So there we have it. Rafa Benítez has to compete with Bob Paisley, not Alex Ferguson. Rafa Benítez isn’t allowed to use modern techniques, but must stick with those from the 1970s, because they worked then.
Why stop there? Why not insist on the hugely outdated formations from the 1930s? Or why not select those great players from 1964, when Liverpool won the league after a 15 year hiatus? – after all, Hunt and St John were pretty good, weren’t they? Why is Rafa using these newfangled players with funny names? Why won’t he select Ron Yeats and Peter Thompson?
The cause of my ire?
Under the column title Ash Wednesday, the Daily Mail ran a load of rot called “Rotating Rafa will pay for not running Liverpool like Paisley.”
It implies that as Paisley didn’t rotate in the ‘70s, Benítez is wrong to do so now.
So I must ask, did Ash write the article on a typewriter?
I can only assume he eschewed all modern forms of communication used by his colleagues and competitors to draft his piece, and instead stuck to methods that were essential for success around 30 years ago? After all, the top journalists of the day wrote great pieces without computers.
And as, judging by the one thing of his I’ve read, Ash is nowhere near the top journalist of the current day, maybe he should get out the old Olivetti in order to win some journalism awards? I’m sure his editor will love that. Here you go, typed up on a sheet of A4 paper and sent via time-consuming telegram, rather than word processed and emailed.
His piece has to be the biggest pile of jumbled nonsense you can ever have the misfortune to read. I hate using the word ‘worst’, but it’s hard to recall a bigger pile of nonsense written about the team (therefore excluding the bile written after Hillsborough, etc).
Without irony, Benítez is slated for rotating and winning 56% of league matches, and miserably failing to match the success of Bob Paisley, who won, er … 56% of league matches. I just saw a dead badger lying in the road, and even it could see the flaw in Ash’s argument here.
Benítez is slated for having a large squad, because Paisley didn’t; ignoring that Manchester United and Chelsea, in the present day, have large squads too, that are also more expensive. By this logic, Ferguson is wrong to have a large squad, as was Mourinho when winning the league. Because you didn’t need them in 1979.
What a fool Rafa is, to try and compete with his current rivals and not the distant past. Did I miss the season when Alex Ferguson recently won the league using just 14 players? What Paisley did was amazing, but he didn’t achieve it by using the methods of the 1949 title-winning side, did he?
Nor did he even use the methods of Shankly’s 1973 success; he tweaked things, and changed to a continental centre-back style system. What a fool Paisley was, for dispensing with the old-fashioned hairy-arsed stoppers in favour of the likes of Thompson, Hughes, Hansen and Lawrenson.
Ash names the two times this season that Rafa named an unchanged side as proof of how consistency has been too absent; and totally ignores that neither changeless game was won – but that the majority of those for which he did rotate were won!
Even the badger, who has now been run over by a wide-load 18-wheeler, and had his brains splattered across the tarmac, can see the incredible lack of logic. And believe me, he wasn’t a very intelligent badger to start with.
After all, three changes were made at Old Trafford after the great 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid. But two were down to injury, and one down to a suspended player being eligible again. Still, win, lose or draw it would go down to ‘rotation’ in the history books, where such factors are not examined.
Despite ‘no consistency in selection’ (as only totally unchanged teams are consistent according to Ash), Liverpool attained an even better result at the Theatre of Empty Seats. By Ash’s logic, this was a bad selection by Rafa, who should have played Babel, not Riera. He got it wrong, winning 4-1. What a fool that Spaniard is. Let’s really lay into him this week, after letting the club down with his crazy ideas.
Ash says that those only two unchanged Liverpool line-ups came when Liverpool’s title challenge had run out of steam; but getting to the top of the table was actually based on a steady amount of rotation. After all, Liverpool were top when these games took place, and the Reds slipped up in these very games, when Rafa didn’t rotate.
At the time of the post-New Year slump, most observers were saying that Rafa hadn’t rotated enough in the first half of the season, as he’d cut back on previous campaigns, and his team looked jaded.
Ash ignores that Ferguson has rotated plenty this season, last season, and the season before. He ignores that Ferguson admits that he picks his side for games well in advance, and makes changes frequently as a result of such advanced planning. Where’s his consistency of selection?
He can also get it wrong, as the result suggests he did against Liverpool, when he left out Berbatov, Giggs, Fletcher and Scholes. But that’s rotation; you can’t be right every single time. Even then, the defeat was as much down to Torres and Gerrard scaring the life out of first-choice regulars Vidic and Ferdinand as anything else.
Yes, Ferguson has a stronger squad so that, on average, his rotation can mean less of a deterioration in quality. But if you do not rotate in the modern game you do not succeed, as the far greater tempo, and lack of natural breaks in games (for backpasses and balls going into touch) make it far more gruelling.
Chelsea’s recent success came with a similar amount of rotation to United’s success, and a very similar amount to the rotation at Liverpool under Benítez.
Indeed, I’m still waiting to see a team succeed in the modern Premiership without rotating. Ash sounds horrified that Rafa (with 90 so far) may yet make over 100 changes this season to his league line-ups – and yet 118, 118 and 117 are the total league changes made each season by the last three champions.
Ash also ignorantly ignores that the reason Benítez hasn’t been able to name his ‘best team’ has not been due to rotation, but the injuries to Torres and Gerrard, who, as a pair, have only been fit enough to start a third of the Reds games.
How can Rafa name his best side every week when his best two players have been unfit to play together on two-thirds of the league games played? It beggars belief to even suggest Rafa has brought this on himself when he’s been hamstrung by a hobbling Torres, who suffered the injuries mostly with Spain.
Ash ignores the problems caused to Rafa’s preparations by the Olympic games, with Babel (already not fully recovered from an injury sustained with Holland in June) and Mascherano carted off to China just before the season started (meaning they missed pre-season and early league games).
As ignores the late return from Euro 2008 for the successful Spanish lads, who were not allowed a decent rest in the summer to recharge their batteries; perhaps a contributing factor as to why Torres and Arbeloa have had more physical problems than ever before, and why Alonso is injured now.
Ash ignores that young left-back Emiliano Insua was in top form after four consecutive starts before Argentina called him away to the other side of the world for their continent’s U20 championships, something Liverpool could not resist. How could Benítez select him if he’s in South America?
So despite all the injuries and the other reasons why the manager has had to change his team, Rafa has apparently rotated himself into problems. I ask you! It’s like it’s 2005 again, and no-one has woken up to the way of the world.
I suggest Ash pop along to see his colleague Martin Samuel, who has really impressed me of late with his understanding of the difficulties faced by Rafa, and the good job he is doing in difficult circumstances. I still think Samuel needs a haircut (but then I could just be jealous), but I understand why he’s won some awards. I also bet he doesn’t use a typewriter.
By contrast, Ash trots out a tired old argument and contradicts himself with the few facts he does include (such as admitting that United do indeed have greater resources, and that Rafa’s win % is the same as Bob Paisley’s, the man he’s comparing him against.)
The rot continues: “Benitez complains that they cannot compete with United, the team who spent £30m on Dimitar Berbatov last summer as Sir Alex Ferguson made improvements to a team who were already champions at home and abroad. Those constraints did not stop Benitez spending £24m on Fernando Torres, hailed the best striker in the world by Steven Gerrard last weekend, or £17m on Robbie Keane.”
I really don’t get this bit. So Rafa was ‘wrong’ to spend less than United did on Berbatov for the best striker in the world? It’s insane. Torres was Benítez’s one really expensive signing, but the fact that the striker has been so prolific goes to show that more money gives you better choices in the market. If only he had four or five £25m players.
If Rafa had spent £32m on a talented but phenomenally lazy striker, he’d have been torn to shreds. More fool him for spending £24m on Torres, and complaining that he can’t pay that type of money more often.
Neither Torres nor Keane cost as much as Berbatov. Or Rooney. Or Ferdinand. Or Veron, who is long-since gone. Or Tevez, when any deal is finalised. (Liverpool couldn’t afford to pay £10m for a two-year loan of a player valued at £30m+, on top of large wages. If Liverpool pay £10m on a player, he needs some resale value.)
Liverpool’s current squad costs £127m, compared with United’s £207m. Surely these are the relevant figures? – not a couple of examples of players Rafa has bought?
Everton spent £15m on Fellaini, and £12m on Yakubu, but that doesn’t mean they can compete with Liverpool financially or be expected to finish above them.
By Ash’s logic, having a couple of players who cost almost as much as Liverpool’s more expensive players means Everton should be competing at the same level. No-one expects or demands that, and rightly so.
Ash then really loses the plot on another point.
“Jamie Carragher, scandalously sent to play right back at times this season because of injuries…”
‘Scandalously’? What fucking cretinous bullshit is this? Someone has had to play out of position due to an injury crisis. Sack Rafa now!
With Arbeloa, the first choice right-back injured, Degen, the second-choice right-back injured, and Darby, the third-choice right-back injured, who was Rafa supposed to play there? Phil Neal? Or maybe no-one, because it’d mean someone being out of position?
Damn fool that Rafa for selecting a right-footed defender who has played at full-back hundreds of times, when he has no alternative.
Of course, I’d wager money I don’t have that Ash doesn’t even know who Stephen Darby is, or realised that Degen existed.
When Rafa selected Skrtel at Boro, apparently because Carra felt too tired for the role, he was castigated after the Slovakian had a mare. In the next game Rafa played Mascherano there, and was similarly castigated before the game – except the Argentine was excellent there. Oh.
At Old Trafford, with no time to prepare, Carragher was deployed there after Arbeloa’s last-minute hamstring tweak. Mascherano was rightly kept in midfield this time, where he had a stormer.
But shame on Rafa for ‘scandalously’ playing his 4th-choice right-back at right-back when there was little alternative, and winning 4-1. What a schmuck! What a needlessly tinkering schmuck!
The size of Liverpool’s squad is also attacked:
“The majority of the 60 odd professionals [who are these ‘odd’ professionals?] will never get a look in at Anfield, not nearly good enough for a team still waiting for their first league title since 1990.”
The majority of the 60-odd professionals are, in fact, youngsters who of course are not good enough yet. How the hell can they be?
Daniel Pacheco was highly rated by Barcelona, but moved to Liverpool; kudos Rafa. Pacheco, a real gem of a talent, has just turned 18. But because Ash has never heard of him, or various other bright buds yet to blossom, Rafa is a fool with a bloated squad.
These lads have squad numbers for Carling Cup games and emergency inclusion in the first team squad, as seen with Spearing and Kelly in the Champions League.
They are not supposed to be ‘good enough’ yet. They are learning the ropes. And, as cheaply sourced kids with massive promise, the aim is that in a few years they will be good enough; the aim is that Liverpool have found the £30m stars of tomorrow when they cost £300,000. It’s called being proactive. Many won’t make the grade, but if two or three do, that’ll be a massive coup.
Ash ends with this pearl:
“United have the greater financial resources, but the traditions and history of Liverpool should still count for something.”
By this logic, Nottingham Forest should be winning the European Cup. After all, they did so in 1979 and 1980. Yes, Forest don’t have the resources of Liverpool these days, but surely their traditions and history should count for something? And while we’re at it, why aren’t Blackpool top of the league?
And why isn’t Ferguson sticking to the traditions of Matt Busby? Why is Ferguson using modern techniques? Why is he bothering with sports science, dieticians, continental coaches, rotation, etc? Why isn’t he buying only players from the British Isles and Ireland, and asking them to play each and every week, across 60 games?
Why isn’t Ferguson living in the past? Perhaps because he knows that it would be extremely foolish. Thankfully, with Rafa having now signed his new deal, LFC are not living in the past, either, but looking to the future.
The past is an important resource to learn from. But you also need to move with the times, and focus on what works now. Even the liquidised badger, currently being eaten by crows, now knows that roads are more dangerous these days, with faster cars, and more vehicles on the road. In 1979, he’d have sauntered safely across to the other side.
"Tomkins not only shows why he is a prolific, talented writer but also cements his status as very knowledgeable and passionate Red. In my opinion this is Tomkins' best work to date; a thoroughly excellent read."
Vic Gill, Shanks' son-in-law and former LFC trainee
“The project that Tomkins has taken on here is highly ambitious: assessing each of Liverpool’s managers since Bill Shankly. He does this in his own irrepressible style of analyzing in detail every area that falls within a manager’s remit. And whilst Tomkins has a talent for such a task, where he excels here is in approaching each manager without any apparent pre-conceived ideas.”
Paul Grech, Squarefootball.net
"A unique analysis of the club's managers, which is no mean feat given the extensive bibliography of the club… informative … another perspective on the last 50 years at Liverpool."
Programme & Football Collectable Monthly