As Liverpool slip further down the Premier League table and closer to a Champions League exit, rumours that Rafa Benitez will be sacked are inevitably becoming more widespread.
But Liverpool fans on the whole are still behind him – mainly because of his magnificent Champions League win in 2005, runners-up place in 2007 and thrilling FA Cup win in 2006. And even if they look beyond silverware, which they certainly should, Benitez is easily their best manager since Kenny Dalglish left in 1991.
Between Dalglish’s three league triumphs and two FA Cups were the relative ignominies of a League Cup under Roy Evans, an FA Cup under Graeme Souness and a Charity Shield, two League Cups, an FA Cup, European Super Cup and UEFA Cup under Gerard Houllier.
It shows how far Livepool have come under Benitez that the highpoint of Houllier’s reign, his UEFA Cup win, would now be considered scant consolation for Liverpool crashing out of the Champions League.
To use a cliche, Liverpool will be cutting off their nose to spite their face if they are stupid enough to sack Benitez.
Their stuttering start to the season is in no small part down to Xabi Alonso’s move to Real Madrid. Losing one of the best players in the world is going to affect any side. Just look at how Manchester United without Cristiano Ronaldo – yet no one sees Sir Alex Ferguson getting his P45 any time soon.
To compare Benitez to Sir Alex once again, it took Ferguson almost seven years to get his first league title, during which time United twice finished 11th. After a poor start to the 1989-90 season many called for Ferguson’s head, but he went on to win the FA Cup that season, and, to employ another cliche, the rest is history.
Even if Liverpool come fifth in the league and slip out of the Champions League, how many of their fans would be unhappy with a Europa League triumph and/or FA Cup medal come May?
Arsenal have stuck by Arsene Wenger throughout his barren spell and that may well pay dividends this season. Patience is a virtue (sorry, another cliche) and Liverpool need only look to Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, or closer to home in Middlesbrough to prove that changing managers doesn’t always bring about a change of fortunes.
Who could replace Benitez and do anywhere near as good a job with a far from brilliant Liverpool squad?
Some names being mentioned are Steve McClaren, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Frank Rijkaard, Gareth Southgate and Jose Mourinho, all of whom have either done badly in the Premier League, have never worked in England or have no reason to want to move to Liverpool.
If Benitez goes Torres might follow, along with Reina and even Gerrard. Torres threatened to go if Benitez was fired in 2007, saying: “Benitez is not just another manager. He created a team and put his faith in players that owe him a lot.” There’s no reason to believe his opinion has changed, and if he, Reina or Gerrard were to leave then Liverpool really would be in trouble.