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Sky's the limit when it comes to rotating the knife into Benitez


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Dion Fanning article:


Sky's the limit when it comes to rotating the knife into Benitez


Sunday March 16 2008


'It does make you wonder what he would have done if he had played more regularly." Richard Keys said of Fernando Torres last Tuesday, entering a world of magic realism without the magic or, indeed, the realism. It was remarkable in itself that Torres' stats of 26 goals in 35 matches had just been mentioned, because most broadcasters have only one thing in their heads when talking about Rafael Benitez.


It was also, perhaps, an indication of Benitez's stubbornness that when he was asked a similar question by Sky's Geoff Shreeves a few minutes later, he did not reply, "Well, Geoff, if you checked your facts you'd see that Torres has started every league and Champions League game since September." He may have had to qualify this by adding, "when fit" because there are many in the media who seem prepared to criticise Benitez for not playing Torres even when he's injured.


Instead Benitez played along, talking about rotation, unwilling, it appeared, to engage at any level with people whom he clearly feels serve no purpose when he is thinking about things like knocking the Italian champions out of the European Cup.


In fact, Sky's question would more accurately be asked about Wayne Rooney. Why don't we see more of him? Manchester United have lost more league matches than Liverpool this season and Rooney has missed every one of them, usually rested. Torres, who if Sky are to be believed is glimpsed as frequently as the Aurora Borealis, has played five games more than Rooney this season, but Benitez is the man who has to answer questions about rotation.


It is customary to see Tom Hicks get more credit for the purchase of Torres than Benitez. The American is usually praised for putting up £26m for the striker, although the fee was a lot less than that, and then the coverage usually proceeds along the lines that the signing was a no-brainer.


Last summer, Torres's signing was questioned by many of those who now wonder why he doesn't play more often. Arsene Wenger and Ferguson hesitated before Benitez signed the player for £16m, the same price Spurs paid Charlton for Darren Bent. The critics said he didn't score enough goals -- one every three games was his ratio at Atletico -- and now, as he's scored 26 (all of them from open play), they wonder why he doesn't play more often.


To report it along the lines that Benitez had made the best signing of the summer and had played some part in developing a player regarded by some in Spain as a laughing stock would involve praising the Liverpool manager.


Of course, it is the Italian league and its failings that are the reason for Liverpool's victory over Inter, according to the pundits who last week predicted that AC Milan -- nearly 20 points behind Inter -- would knock out Premier League leaders Arsenal.


The Italian league is decaying, but if it was wholly rotten, Real Madrid -- eight points clear at the top of La Liga -- wouldn't have lost to Roma -- six points behind Inter. There is always another reason for Benitez' success; something they missed when writing him off beforehand but a factor beyond his control, something for which he deserves no credit. It was summed up perfectly by the journalist who appeared on Sky to talk about Liverpool's first-leg victory against Inter. He wasn't the only one who


seemed reluctant to acknowledge that the game had lasted 90 minutes, preferring instead to emphasis that Liverpool had struggled to score for 85 minutes before winning by two goals.


He seemed reluctant to concede that Liverpool had, in fact, won the game. "Goals," he sighed, finally forced into some admission, "determine how we view matches."


For the time being they do anyway and while goals and results shape matches rather than journalists, Benitez has a chance of continuing to be a success.



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