Today, even Istanbul provides cold comfort

IT WAS the longest goodbye on record, and even now there will be aftershocks aplenty.

Those of us who have thought for some time that Rafa’s reign at Anfield should end have been besieged by numerous desperate acolytes.

At one time it was merely a matter of our cerebral deficiencies. Months later, with no improvement in sight, we had loyalty issues (I believe the word ‘traitor’ was mentioned).

As a poor season dissolved into ridicule and abject failure, we were informed that there are bigger concerns we should be discussing.

No, really? Thanks for the newsflash. So now we had a priority defect. The simple fact is that Benitez could have taken a flamethrower to their granny and they’d claim he was trying to keep her tea warm, and missed because Purslow messed with the settings while he wasn’t looking.

It’s always been my contention that once such a corrosive gulf exists between the fans there is little or nothing that can save the manager. Had he not negotiated a huge pay-off he’d probably have gone a lot earlier.

Where does all the poison, which goes way beyond fanaticism, come from? Numerous outsiders often ask how on earth Rafa Benitez lasted this long at a club like Liverpool, showing scant awareness of what we’ve become rather than misty water-coloured memories of the way we were.

Obviously the ‘people’ making this decision have a lot to do with the indecisiveness on our part.

Back in 2006 no Liverpool fan protested about the imminent change of ownership because back then it meant Abramovich-style extravagance, not the Leesonomics of today.

We duped ourselves as much as any Yank did.

Once Anfield turned septic, hell was unleashed, and the main battleground was the pitch, or rather the extraordinary amounts needed to get good players onto it (apparently).

Rafa’s constant begging became tiresome rather early in proceedings, more so when he began wasting money he did get on the likes of Keane, Dossena, Riera and Aquilani.

He of course hid behind the Americans to such an extent that even after a year where we’ve dropped 23 points and 5 places, added 14 more defeats, scored a paltry 18 goals away from home, bored the daylights out of everyone, departed the Champions League with a game to spare and never once looked like qualifying again, he was still somehow perceived as the victim!

BUT it was the intrigue that damaged his reputation the most. As an older fan who has celebrated so much I don’t think I set the bar particularly high, though I’ll never regard fourth place as achievement.

There are two things I want to do in mid-April; pay my respects to the victims of Hillsborough, then look at the calendar and ask ‘what’s next?’

Rafa came through for me every single season. Yes, even the last one; Istanbul, Cardiff, Athens, could/should have been Moscow, a title challenge and minutes away from another final (albeit in a somewhat diminished competition).

If it were merely a football matter, there wouldn’t have even been an argument – but it’s the conspiracy, the games with the press, the whining over funds, not just over transfers but his own payoff.

How much he was forced into such stratagems always depended on whom you spoke to, but he was doing it at Valencia so it’s hard not to see it as a personal flaw he will never truly conquer.

Those who backed him religiously denounced the Juventus links as press mischief, even internal briefing from our own vile, viscous bedlam of a club.

The fight with Purslow began where his spat with Parry left off, Broughton was here five minutes before he got dragged into the charade. I’m told there’d even been a pop at the new club doctor!

The bitter irony for anyone who believes he is the world’s best coach is that the advice he received in 2007 from one of the owners – focus on your team – was the most perceptive he ever received.

Instead it became his mantra for a press conference meltdown that instigated a three-year standoff that ends as cantankerously as it began. No amount of money was ever enough. When players failed it was someone else’s fault. There was “focus” only on spin, on pot-shots at whoever had annoyed him that day, and all the while the disturbing thought that he was muttering under his breath “what are you going to do – fire me?” until the only answer was “yes”.

Even that was ignored if the team won, because ultimately that’s all anyone was ever bothered about. Last season wouldn’t or shouldn’t be the deciding factor. There is logic and there is supporter logic where loyalty, fairness and belief dominate.

WHY couldn’t Rafa get the extra year Souness, Evans and Houllier got? You don’t sack a coach after one poor season, especially one this good, and after decades of overcoming adversity Liverpudlians can look at the current maelstrom of malignancy and even now think we will remain afloat.

It had gone beyond all that. The idea that the current incumbents would all declare peace and find common ground is moronic. If we had to sell Torres or Gerrard, Rafa would have wanted that money and few were comfortable with that.

If we wanted players to stay and they don’t want to play for Benitez what other solution was possible? If the bank wants to sell our stars and not replace them there isn’t anything Rafa could do about that and for his own sanity he should go elsewhere and leave us to fight our battles. He’s done what he could.

After all this I’ve seemingly forgotten to mention the many fabulous moments we’ve had since 2004. Not so. Frankly it’s too soon for all that. Like looking at the photos of a lost loved one, all they do right now is remind you that they’re gone.

There’s no solace to be found in Istanbul today.

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox