "regulars" know that their position isn't set in stone.
Although this week will be seen as irritating for lots of fans, we must get behind the players we have currently and put faith in Rafa.© Garstonite 2005
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