Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A WINTER TALE: In reply to Henry's hatchet job on Rafa Benitez

HENRY WINTER took time out from bowing at his Alex Ferguson shrine yesterday to stick the knife in on Rafa Benitez with a laughable piece in the Telegraph.

Lauded as one of the best journalists in the land by some, the least you would expect is a fair, balanced and accurate report. 

Not a bit of it.

Winter has a clear anti-Benitez agenda and it leaves his hatchet job on the Spaniard full of holes.

Now clearly after a nightmare run of six defeats in seven games, the Liverpool manager is far from bombproof - questions are being asked, and rightly so, not least as to why Yossi Benayoun was substituted in the defeat to Fulham. 

But for someone like Winter, is an appreciation of the circumstances too much to ask?

He kicks off with the opening line: 

"Virtually no one." So argued Jamie Carragher when asked whether Liverpool had anyone to replace Fernando Torres should the talismanic target-man miss Wednesday's Champions League tie at Lyons.

Oh no, you might think, Rafa's lost the dressing room, even Carragher is having a pop...then you read the rest of the quote which Winter decided to leave out: 

“We know Fernando is not quite 100 per cent,” Carragher said. “If Fernando had got injured at the end, we would have had virtually nobody for the game in midweek but we still brought a Dutch international in Ryan Babel on. It should be enough quality.” 

Paints a different picture doesn't it? One, perhaps, that doesn't suit Winter's agenda?

Further into the article: 

"His verdict is partly a compliment to Liverpool's exceptional No 9, but also an implicit indictment of the understudies assembled by Rafael Benítez. Blaming such individuals for being too poor (Andrei Voronin) or too raw (Ryan Babel, David Ngog) is pointless; culpability rests with Benítez for recruiting them while ignoring prodigal sons such as Emile Heskey and Michael Owen."

Did Winter have a straight face when he typed this? Was he sniffing glue? Heskey? The player who can't get a regular game at Aston Villa? The player who has scored TWO goals since moving to Villa Park in January? Yes, Henry, he would be ideal, wouldn't he? What a replacement for Torres. And Owen - well Winter seems to love him almost as much as he does Ferguson. From where I'm sitting, he's not setting the world alight since moving to Man United. We've been there, done that and he's a shadow of the player he was when he snubbed LFC and headed for Spain. And, despite his protests to the press, he DOES get injured a lot. 

"In August, few people outside Anfield considered Liverpool to have a squad comparable to those at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge. Benítez, as usual, will divert attention elsewhere. He will bemoan refereeing decisions, injuries, tardiness in the transfer market and the comic capers of the American co-owners."

Er, yes? Few people inside Anfield thought the squad was comparable to those at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge either. Knock him all you want, but Benitez's counterparts have had more money in one go to spend on players - and they haven't had to sell to buy. And Chelsea, Man U, Arsenal and Manchester City pay bigger wages. Well documented. Fact or diversion? Refereeing decisions? Well they haven't helped have they? Oh and your mate Fergie, well he never moans about refs does he Henry? Winter, by the way, recently wrote a sickening defence (see here) of Ferguson's ridiculous attack on Alan Wiley, a move made with the sole aim of concealing a poor performance against Sunderland. And the owners? Well don't get me started - I wrote a huge post about them on Sunday (see here).

"He will even criticise "senior players'' such as Carragher and Steven Gerrard following the early-season loss to Aston Villa. One constant: Benítez never accepts responsibility himself."

Am I missing something? Are Carragher and Gerrard not allowed to be questioned? Carra has admitted himself he has been below-par this season. And the comment Winter refers to comes after Gerrard charged the length of the pitch to launch himself into a ridiuculous tackle that gave Aston Villa a penalty and sealed their 3-1 win at Anfield. He's blown hot and cold (when fit) so why shouldn't Rafa have a pop? As for accepting responsibility - what manager does that, name one? I'd love to see the examples of Fergie coming out to the press and saying "You know what lads, I got that wrong, it's all my fault." He's bought crap players, he's got his tactics wrong. ALL managers make mistakes, none of them admit it - why single out Benitez? 

"That is why some people tire of the self-absorbed Spaniard."

For some people, clearly, read Henry Winter. 

"We've heard all the excuses before. We've seen the utter reliance on Gerrard, Torres and, for all his recent woes, Carragher."

Benayoun is enjoying his most effective spell at Anfield, continuing where he left off last season. Pepe Reina is the best keeper in the league, Glen Johnson has been a quality signing, Alberto Aquilani looks promising...tired argument, Winter. 

Liverpool can afford to sack Benítez. Compensation would be less than £5 million under the "mitigating the loss'' principle if he found employment, but no desire can be detected within the club for a regime change.

You seem confident he would find employment, would that be, by any chance, because he's a good manager? And it would cost £20m thereabouts if Benitez didn't find employment - so would the fiscally-challenged Hicks & Gillett be prepared to take that risk? And who would recruit the new manager - our beloved co-owners? The same people that wanted Jurgen Klinsmann? Shudder to think who they would go for this time. Finally - what world-class manager would want to come to the club right now? Why would they choose to work for owners who hate each other, at a financially-insecure club with a budget significantly less than your rivals enjoy? Alan Curbishley is available though... 

"But it is known around Anfield that Purslow has talked to Benítez about his style of management, notably his cold detachment from the players"

Yawn, one of your favourites this, isn't it? When I last looked, Benitez is the manager, not the players's best friend. We've done the best mates thing with Roy Evans - it didn't work. You don't like him, get over it. Maybe Fergie will give you a cuddle... 

"Sensible businesses plan for succession and any defenestration of Benítez should take place only in the close-season. Who knows? Benítez might win the FA Cup."

So after all that, your point is he should stay? Stunning.