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Football Ground >> Suck it up Benetiz


5/16/09 6:23 AM
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PMcG
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from the mail

What if it's actually down to you, Rafa?

What if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had flicked out a right boot only to lift the ball high over the bar against Bayern Munich in injury time?

What if Leeds United had refused to sell Eric Cantona on that fateful day in November 1992?

What if Mark Robins had failed to save his manager's job by scoring in a third-round FA Cup tie at Nottingham Forest 19 years ago?

The answer in each case is that Sir Alex Ferguson would not be where he is today, preparing to collect his third successive title before heading to Rome, while he looks proudly down from his managerial throne on Rafa Benitez and the rest.

Life is full of 'what ifs?' Everyone can write an alternative history of how things could have been very different, if only.

Never more so than in sport, where fractions can be the difference between everlasting glory and enduring ignominy. But Benitez, perhaps feeling a sudden twinge from his stigmata again, decided to play the martyr as he declared a malign fate had somehow conspired against his club this season.

Anfield's boss claimed he could have won the Premier League ahead of Manchester United if only Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres had been fit on a few more occasions this season.

He argued that this was the real reason Liverpool now find themselves heading towards their 20th year without the title they so desperately crave.

It's a seductive thought and one that will even seem valid to many of the Kop faithful. Gerrard is a powerhouse and a true matchwinner. Torres is a sublime striker.

There is no doubting their worth and the absence of the duo has clearly had some effect on the season.But so what? By that logic, my aunt would have been my uncle had she been born with a different set of genitalia.
Like many managers, Benitez often comes out with these pet theories to distract from his own shortcomings, dressing up excuses and peddling them as the 'facts' he professes to live by.

Every season is a maze of twists and turns, of good and bad luck, of wise decisions and errors. Every manager is beset by injury problems. Rather than ask what might have happened if Gerrard and Torres were fit, Benitez would have been better served addressing other questions, although I suspect he might not like the answers.

Questions like: What if he'd been braver and played more positive football when Liverpool had a lead at the top of the table and United were away in Japan?

What if he hadn't drawn 11 games and allowed United to seize back control?

What if he'd actually used Robbie Keane properly during Torres's absence, instead of shunting him out the door?

What if he'd kept his counsel instead of launching that distracting attack on Ferguson?

What if he had played key players more often instead of leaving them on the bench?

What if he had bought more wisely and gathered together a squad better equipped for the challenges of a long season

I'd imagine his rivals could easily ask pertinent questions of their own.

What if United had started the season with a completely fit Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney? Would the title race have been over long ago?

What if Owen Hargreaves had been available and running the midfield?

What if Liverpool's squad players had taken on the responsibility presented to them in the way Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher and Ji-sung Park have at Old Trafford?

What if Guus Hiddink had been Chelsea manager from the kick-off? What if Michael Essien had been fit all season?

What if Didier Drogba had been of sound body and mind throughout the entire campaign (OK, just body). Or Joe Cole, for that matter? Would Benitez still be in the runners-up spot?

What if Arsenal had not lost William Gallas, Tomas Rosicky, Eduardo, Gael Clichy, Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and others at various points of the season, do you think that might have made a difference?

Benitez's argument is too simplistic. United disappeared to the Far East in mid-season to compete for the Club World Cup and Liverpool singularly failed to press home the advantage they had been given.

Remember, too, United went all the way to Wembley to win the Carling Cup final and reached the FA Cup semi-final. They did not flop out of both domestic cup competitions in the fourth round and have the luxury of some slack in their fixture list like Benitez.

The difference was Ferguson had a squad in place that was able to cope with the widespread demands and imponderables of a season. And rather than ask 'what if?' perhaps it's time to ask Benitez 'why?'

Why is he blaming injuries when his expensive collection of players has been amassed over five years? Why doesn't he have a squad deep enough to cope?

Why is Benitez blaming a lack of 'financial power' when he spent £7million on a third-choice left back and £40m last summer?

Destiny is often said to be a fool's excuse for failure. Yes, Liverpool are undoubtedly closer to United and Benitez is right to insist they are genuine contenders.

But it's not going to be any easier next time and the uncomfortable truth is they had an enormous opportunity to win the league this season and they blew it. Posing irrelevant, hypothetical questions is not going to provide meaningful answers as to why that happened.
5/16/09 6:26 AM
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PMcG
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To be honest I am posting this article for myself so that I can take from it when I am in work when my boss who is a Liverpool fan will be crying about how Liverpool are the better team and if they had Gerrard and Torres they would've won the league. This article will be my retort.

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