Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rafa's Love Story With Liverpool Continues

"My heart is with Liverpool Football Club, so I'm delighted to sign this new deal. I love the club, the fans and the city and with a club like this and supporters like this, I could never say no to staying. I always made clear I wanted to be here for a long time and when I complete my new contract it will mean I have spent over a decade in Liverpool.”

These were the words that finally give the red half of Liverpool a good sleep tonight. After a ‘hard-to-get’ game played by Benitez and Liverpool, many Reds would’ve felt the uncertainty of the direction of the club.

At long last, we could all look past those doubts and fears, continue to build on this legacy and look forward into a bright red future.

Actually, I was stoked when I saw the news. I was beaming with joy when I finally saw him put pen to that precious contract. The least said about the other 129 rough drafts of the contract the better.

It had been a rollercoaster ride for the Liverpool fans, for the owners and for Rafa himself. There were times where it seems imminent that Benitez would leave the club after seemingly being in the same situation half a decade ago at Valencia.

“I want a sofa but they got me a lampshade.” Such was his hunger for control and a say in everything, including transfers.

Robbie Keane, a major signing in the summer, was probably that lampshade. Though it was disposed off as quickly as Ronaldo going to the ground, one have to wonder if Keane was really a Benitez signing.

The doubts brought tensions within the club. Papers talked about it. Fans questions it. With each passing week, the hopes of him signing the contract seem gloomier and less probable.

We all know Benitez is a meticulous man and wants to have a hand on everything within the club. From the top to the bottom, he wants to be in control and through Liverpool’s playing style, you could see that.

As owners, surely you’d be put off by that. You want someone who manages, not being a control freak and busybody.

Yet his tactical acumen, especially in Europe, probably made Tom Hicks overlooks all of that and accepts the he is the man for this job. After seeing Liverpool steamrolled past Real Madrid last week and demolished Man Utd over the weekends, there is probably no question to his ability.

Tom Hicks, probably read Sun Tzu’s Art of War and realized that only by retreating, you’ll gain the advantage in advancing forward. He removed Rick Parry from his post a few weeks back and it was seen as a victory for Benitez.

We don’t know for sure whether Parry and Benitez had a good working relations but it seems like with the removal of Parry, the Spanish manager would have more control and say in areas such as transfers.

It has been a wonderful 8 or so days for most Liverpool fans. A place in the quarter finals of the Champions League, still in contention for the Premier League title at this stage and some exciting up and coming stars, his signing will no doubt be the icing on the cake.

But it is still only the tip of the iceberg.

I was surprised by the length of contract. 5 years it is. I was pretty adamant that he would at most sign an extension of 2-3 years. But that is an indication that he is here to stay. He might move on anytime from now to 2014 but that definitely signals his intentions.

Of course looking forward, there’s still lot of work to be done. One or two top class players are still needed and of course, contract renewals to key players need to be addressed.

Benitez’s first challenge comes only a day after the joyous occasion and that is the quarter final draw of the Champions League. He obviously have the European Cup in mind, as we’ve already been dumped out of the domestic cups and Premier League is still Man Utd’s to lose.

On the transfer scene, he is surely looking to bolster the squad, with rumours claiming that he is targeting ‘an England international’. I know, I can hear the murmurs. It’s Wayne Rooney I bet (just kidding of course).

Upfront, we need a more consistent and able cover for Fernando Torres. With the departure of Robbie Keane, the frontline looked thin at times with only Ryan Babel and David N’Gog to look to.

Both of our flanks need to be further strengthened as well. Dirk Kuyt looks capable enough but is not the final solution. Albert Riera looks promising at first but his form dwindled towards the latter half perhaps due to his fitness level.

I’ve talked too much here of course. I’m going to let Rafa Benitez do his job. Well on, Rafa, we’ll be behind you!

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