Tuesday’s result bought Rafa into focus again, it would have done whatever the score.
It provoked debate about the contrast between his reputation as a Champions League manager, which seems to grow with every campaign, and his apparent inability to “suss out” Premiership football. There was also predictable coverage about the impact the result would have on his future! Vindication and forgiveness were mentioned as if one result, which hasn’t even guaranteed our progress to the next round, would exorcise all the troubles that have dogged him and the club recently.
I believe that the media often feel the need to spice up copy by adding extra significance or meaning to the news that really isn’t there. Such is the competition for readers, watchers and listeners these days? So we get Rafa must win this game or he will be sacked. Gerrard’s goal has saved his future. I believe most of this is nonsense. It ignores the practical realities of the situation the club finds itself in favour of creating a “pot boiler” story.
Win or lose on Tuesday, and the same goes for the San Siro in three weeks time, I think Rafa will still be with us. While there is still uncertainty about the ownership of the club, surely he is going nowhere? Hicks and Gillett are not about to get rid of him and face a costly compensation pay out if they themselves are about the sell up. Equally if they are in talks about a take over or buy in (from DIC?) the Star Spangled Duo are hardly going to rock the boat by making such a large decision especially if, the new buyers are behind Rafa and/or, they plan on staying on in some capacity? They have already upset the fans once and if DIC take over, then Rafa’s future is their prerogative?
The fans backing of Rafa, which since the “Team America’s” skulduggery over Klinsmann has been solid, took a severe testing after the Barnsley game. Graffiti criticising Rafa’s rotation and players such as Kewell, Riise and Kuyt appeared on the walls of the training ground. Is this a knee jerk reaction from one individual, who by the way can’t spell, or representative of a genuine shift of loyalties? The response of the crowd on Tuesday night answered that. However are concerns from the players, over rotation, the one issue that won’t go away regardless of how we are doing, slowly beginning to seep through into the public domain?
After the Barnsley game reports said that Benitez had undertaken to field his strongest side for the rest of the season. Said the Guardian yesterday…
“Even before graffiti appeared outside Melwood demanding Benítez select his strongest side, the manager admitted to a team meeting on Sunday that rest was no longer necessary in the pursuit of fourth place and a sixth European Cup.”
Was this because with a dozen of so games to go the players, as suggested, didn’t need a rest? Or perhaps it was a realisation that rotation hasn’t worked and that it needs to be abandoned if something is to be salvaged from the wreckage of the season? Or maybe it was simply part of Rafa’s overall plan?
If Rafa is one thing he is single minded, almost to the point of stubbornness, and he has shown this with his team selection, which has often flown in the face of mass opinion, this and last season. However, perhaps the Barnsley result shocked him, burnt his fingers? Whatever the reason, and I doubt we ever find out what this is, it’s a contraction that for a manager where tactical caution is the watchword, he regularly feels to need to gamble with team selection?
And the players? I was struck that after the Inter game Steven Gerrard when asked a direct question about how important Tuesday’s result was for Rafa passed on the chance to pay tribute to him.
“Yes, but it was important for the fans, the staff and everyone connected with the club. It was a big night and a big win and it means nothing unless we finish the job off.”
Perhaps I am reading too much into this? Trying to find another explanation as to why things have gone wrong other than us, in Carragher’s words being “not good enough”? Minutes later after Gerrard’s interview, Jamie Carragher said Rafa had been the biggest influence on his career. However yesterday he said when talking about Tuesday…
“There is just something about us that we are always confident in Europe. We fielded our main players as well, which makes a difference”
The Guardian describes this is as a “mild, gentle rebuke” for Rafa’s rotation policy and it’s ironic that this article appeared alongside one about Frank Lampard and the recent Chelsea line ups. Here Lampard was more forthright…
“I don’t know how much rotation there’ll be in the future but it’s important we get a settled team in the run-in. Any good team I’ve been involved in has had a pretty settled line-up and it’ll be down to the manager to find that.”
I’m not suggesting that Rafa has lost the dressing room but perhaps there is a small split or disagreement between those players who accept rotation and those players who don’t and get frustrated when they are rested, in preference to the less talented ones, and the side performs badly?
If Rafa fields his strongest side from now on, I’ll believe it when I see it, it will be interesting to see how we do. A decent run, securing fourth place and further progress in The Champions League with a settled line up, would be ironic as although Rafa’s standing would reamin in tact, his previous methods would be undermined?
Back tomorrow with a review of the Middlesbrough game.