Benitez Was Always The Right Man For Liverpool
In a recent interview, Rafael Benitez was asked to comment on the Merseyside derby. He spoke of the passion of the fans, the excitement in the streets and the obvious anticipation amongst the playing staff at the club leading up to the game.
But it was his final, almost off-hand comment that was most striking. The Spaniard, mentioning the time he once substituted Steven Gerrard because the game was becoming too heated, said that there was "too much passion in the derbies sometimes and it is important to come down and analyse the game."
It is difficult to imagine Kenny Dalglish taking like this. The Scot thinks like a fan, whereas Benitez has a completely different mindset. He thinks strategically and plans for games tactically rather than by whipping his players up into a frenzy of emotion. In a derby, fans love sliding tackles, huge 50-50 challenges and players showing pride for the team - but above all they want to win the game.
This is why Benitez was perfect for Liverpool. There are few sets of supporters more partisan and enamoured with the myth surrounding their club than the Merseysiders, so Benitez's contrasting approach provided the perfect balance. Likewise with his players, like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher who would run around all day trying to win the match single-handedly.
Instead of giving Gerrard a free reign in central midfield to do whatever he pleased, Benitez gave Gerrard creative freedom from the right side of midfield or just behind Fernando Torres. This allowed for the more disciplined Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano to ensure the core of the side was never left vulnerable.
Benitez's 2009 side was the most balanced and coherent Liverpool side since the title-winning sides of the 1980s. They pushed arguably Alex Ferguson's greatest Manchester United side all the way in the race for the league title, missing out by a mere two points.
In his transfer policy Benitez was equally measured. Although not all his signings worked out, he always bought with a tactical motive rather than the identity agenda Dalglish has employed. Whereas the current manager has bought players based on their nationality, Benitez bought them to fit into the shape of the team. He never had the money that Dalglish spent this summer, and Liverpool fans must surely regret the purchase of Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing when players such as Roberto Soldado, Edinson Cavani and Ricardo Montolivo could have been available at a similar price.
Kenny Dalglish is already comfortably cemented as a Liverpool hero, embodying every feature of the club's history. However, sometimes a manager needs to be detached from such abstract notions as passion and 'pride in the shirt'. Benitez was perfect at this, and in this way he worked his own way into the long and successful history of the Anfield club.