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Rafa must loosen up

Rory Fitzgerald

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Rafa Benítez must keep Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher on his side at Liverpool


By Henry Winter - Published: 7:30AM BST 06 Oct 2009






Ever since Rafael Benítez made his unwise criticism of “senior players’’ in the wake of the Aug 24 defeat to Aston Villa, resentment has lingered in certain quarters towards the Liverpool manager.


Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have both spoken to Benítez about his controversial comments.


It needs stressing that no rift exists at Anfield, but the complicated Benítez must re-engage with his team’s heartbeat, the home-grown pair of Huyton’s Gerrard and Bootle’s Carragher, if Liverpool are to prevent another season disappearing down the boulevard of broken dreams.


Passionate for the team to succeed, these two highly committed players are intelligent individuals, with Carragher a particularly deep thinker about the game. Gerrard is away with England but Carragher will be at Melwood so Benítez must start there, discussing with his centre-half how Liverpool can improve and how Benítez himself can become a better manager.


When Gerrard returns from the vibrant England dressing room after next week’s conclusion of a triumphant World Cup qualifying campaign, Benítez must also meet his captain. Together, Liverpool have a chance.


For those gathered in the Anfield media room 20 minutes after that 3-1 defeat to Villa, Benitez’s unflattering verdict on the contributions of Gerrard and Carragher sounded disrespectful to characters who have held Liverpool together from Istanbul to Barcelona.


After questioning the marking that allowed Curtis Davies to score Villa’s second (and Carragher was undoubtedly slightly culpable), Benítez hardly backed Gerrard in the build-up to Villa’s third. “Gerrard gave the penalty away and it was a clear penalty.’’ Ouch.


Benítez’s conclusion that “it is up to the senior players to take the responsibility’’ triggered the inevitable negative headlines.


Well-paid professionals should not retreat into bruised shells just because a manager highlights mistakes, but Benítez’s decision to excoriate stalwarts in public was surprising. It’s not the Liverpool way. At a time when players like Lucas, a Benítez favourite, were patently struggling, the disparaging of two Kop idols was bound to be contentious.


These remarks felt far more significant than Benítez’s “and that’s a fact’’ outburst at Sir Alex Ferguson last season. However much that ill-timed rant raised eyebrows in the Anfield dressing room, it did not raise questions internally like the questioning of “senior players’’.


For those whose natural inclination it is to defend Gerrard and Carragher, it needs recording that legitimate tactical reasons have arisen this season as to why they are not their usual accomplished selves.


Gerrard does not enjoy the swift, precise service of Xabi Alonso, who eventually departed to Real Madrid after falling out with Benítez. Carragher must organise defensive fortifications inevitably weakened by Alonso’s exit and Glen Johnson’s frequent disappearances upfield.


Benítez now calls on his players “to keep improving’’ following Sunday’s damaging defeat at Chelsea. It is worth the coach himself considering how he can “keep improving’’ his relations with the dressing room.


Such a driven manager, who made himself one of the most respected tacticians in Europe through constant research and self-improvement, now needs to work on his man-management skills.


Unlike Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger, Mark Hughes, Martin O’Neill, Harry Redknapp, Carlo Ancelotti and David Moyes, Benítez is an incredibly difficult person to warm to. Too detached, too cold. Everyone has heard the stories of Gerrard joking that he will retire in shock when he gets a “well done’’ off Benítez.


Everyone knows the tale of the Spanish perfectionist pulling merry players to one side at Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League-winning party to debate dodgy first-half marking against Kaka and Hernán Crespo.


Emerging more recently has been Fernando Torres’s account of joyfully entering the dressing room after the birth of his first child to be greeted with presents and plaudits from team-mates. Benítez’s reaction? A comment about the importance of the near-post run.


Does it matter that this footballing obsessive seems to show no interest in his players as human beings? After all, this is the manager who stayed on for the 2005 Club World Championship in Tokyo despite learning that his father had passed away back in Spain. In Benítez’s eyes, he was merely being professional, being devoted to his team’s pursuit of trophies.


Those who know Benítez speak of a personable soul. Anyone who has seen his wife celebrating victories at Anfield, even singing 'You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before kick-off, will appreciate that there must be some hinterland to Benítez’s character.


If Liverpool are to get a grip of their season, Benítez must loosen up.




I'm too tired to contradicate most of that.


Gerrard has said in public that Rafa was right to have ago whilst regarding Torres, he strangly came out and said he was a good husband in public - very unlike Rafa. Also, I would love to remember the circumstances around his fathers death because I am sure something came out to say how touched he was but because he was so far away it was better he continue where he was. I hope Winter researched that instead of taking the cheap shot.


We know Rafa can come across cold and detached but I will always remember his advice to Babel when he joined.


The media will ask you a question expecting answer A, so you think B and then answer C


He'll never let the media in. With the players, he obviously has taken the Capello-esque approach rather than the Keegan approach. Like zonal and man-to-man marking, both can work.



Ultimately, Winter has summed up by saying Rafa must loosen up. He is my favourite journalist (if thats not a contradiction in terms) but I have time for him. Is he seriously expecting Rafa to change his style ?

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