Thursday, October 29, 2009

After Everything, Is Rafael Benitez Off To Real Madrid?

Every Liverpool fans worst nightmare has moved one step closer as Real Madrid have confirmed that Manuel Pelligrini only has one week to save his job, or he will be replaced. And Rafael Benitez is the favourite to replace him...

The Liverpool faithful have been through the mill lately.
The clubs worst league run in 22 years and a poor start to the Champions League have not been enough for them to turn on their manager. With whom they have always enjoyed a great rapport.
Benitez is a much loved figure at Anfield.
Since joining Liverpool from Valencia in Summer 2004, Rafa has been seen by many in Red as a kindred spirit. Someone who loves the club as much as they. And that he would give his heart and soul to bring the glory years back to Anfield.
His cause was helped by the Reds winning the Champions League in his first year as manager, beating AC Milan on penalties in Instanbul. That first year, Liverpool also got to the Carling Cup Final only to lose to Chelsea after extra time.
While Liverpool were doing well in the cup competitions their league form dipped badly and they finished fifth after a poor end to the season.
But that Champions League win endeared him to the clubs fans forever, that magical fifth win, that their English rivals haven't even come close to achieving.
The following year Liverpool finished a credible third and won the FA Cup, and Rafa became the first Liverpool manager ever to win a trophy in each of his first two seasons.
In his third year as manager Liverpool were expected to challenge for the league, but horrendous form away from home brought that title tilt to a stop by mid November, while the club were knocked out of both domestic cup competitions by Arsenal.
It was after this poor run of results that the first rumblings of Benitez's departure took place. Bookmakers even went as far as suspending betting after the placement of huge bets on Rafa to leave, but he re-affirmed his desire to stay with the club and even got the club to another Champions League Final where AC Milan exacted revenge with a 2-0 win.
The start to the 2007/08 season was disrupted by trouble in the boot room at Melwood as both Pako Ayestrian and Steve Heighway parted company with the club over Benitez wanting to take control over the youth and reserve team set-up.
While that was going on the club was entering into it's boardroom war phase after George Gillett and Tom Hicks took over the club amid huge fan-fare.
The American duo mortgaged the club for some £500 million, including £220 million that was going to be spent on a new stadium, which has yet to materialize.
It then began to emerge that Benitez was in the middle of a conflict regarding transfer spending with the two owners, and in the run up to Liverpool's crucial CL clash with Porto, bookmakers again refused to take any more bets on Rafa leaving his job.
Fearing their beloved manager was about to leave, the fans staged a massive show of support for Rafa before the game, Liverpool ran out 4-1 winners and Benitez stayed in the job. But not before it became known that Rick Parry had approached Jurgen Klinnsmann to become the clubs manager.
Benitez was devastated to hear that Parry had approached another manager, as Rafa felt that the man who brokered the deal to bring him to Liverpool was one of his closest allies, and the following season Benitez set about undermining his new adversary and forcing him to resign.
Their league campaign was over was before Christmas and Liverpool were knocked out of every cup competition so 2007/08 proved to be a barren year in more ways than one.
Last season Liverpool produced their best ever finish to a league campaign under Benitez, 2nd.
But as ever the season was an eventful one in the boardroom. Chief Executive, Rick Parry, deemed Rafa's first choice transfer of Gareth Barry too expensive at £18 million for a player with only two years left on his contract so the pair decided to go for Tottenham captain, Robbie Keane instead.
The £20 million deal was pushed through but it was then that Rafa chose to move against Parry. Benitez practically shunned Keane, and less than six months later the striker was on his way back to Spurs as Rafa complained bitterly to the board about not having full control of transfers.
With the club in it's best in their best position in some time, and the manager as popular as ever, the board relented and gave Benitez charge of the purse strings and Parry was forced to resign.
It was during the week that Parry tended his resignation, that Liverpool were set to face Real Madrid and Manchester United. Lose one or both and Rafa's future was on the line.
However, the team put in two amazing performances and won both games 4-1 and Parry ended up leaving, but again bookmakers had suspended betting.
All was not well though as there were more rumblings in the boardroom, and Benitez was openly questioned on his transfer record of having spent £170 million on 48 players in less than five years.
It was this kind of talk that led to the transfer kitty being reduced to practically nothing the following season, and with this combined to the clubs poor start to the year, betting has become rife that Benitez will not last the year at Anfield.
Following Madrid's shock 4-0 defeat to third division side Alcorcon it now appears that Manuel Pellegrino is to face the axe at Real Madrid, and the distinct possibility has arisen that Benitez could move to the Bernabeau.
Before Pellegrino was surprisingly given the job, Florentino Perez approached three managers from his four man shortlist. The others being, Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancellotti, and Jose Mourinho.
All three turned the offer down for a variety of reasons, but Benitez was never approached as the compensation required to bring him to Madrid could have cost somewhere in the region of £20 million.
As it was Madrid chose to pay Villareal some £10 million for Pellegrino's services, and now face a bill of another £10 million to sack him.
With battling in the boardroom intensifying at Anfield, this could prove the opportune moment for all concerned if Real Madrid were to offer Benitez the managers role.
The chances of Wenger, Mourinho, or Ancellotti being offered the job again this season are astronomical never mind them actually taking the job, so Benitez at Real has taken on a distinct possibility.
If the offer was good enough it would suit the Liverpool board who would no longer have to deal with a manager they obviously don't rate or want, and who is backed to the hilt by the fans which weakens their position.
The offer might also suit Benitez as he would be moving to a club where the transfer spending dwarfs every other club, and if given time he would be able to build a team.
But time is a commodity that is rarely given at the most pressurised club in football, saying that Madrid should still realistically finish 2nd in La Liga this season, and have a good run in the Champions League so Rafa could well be tempted.
The chance of managing a club like Real only comes once in a lifetime for most, and when the offer comes while you're fighting fires set by your own board, it becomes more than tempting.
Madrid's next two games are away to city rivals Getafe and AC Milan in the San Siro, and Pellegrino has to produce not only two wins but performances of real substance from his team.
It would seem that with only one win from his last five games, Pellegrino's time at Real Madrid is at an end.
And that Florentino Perez is most likely to use the conflict at Liverpool to move for Benitez, with his current record of only one win in six being overlooked as a side effect of the turmoil.
The big losers in all of this will be Liverpool's fans. Many have backed their manager to the hilt.
And if he does leave, Anfield's boardroom could become a vacuum, with both American's trying to position themselves as the dominant force at the club, as at the moment Benitez is without doubt the most powerful figure.
The owners will then undoubtedly bicker over who would replace him and the Liverpool faithful would suffer many sleepless nights if the new appointee was a "yes-man" to the board.
None would begrudge Benitez a move, especially considering the circumstances that he operates under, but begging him to stay might be best for the club in the long run.

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