Thursday, August 6, 2009

Xabi Alonso Transfer Piles Pressure on Rafael Benitez to Produce, or Else...

The worst kept secret in football finally came to a close last night as Xabi Alonso completed his protracted transfer from Liverpool to Real Madrid.

In reality, the deal was not as long-winded as most would have you believe. The two clubs amazingly agreed upon the £30 million transfer fee less than 24 hours after the 25 percent sell on clause, which would have seen Real Sociadad claim up to £7.5 million, had lapsed...

With no barriers left in the way of the transfer, the deal went smoothly through and the integral part of Florentino Perez's jigsaw made his way to the Bernabeau. Make no mistake, Xabi Alonso's transfer fee is dwarfed by those paid out for Ronaldo and Kaka.

However, his is the signing that Madrid had pinpointed to make this new term of the Galactico's work, and is in all probability the most important.

Liverpool loses a player who acted with great dignity throughout his ordeal with manager Rafael Benitez. For the last two years, the Spanish duo have not seen eye to eye.

The first cracks in the relationship materialised after Alonso asked to be excused from a meaningless Champions League Qualifier so he could attend the birth of his child.

When Benitez flatly refused and named Alonso as a squad member, he invoked labour law, and took his mandatory time off, which is allowed under industrial working acts.

The following season, Alonso was put up for sale after Benitez pinpointed Aston Villa's Gareth Barry as his ideal replacement. That particular transfer brought into question the relationship between the manager and the chief executive at the club.

Rick Parry felt that the £18 million that Martin O'Neill was looking for was exorbitant, and refused to negotiate any further. Meanwhile, Rafa, who had made it known to all and sundry that Alonso was available, was asked by Parry who his second choice was.

Phil Thompson had already sounded Robbie Keane out for Rafa, and the wheels were set in motion for a £20 million move from Spurs. However, Benitez still wanted Barry, and was prepared to sell Alonso to whoever made a decent bid.

Knowing this, Arsene Wenger made a bid and had actually agreed terms with Alonso, but Arsenal then refused to meet Parry's £15 million asking price. An expensive game of poker ensued, and Alonso stayed at Anfield.

As it turned out, he had a fantastic season, while Benitez then went on to use Robbie Keane's signing as the stick to beat Parry with in their boardroom games.

In the end, Rafael Benitez got his way. Keane was sold to Spurs for £12 million, while Rick Parry was made to fall on his sword as Rafa assumed more control in the transfer end of things at the club.

When Real Madrid made it known that Alonso was on their radar this year, he made it known to his manager that he wanted to move. But Benitez, as was his right, held out for as much money as possible.

One thing Benitez did that did not sit well with many of Liverpool's players was when he forced Alonso to say in public what he had been saying in private for some months.

Some of the players felt that their manager was being unfair to a player that he had openly tried to sell one year previous—there be but for the grace of God go I, as the old saying goes.

In the end, Alonso acted with dignity and moved to the team that had tried to sign him once before.

Liverpool moved quickly to assuage their fans' fears, and placed a £20 million bid for the highly rated Alberto Acquilani. The cultured central midfielder with an eye for goal was immediately targeted by Benitez as Alonso's replacement, especially as Aston Villa had turned down Liverpool's renewed £8 million bid for Barry, preferring Manchester City's £12 million bid.

Liverpool and Roma had been negotiating for weeks, and just needed the paperwork to dry on Alonso's transfer deal before they acquired enough funds for the move.

One thing that begs the question is why didn't Liverpool go for any Madrid players?

It is a well known secret that "if you're Dutch, you have no future at the Bernabeau." And with that in mind, Rafael Benitez would have been well within his rights to demand cash plus players for his old midfield general.

Arjen Robben would have cured Liverpool's problem out wide, Wesley Snejder is Dutch version of Alonso, and Van Der Vaart and Huntelaar are two excellent forwards who would suitably back Torres (or partner him). Roysten Drenthe has the potential to be a superb left full, and Ruud van Nistelrooy needs no introduction.

All of these players are available for transfer, and Benitez could have taken as many as three of them and Liverpool would have been strengthened significantly.

The only reason that one could see for not going this route is Liverpool's massive debt problem, and adding three players of such calibre could have added another £10 million to £15 million to an already growing wage bill.

In the end Rafa went for Acquilani, a player who turned down moves to both Arsenal and Chelsea when he was 16. A player who has captained his country at underage level and a player who has always threatened to produce in Serie A over the last seven years.

Can he make the jump to the EPL? Very few Italian midfielders ever do and only time will tell if he will. But one thing is for sure: Liverpool needs to challenge for the league more than ever—drop out of the top four and disaster is only around the corner.

There is more pressure on Rafael Benitez's shoulders than at any other occasion in his career. Liverpool as a club are only a few steps from disaster, and the manager is now under intense pressure to finally bring some silverware home.

The club has invested heavily in his vision. Last season, there was a growing disenchantment with the manager, but their good showing in the league forced his detractors to back down.

But now that Benitez is in charge of more of the club, they have moved back into position and some have already said that they hope last season was not a fluke.

Move backwards and he could pay with his job.

The problem in doing such a thing in a club so wracked with debt is that Liverpool will fall into the same trap that has dogged them since Kenny Dalglish was at the helm.

When a new manager comes in he very often has a different vision on how to play the game from his predecessor, and looks to rebuild his team in as he sees fit. Spending millions on a new squad while the old guard are shipped out.

This is where Rafa's detractors gain most ammunition. In five seasons at the club he has spent almost £200 million (if you include Acquilani). But many feel the team has pretty much stood still as far as the Premiership is concerned, especially when you consider the substantial investment in the squad

Barring last year's undoubted improvement. Where Liverpool pushed Manchester United to the line.

One other area that is causing the club problems is the academy. They have failed to produce any player of real quality in over 10 years, and it is a major cause for concern within the club.

Another area that has sucked some much needed funds away from the club is the proposed new stadium. So far almost £20 million has been spent on consultants and contractors on the proposal, even though a sod has yet to be turned.

Less than one month ago, Liverpool FC also managed to reduce their crippling debt by £60 million, but they are now obliged to pay the remainder of the loan this time next year. That figure is some £290 million, but it is growing every day with interest and a sizable wage bill that is now above £80 million per year, a massive rise of 50 percent since 2004.

Rafael Benitez's signings have not set the world alight in his five years at Anfield. This year they will take on more importance than ever, fail again in the transfer lounge and Liverpool's future is hanging in the balance.

The pressure is on.

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