Thursday, January 31, 2008

As the Rafa Rotates

Above on the left is Scott Skiles, former coach of the NBA Chicago Bulls, and on the right is Rafa Benitez, current manager of the English Premiership club Liverpool. These two have more in common than receding hairlines, agape mouths, natty attire and striped ties. Despite the differences in the sports they coach and manage, respectively, these two men have much more in common than one might expect and Rafa could learn something from Skiles.

Skiles was the successful coach of the Bulls until Christmas Eve of 2007. Skiles had led his team to the playoffs the past three seasons and the Bulls were the preseason pick to come out of the Eastern conference of many pundits. The team was young and played inspired under Skiles. Yet, the season did not go as expected. The team was only 9-16 before Skiles was fired and had been severely underperforming. There were small cracks that had appeared in the summer and during the season, particularly the contract negotiations of Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, but also the enigma and cancer that Ben Wallace has been for the team.

Much like Skiles, Rafa has been underperforming even after getting the funds this summer for a big summer signing, Fernando Torres. Liverpool was expected to challenge for the Premiership title with a new proven goal scorer and a deep squad would allow it to challenge for Champions League and FA Cup glory. After a strong start to the season, Liverpool stalled with lackadaisical draws and fell behind the leaders, nearly crashed out of the Champions League and is now in a full-fledged downward spiral having not won since Boxing Day, Dec. 26.

Four successive draws and the most recent loss to West Ham in stoppage time.

Much of this time has been marked by a public row with the owners started by Rafa about funds for the January transfer window. Then there was a hubbub with the refinancing of the debt used by the owners to purchase the club last season. And, the revelation that the owners had approached Juergen Klinsmann about taking the manager's post during the fall. All of it has been a distraction, but it is clear that much blame falls to the manager.

Rafa has stuck to his beloved rotation system with little success this season and when he does rotate he never seems to be able to come up with right chemistry as he has in the past. The defense has had too many lapses and frequently the team has solely relied on Torres or Steven Gerrard to rescue them in the dying minutes.

Skiles, when confronted with the disappointing season, reportedly recognized that his team was no longer motivated by him. He had lost its attention and the players failed to respond to him any more. He went to the chairman and reportedly told him that "I think the team needs a new voice." Quite simply, he recognized, after 4 seasons, his methods were not working.

It is time for Rafa to recognize this. His petulance and stubborn adhesion to rotation no longer work. He himself has caused much of this friction and distracted his squad. He is no longer the voice to lead Liverpool and he needs to recognize this, go to the owners and negotiate his severance since it is clear they feel the same.


The Hundley said...

Nice comparison. But the glaring difference is that the Bulls have no discernible "star", while Team Carlsberg has two.

Ian said...

I can see already that today is going to be "shit on Rafa" day at UF.

The Fan's Attic said...

hundley- point taken, but i am not sure that the presence of stars affects my analysis at the end of the day.

ian- where's Osi when you need him?

Precious Roy said...

Why would I shit on Rafa? Is he buds with Osi and is into that kind of stuff? In which case it's going to run him about $5K... or so I've read.

Precious Roy said...

Goddamit... I didn't even see the Osi line at the bottom TFA's comment.

And now I look like a turd.

Sorry, but I have to keep the scat leitmotif going.