Friday, January 16, 2009

Rafa Benitez stands his ground!

"I want that player. That one, the one I'm pointing at. Can I buy him? What do you mean, 'we need to talk about it'???"

As if the Gerrard incident wasn't enough of a distraction (according to the media, anyway), more clouds are looming at Anfield as Rafa decided this morning to reject his contract extension, presenting a neat prepared statement explaining his decision (unlike his scrappy, scribbled tirade against Fergie last week).

This will be cleared up soon, I hope, but it doesn't change the fact that we could be in for another long standoff between manager and owner, the likes of which finished off Jose Mourinho, a superb manager, at Stamford Bridge.

Let's hear it from Rafa first, shall we?
"The owners feel that the manager's decisions need to be subject to the chief executive but I know that I am subject to results and to our fans and they are the best judges I will ever have. I have a lot of experience in football at different clubs and if you do not have a technical director and you are the manager you have to have control of the football decisions. But always within the confines of a budget which is controlled by the owners and the club.

In this scenario the manager knows the amount of money he has available to him and can decide how much he should spend on each player according to the needs of the team. The only person who can decide the value of a player to his squad is the manager because he knows what elements are needed to improve the squad.

My relationship with the owners is better than people think. I have regular contact with them and especially with Tom Hicks who has always been very supportive. The talks between my agent and the advisers of the owners have been very positive and friendly and our differences are about my responsibilities."
What he's asking for isn't much, but conversely, it's a lot to ask for within the context of the modern-day EPL. He wants more control, something I think he's earned over the course of his time there (contrast his power struggle against the relative ease with which 'Arry Redknapp, the game's flightiest manager in history, grabbed full control of Tottenham Hotspur), and the owners are reluctant to give it out.

As American sports owners, the GM/Coach system makes sense to them. It's one they inherited when taking over the club, and it's one they aim to maintain. In that system, they're insulated from shouldering the brunt of the blame, as they can fire the coach and let the GM take the full force of media scrutiny. Shit, it's not like they're in charge of anything at the very top. That's why they hire their GM to do it all for them!

So they're covered on the bad side, and if they are successful, all the praise is shared around, and they seek kudos for their foresight in hiring a wonderful GM who then hired a wonderful manager, something they knew their GM would do, and thus everyone's a winner.

Thank god this system is finally being resisted, although at what cost? Hicks and Gillett remain in charge while we stumble aimlessly with a scorned manager? You'd think that a half-season at the top of the league might grease their wheels a little.

(It's worth pointing out that this system, once used all over Europe, is being dismantled virtually everywhere. Spurs don't do the Director of Football bollocks any more, and big La Liga clubs are realizing it doesn't work also.)

While Lerner and the Glazers let their managers control everything, definitely an honor Ferguson and O'Neill have earned as a result of long and successful careers, Rafa Benitez is once again forced to beg for his supper. They made him beg for Torres, they made him beg time and again for Barry, and now, he has a chance to stand up for himself.

If managers are to be crucified for their failures (see: Keane, Keegan, Ince, Curbishley), then they should be beatified for their successes. Rafa's turned the perennial 4th place team into something different this season, perhaps even a second- or third-placed team, but he's still begging and pleading with the middleman and his overlords like he's a relegation-threatened manager looking for a life raft.

The need for a mandate at a club like Liverpool is essential; you can't be left to manage the club when you're cut off from decision-making at every important junction. The Glazers have the sense to leave SAF to it, as do owners at virtually every other major club, so why are Hicks and Gillett being so different? OH, right, it's because they like to swing their dicks around whenever the mood suits them, just to remind everyone who's really in charge. Meanwhile, they make the transatlantic flight once every 6 weeks to see a game, and are virtually absent the rest of the time.

It's a sad state of affairs, and one that I hope is rectified soon. He's not asking for much. Benitez wants to manage there well into the next decade and try to build the club back up into being a consistent force at the top of the league.

However, he can't do that with one hand tied behind his back while a middleman holds the rope.

[Apparently Hicks is singing the right tune today as well, but there's still a ways to go. I get the feeling Rafa won't sign unless he gets what he's looking for.]

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