We're on the march with Rafa's army ...

Posted by [delete] on January 11, 2005, 07:20:02 PM

Well it's fair to say 2004 won't go down as a good year for us - the horrors at Portsmouth, Marseilles, Everton and Monaco only partly compensated for by glimpses of what is to come for us.  The year started with a manager that was testing the patience of even the most ardent French Kopite, yet ended with a new boss with the undoubted support of all Reds.

When Houllier was sacked in the summer the candidates that have been buying houses in Southport for years were banded about in the papers, from O'Neil and Curbishley  to Mourinho and Toshack.  When the board decided on the manager who has won two Spanish championships and the UEFA Cup in recent times, it was overshadowed in the national news by the appointment of another manager south of the Watford Gap.  As we have now become accustomed to with Benitez, his arrival wasn't full of promises and big headed statements, setting out his views for the future and giving little away.

When you talk to most Reds about Benitez there is always genuine fondness in the reply.  Every game sees his name chanted, usually loudest and longest.  But what exactly has the Spaniard done to give him such backing?  Out of the four signings he's made who have made their first team bow, it could be argued that three haven't exactly shown great form, with Alonso the only undoubted success story.  He's lost to Everton and Man United, and at times we've had some pretty dismal outings.  But what's made Benitez stand out to everyone as the man who's got it in him to do what Mssrs Souness, Evans and Houllier have failed to do and bring the Prem to Anfield?

After the last few years of Houllier's reign, we'd become accustomed to post-match and pre-match interviews that we're enough to make an entire Happy Al's coach wince [and that's even before the bizzies have taken everyone's ale].  Remember the appearance of Houllier on the telly at any Anfield pub?  Usually greeted with hush and as soon as you heard the first excuse brought out choruses of boos and spilt ale followed.  So it's great when we now have the contrast with Benitez;  the boos that greeted Houllier are now replaced by smiles all round.  He doesn't come out and moan, and when he does it's a genuine moan. 

I remember Benitez dropping Harry Kewell after he was playing diabolically and not 100%.  We played Olympiakos away and Stevie Warnock was given the nod, something you would never dream of with Houllier at the helm.  Remember the Heskey persistence?  Biscan at centre half?  This showed to me that Benitez will pick the player's he thinks will do a job - look at Josemi, his first buy, yet when Finnan was in better form he had to make do with a place on the bench.  Benitez could have stuck with the defender in the hope he will come good and this will in turn make Benitez look good, yet it was the team first.

Look at the Echo yesterday with David Raven talking of his hopes for the future.  These player's who reserve and academy regulars have been crying out for for years will be given the chance to prove their good enough, rather than expensive squad players being given the chance ahead of them.  Look at the lads at Spurs away the other week;  they beat a tough side away from home and even if some of them don't make the grade here it will have done them an awful lot of good, something Benitez should be applauded for.

But haven't we been here before?  Singing a manager's name from the stands, raving over our boss?  Benitez has a hard job to get everyone totally on his side because there's always the chance that one day he could be a hero and the next he could be disliked so much many can't bring themselves to go the game.  Whilst other managers seem to want to shout about their work everyday in the press, Rafa gives very little away and is always quick to heap praise on the player's, directing the praise from himself. 

Another thing that has assured us that Benitez can make the grade on Merseyside is the constant praise of him from the continent.  Morientes, Pellegrino, Aimar, Garcia, Alonso all couldn't hide their desire to work with Benitez, some of whom hadn't even played with him before [oo-err].  Other than the Valencia board, I'm yet to hear a bad word about Benitez, even from the fans he left behind at the Mestalla cursing their luck now some people's choice for the manager's job Ranieri is now in charge.

Only time will tell whether Benitez will do the job, and in a year's time we'll really know just how good the Spaniard has been for us.  But for now it's enjoyable to have everyone behind the manager;  and I'm sure a certain Mr Morientes or Anelka will help Rafa do what he did in Spain and bring the title.

© Gary Ablett 2005

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