Posts tagged: benitez

Why Liverpool Fans Want Benitez To Do Well

By , December 20, 2012 8:22 am

In the moments and days leading up to Rafa Benitez being appointed Chelsea manager, the thoughts and feelings rushing through me seemed eerily familiar. I had been here before.

Questions were swirling through my mind, unable to grasp the concept of Benitez going to a team like Chelsea. Why would he want to go there? Their fans hate him. Why would he want to put up with Abramovich? A tyrannical owner that puts even Hicks and Gillett to shame. How could he go to a team that is such a rival of Liverpool’s? (I realize many fans disagree that they are our rivals, but like it or not, a rivalry was created and means a lot to many fans). Why would he risk his career going to a club that would sack him for just about anything they wanted to? How did he become so desperate that he was willing to put aside his own visions and ambitions to join a club that clearly has eyes for a younger, more beautiful Spaniard?

Benitez’s claims of wanting a project, to build a club dynasty from the academy to the first team, to have an owner that truly believed in his singular vision and supported him completely, all seemed like lies. He was joining the enemy. A club that epitomizes all that is wrong with football. And did I mention the fans abhor him?

When the news broke, I was crushed. I had convinced myself that through all these questions and belief in Benitez’s own words and character, that he could never join a club like Chelsea. Many argued with me, stating he “needed a job, he couldn’t wait forever, Liverpool didn’t want him so he had to move on, he can win just about everything there with those resources, he will make enormous amounts of money no matter what happens, he’s putting himself back into people’s minds, etc.” All valid and understandable arguments. But I still never thought Benitez would sell himself so short as to be desperate enough to take the Chelsea job. A club with no heart, no soul, and only a bottom-less checkbook to make up for that. This was not the Benitez I knew and loved.

Where had I seen this all before? A little less than two years earlier, another Liverpool man left Anfield for Stamford Bridge. Fernando Torres professed his love for the club and the fans, promising he would never leave. Shortly after, he left. The pain was palpable. I personally had never felt so hurt by a player leaving. I was devastated when I saw the ease with which he disappeared from Merseyside and sauntered down to London. Whatever the reasons, whatever the stories we still don’t know and that no one, including Torres, seems interested in telling us, it hurt. He was going to the enemy. And he was giving the finger to all the loyal Liverpool fans, that stood by him through injury after injury, and sulk after sulk, in the process.

It’s hard to even explain the feelings I had when Benitez became Chelsea manager. I was surprised, dismayed, disappointed, and painfully angry. Much the same feelings I had when Torres took his leave to the same place.

After a few days, I was able to reflect on all those aching feelings of despondency and I suddenly became happy for Benitez. Despite my hurt feelings, I only ever wanted the best for him, and I know I am not alone as a Liverpool fan in feeling this way. It’s like seeing your first love go off with someone else, that you know is not good enough for them and will only hurt them in the end. But if you love and care for someone, you have to let them go.

It was difficult to stomach him going to Chelsea, and that nauseating feeling will never leave. But I want him to do well. He deserves it. Sadly, I don’t feel the same about Torres and never will. While the feelings around them both going to Chelsea were similar, the ways in which they left Liverpool were very different.

Despite Benitez’s poor last season at Liverpool, he is still incredibly revered by most of the fans. He gave the club some of its most wonderful memories and moments. Reading his book Champions League Dreams reminds me of all those wonderful times we enjoyed as Liverpool fans under him, and how that euphoria and pride has seemingly vanished since he’s left. In some ways, I’ve found it difficult to read back in detail all the great moments he gave us without feeling incredibly depressed. It feels like a lifetime ago, when really, it was only three years.

Most Liverpool fans would agree, especially in hindsight, that Benitez should never have gone. He fought tooth and nail for the club and was subsequently dismissed by a club hierarchy that had driven Liverpool into near oblivion. What has followed since then has been nothing short of pure chaos. And all the while, a short ill-fated stint at Inter Milan aside, Benitez sat on the Wirral, awaiting the call that never came from his beloved club.

It is with that in mind that I don’t completely blame him for going to Chelsea, even though it is a club and a fan-base to be completely despised. The fact that I, and many other Liverpool supporters, are willing to put our ire for Chelsea aside simply because we want Benitez to do well tells you how much he still means to the club and its fans.

So you might still be wondering why we would want him to do well at a club we hate, with fans that have summarily dismissed him before he even arrived and have booed his every presence in front of them. Because of what he gave Liverpool. Because he gave us Istanbul, Cardiff, 2nd place in the league, and he made us the team to fear across Europe again. He gave himself to Liverpool, made the club and city his home, and the fans his friends. Most telling of all, when he left the club, he gave £96,000 to the Hillsborough Family Support Group. A cause that was not his own, but that he felt incredibly moved by and attached to. This, amongst so many other things, shows the character of the man.

Yet despite all of that, and despite an excellent win percentage, a European cup, an FA Cup, two Champions League finals, and the highest Liverpool points tally in years, the press, and even some fans, never took to him and wanted him gone. Journalists and commentators found it difficult to hide their hatred for the man, their reasons for which I still don’t know or understand. He was bullied, mocked, and turned into a joke by the English press. He received no respect from them throughout his time at Liverpool, and even less since he has left.

That, amongst so many other reasons, is why Liverpool fans want him to do well. He deserves better than the treatment he’s received and if going to Chelsea and helping them win will force the press and fans into respecting him the way he should be, then I am all for it. At the end of his Liverpool reign, he was tossed aside like garbage. Looking back, it was so disgraceful and foolish, especially when you factor in who he was replaced by, it is hard to believe that’s what actually happened.

The way he was treated by so many makes me sad, and I will never support Chelsea, but I will always support Benitez. A wonderful man, a compassionate human being, and a brilliant manager. Whatever happens, he will never walk alone for all that he gave to Liverpool Football Club.

The Lucas Lesson

By , July 9, 2012 5:10 pm

In just a few short years, Lucas Leiva went from being a midfield pariah, to the rock that anchors Liverpool’s midfield down. It was a transition that was anything but swift, and looking back, I think every fan is amazed he wasn’t driven out of the club. At one point, the vitriol against him was so immense, all it lacked was actual torches and pitchforks to literally run him out of the city.

Lucas’ story is a great one, and for a number of reasons. It taught an ever increasingly impatient fan base patience. It taught players, managers, pundits, and the media that you can’t always rush to judgement on a young, foreign player. And most importantly, it taught everyone what a self-motivated and talented young footballer can achieve when he truly believes in himself and his ability. Add to that Lucas’ uncanny knack to stare adversity in the face and win without even blinking, and you have yourself a player that taught us all a lesson.

To give some context, Lucas arrived at Liverpool as a mere 20-year-old from Brazil. He shined for Gremio and caught the eye of more than one manager in Europe. But it was Rafa Benitez who saw something special in the young Brazilian midfielder and decided he would fit well into Liverpool’s setup.

He joined the team at a time when the Reds were on the rise. They had just competed in their second Champions League final in three years, and were building towards continued success for the future by investing in promising, youthful prospects such as Lucas.

A Young Lucas Looked Increasingly Overawed When He First Joined LFC

Fast forward to the 2008-2009 season, and Lucas struggled. Badly. He was disappointing in a number of performances for Liverpool, so much so that the Anfield faithful took to booing him off after several lackluster games. Benitez, being the kind of manager he is, leapt to Lucas’ defense. He claimed none of us knew just how good Lucas was. And in return, we claimed that Benitez had no clue just how terrible he was. Many, including myself, struggled to see what the manager saw in the diminutive Brazilian.

To be fair, it couldn’t have been easy competing in a midfield stacked with talent. At the time, he was up against Mascherano, Alonso, and Gerrard. And as we all so cruelly remember, the axis of Alonso and Mascherano was phenomenal, and Gerrard’s inspired role behind Torres was ingenious. Lucas was the weak link, and the fans and media were intent on getting him out of the team. At least, I know I was.

Then the bottom dropped out. The 2009-2010 season was a disaster. Alonso was gone, the team were never able to build on their incredible success the season before, and in the end, it all cost Benitez his job.

But, while the team was most definitely on the wane, Lucas was on the rise. With Alonso’s departure, the Brazilian was finally given more responsibility, which he seemed to grab with both hands. His first half of the 2009-2010 season was decent, but he grew in stature as the season went on.

And while the 2010-2011 season (the first half of it anyway) was something most Liverpool fans want to forget, Lucas’ performances were tremendous. Rumors have it that Hodgson actually wanted to flog Lucas off. Thankfully, no such thing happened. He continued his excellent run of form when Dalglish replaced Hodgson mid-season, and enjoyed a wonderful run that saw the team go from a lowly 12th to 6th in about 4 months.

In May 2011, Lucas was voted the fans’ player of the year. He also made the most tackles in the top 4 European Leagues for the 2010-2011 season.

Lucas Showed Fans How Good He Really Was

His barnstorming form returned at the start of the 2011-2012 season, and he was absolutely immense against Manchester City and Chelsea in November. Sadly, his season was cut short from a terrible ACL injury, and the collapse of form of the team following his injury tells you a lot about how much influence he truly began to have. From a player that most would have been happy to sell, to a player that, through his absence, the team around him disintegrated.

In the five years since Lucas was brought to the club, he has undergone a transformation few players have the opportunity to make, namely because time is never on a player’s side when trying to impress a new team. But every fan that maligned the very name of Lucas, was singing his praises last season, and no one could mention the demise of Liverpool in 2012 without uttering what a loss Lucas had been to the midfield. There was an enormous chasm that opened up after his injury, one that was never filled by Dalglish. The team lost its balance, and most importantly, they lost its metronome. Two things Lucas provided in spades.

I honestly haven’t been as impressed with a player’s improvement as I have been with Lucas.

So what does this story teach us? It teaches us to give players time, especially players who come from halfway across the world, don’t speak the language, and are only 20 years old.

But it also teaches the importance of a mentality, belief, and intelligence that belong to only a handful of players ever to have graced the beautiful game. Lucas took the anger that was aimed at him, misdirected or not, and he turned it into a reason to work harder, rather than pack it up and go somewhere more comfortable, somewhere a little easier than the cauldron of cruelty that he experienced at Anfield. But he didn’t.

His story is a brilliant one. For once it wasn’t a player asking what the club and fans could do for him, but rather what he could grab onto deep inside and give to the club and fans. And all that in the face of rancor from every corner of Anfield and every media outlet that needed a new person to beat down.

So while the fans also needed to learn a few lessons, chiefly in their patience skills when it comes to a young player’s development, it was an even bigger lesson for players. Perhaps other footballers will take something from Lucas’ story. Perhaps they’ll walk away thinking that it’s them that have to impress the club and the fans. Perhaps they’ll realize, that deep down, the fans always want a new player to succeed, and that if the player gives it their all and more, they will, and with the fans’ backing.

Lucas has taught us all a lesson. And I hope he continues to do so for Liverpool for years to come. He’s an excellent example of a player you can be proud of. And more than anything, he should be proud of himself for reminding every one of what players need to show the fans, and how the fans should really treat the players. We were lucky he stayed. And if we didn’t learn the Lucas lesson fully, we may not be so lucky the next time a young player like him comes along.

Dalglish Has The Right Attitude

By , August 26, 2011 12:37 pm

I understand priorities. I deal with them everyday. Deciding what is more important and what to deal with first, second, third, etc. is a daily occurrence for most people. So it doesn’t surprise me that football managers prioritize too. They decide what game is more important and what players to start. Depending on the importance of the game, that can determine who plays and why.

A lot of fans as well as the media often jumped on Benitez’s back for all his prioritizing. It was obvious he focused his sights on Europe. So much so that it gave the impression he wasn’t as concerned about the league or the domestic cups.

I can’t lie, I too was frustrated watching Fernando Torres rested in a league match if there was a Champions League game to think about. Because it seemed that points were often dropped due to this and while a great cup run is always wonderful, Liverpool fans are ready for the focus to be on the league (and all domestic fronts in general).

This season poses an interesting set of circumstances. As we all know, Liverpool will not be competing on four fronts. Europe was too far a reach last season, and whether good or bad, we are not in European competition.

Some see this is as a great opportunity to focus on the league, and the domestic cups. With no European distractions (and even more importantly, no European hangover), the team should realistically be able to field strong starting XIs for just about every game.

If Benitez didn’t have Europe to contend with, perhaps he would have given more thought to the league and started his best team every week. It’s hard to say.

But one thing I will say about Dalglish’s approach so far this season, which was evident following Wednesday’s win in the Carling Cup, is that he isn’t afraid to field a strong side in a game that might not be deemed as important as another. When many teams believe the competition isn’t worth their time, and it’s silly to risk first team players, Dalglish believes otherwise.

“We said before the game we’d make changes. But we also said it shouldn’t be taken in any way, shape, or form as a sign of being disrespectful towards Exeter or the Carling Cup. We are Liverpool Football Club and we will try to win every game that we’ve got to play.”

Dalglish continued, “I think the most important thing was our attitude to the game and I think we started it in the right frame of mind.”

Dalglish’s quotes concisely encapsulate how I feel about Liverpool. I’m not an advocate of the attitude of being disgruntled or annoyed by “lesser” competitions like the Europa League or Carling Cup. I want Liverpool to be playing in and winning everything they possibly can because that’s what this club is all about.

Argue all you want about how the team needs to build back up to being a stronger squad in order to not have to prioritize so much. But my feeling has been and always will remain that “We are Liverpool Football Club and we will try to win every game that we’ve got to play.”

Nice to see my manager feels the same way.

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