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I dunno where this should go, haven't had the will to log in for a couple of weeks now.

 

Good article with a good perspective, I feel.

 

 

Rafa plays high stakes game

 

Despite the wrangling over his contract, another European Cup and Rafael Benitez will be untouchable, writes Dion Fanning

 

T he future of Liverpool football club will not be decided by anything that happens in Liverpool or Manchester this week. Liverpool and Rafael Benitez's future may be decided in a Kuwaiti boardroom, where Tom Hicks and George Gillett -- the unacceptable faces of deregulated capitalism -- are trying to sell the club.

 

In the meantime, Liverpool have a trying week on the field in a season which will most probably require a European Cup not to be considered another year of squandered opportunity.

 

Like Arsenal last season, Liverpool have discovered that they are not equipped to compete with Manchester United and Chelsea over the course of the season. They can attempt to be clever and try to outwit the monoliths of English football but they will almost always be undone by economies of scale.

 

Arsenal appeared to demonstrate brittleness collectively, while Benitez seems to have undermined his side's season with his attack on Alex Ferguson and the dispute over his contract. Both teams ultimately were undone by forces they cannot compete with; in recent years, the ceaseless ferocity of Ferguson and his desire to compete financially with and triumph over the club that changed everything, Chelsea. Because of Chelsea, English football scours the world for billionaires at a time when they are in short supply. Liverpool were late to the party and last in, first out.

 

Supporters will point to other factors and blame the manager. Benitez's achievement in challenging United will be overlooked, instead he will be criticised for the attack on Ferguson and the delays with his contract. It is debatable if either of these factors have derailed Liverpool, even if the caution of the manager has cost important points.

 

The Liverpool players, too, may not be as concerned by Benitez's contract talks as some would suggest. Fernando Torres last week indicated he would stay at the club for the duration of his contract even if Benitez leaves, but it is the rumoured disagreement with Jamie Carragher which may prove a more important indicator of the players' feelings.

 

Carragher was asked to play right-back at Middlesbrough last Saturday but complained about a weariness which he felt would prevent him performing in the full-back position.

 

He did not refuse to play in that position as some suggested, but his tiredness may point to a more general disenchantment. When Carragher complained of "heavy legs", Benitez then took the decision to select the awkward Martin Skrtel on the right at the Riverside and Liverpool's title hopes were over. On Wednesday, Javier Mascherano was selected at full-back against Sunderland, so Carragher's exhaustion continues.

 

Carragher has never been a doe-eyed follower of the manager and his comments in his autobiography on some of Benitez's signings show he is not afraid to question his judgement but he is the player who has been viewed as the closest to Benitez.

 

The reality is different as no player can be said to be close to Benitez, but even the appearance of such a relationship indicates his importance to the manager. For Carragher to be now finding reasons not to play in a certain position cannot have pleased the manager and it indicates a greater frustration on Carragher's part that the Premier League title he believed Liverpool would challenge for this season has petered out before the key game at Old Trafford next Saturday.

 

Liverpool, instead, will fall back on a familiar, magical consolation. Real Madrid arrive on Merseyside tomorrow again predicting victory, but the only thing that can stop Liverpool advancing to the quarter-finals for the fourth time under Benitez is complacency and the assumption that the job was done at the Bernabeu.

 

Benitez, too, will be required to be bold. At his best -- and sometimes his worst -- he is more of a gambler than his reputation suggests but a 1-0 lead may tempt him to play for a scoreless draw as he did two years ago when Liverpool returned from the Nou Camp with a 2-1 lead. On that night, the gamble almost backfired and Liverpool had a tense evening, losing 1-0 at Anfield and going through on away goals.

 

Benitez's approach on Tuesday will give an indication of his state of mind. If he attacks a terrible Madrid defence and looks for the goal that would secure the tie, then he is as eager to try the unexpected as he was during his early years at Anfield. But those who wonder if Benitez's caution and unwillingness to bend have crossed the line into unworkable parody will be looking for signs in Liverpool's tactics that the manager is entering a bunker.

 

Some would say that with Benitez it was always hard to tell but in recent weeks, in the stuttering performances and off-field politicking, there have been signs of a man who feels he is running out of options.

 

On the field, he has done well with a squad which again demonstrates his general excellence in the transfer market.

 

Some regarded it as a victory when Rick Parry announced he would be leaving the club in the summer but Benitez does not see the departure of the man who contributed to Liverpool's failure to sign some of Europe's best players as an issue that has anything to do with his contract. In fact, it has been hard to see what Benitez does want. His contract talks now resemble the Northern Ireland peace process: whenever a satisfactory answer is given, the question changes.

 

His last months in Valencia were dominated by the same disagreements and the same suggestions that there were no longer effective working relationships. Despite, or maybe because of, the comic ownership of Hicks and Gillett, Benitez has now received nearly every assurance he wanted. Now he is believed to want some guarantees when new owners arrive or the club is remaindered, whichever happens first.

 

They cannot be given, quite understandably, and Benitez needs to accept that. He is a coach who gives the impression that he feels he can control everything, but he cannot dictate terms to potential owners.

 

He can, however, make his position secure by winning the European Cup. Benitez is right to suggest that Liverpool's season would have been different if Torres had been fit and he will hope that the player can rediscover some sharpness in the remaining weeks, although he has rarely looked sharp all season. Torres is clearly troubled by his hamstrings and refuses to beat defenders on his left side as he did to such effect last season, most notably when scoring his first Liverpool goal against Chelsea.

 

For a man who likes to control things, Benitez is now dependent on hope. He will anticipate Torres being fit for the Madrid game and remaining so for the match at Old Trafford, in which Liverpool will have no option but to gamble.

 

Yossi Benayoun gave an insight into the manager last week which would have surprised nobody. After the game at the Bernabeu, the players celebrated while Benitez stayed calm. He never congratulating the player on his goal and instead began to think about the next challenge. As that was the defeat at the Riverside, perhaps he would have been better off behaving like Ron Atkinson.

 

Benitez's methods are relentless but the players may be reaching a point where they require something more. Robbie Keane could never come to terms with the fact that Benitez's management was based on tough love, without the love, and others have struggled too. Yet he has been a force for good at Liverpool, a manager prepared to challenge in his flawed way the orthodoxies of English football. He has also battled for the club at a time when Liverpool itself is in peril.

 

Real Madrid have again shown in the days since the first leg that they remain more expert at trash talk than convincing football. Despite looking to close the gap on Barcelona last night, they were prepared to rest players in preparation for the second leg. "Anfield is life and death," Juande Ramos said, unintentionally echoing the most misquoted line in football history.

 

Liverpool are playing for high stakes too. Their season, for all its promise, is now on a familiar curve. It may be hard to tell this week, but for Benitez and Liverpool, at Anfield, Old Trafford and in Kuwait, it will be win or bust.

 

http://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/raf...me-1665049.html

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