Is there really manipulation at work keeping Rafa’s hold over Liverpool fans?

SOCCER Liverpool 8It is a curious question to ask really, it seems pretty far fetched that a football manager can manipulate an entire group of fans to support him during bad times for his club. It is a question which was however brought up by Jamie Redknapp in his column with the Daily Mail a couple of days ago:

They have won one in 10 now and fans will be thinking. They are firmly behind him, though, he manipulates the fans, he gets them how he wants them. But there comes a time, if they go out of Europe this week and then lose at Everton, that the fans are swayed and will say that we have to look at him now. That team is not really going anywhere. The problem you will get is that will Fernando Torres want to play in the Europa League? I don’t think so. . . . If they don’t get into the top four at the end of this season, it will be a major problem. You have huge problems going on behind the scenes with the owners, but it is too easy to blame that. On the pitch the players are not playing well enough, that’s a fact.

It is yet another ex-Liverpool player attacking the manager, and although we can question Redknapp’s credentials as a pundit, there is no doubt that he cares for the club that he played over 300 games for. So, what does he mean when the fans are being manipulated? The only thing I can think of is that he believes that Benitez is taking advantage over the fan’s disdain of the American owners. Many times, especially during his contract negotiations, he was expressing his inability to buy the players he wanted, quickly enough. Something which was levelled mainly at Rick Parry, and which led to his swift departure at the end of last season, but he did criticise the owners obliquely over the purchase of Javier Mascherano. The owners obviously bulked at the asking price for the player and Benitez stepped in publicly to ensure pressure was on the owners from the fans to follow through on this acquisition.

But does this really add up to manipulating the fans? No, there is a great tradition among Liverpool fans of giving manager’s time, it is part of the “Liverpool way,” no baying for blood after a run of bad results, no calling for the manager’s head after a string of poor performances. What I and other Liverpool fans are looking at are the successful clubs currently ahead of us who have long-serving managers, such as Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. That gives you a great indication of how longevity can be rewarded by trophies and medals. Who could forget that Ferguson was one game away from being sacked in January 1990 before an FA Cup third round match against Notts Forest? It took him 7 years to win the Premier League title and over 20 years to win two Champions Leagues. Arsene Wenger on the other hand has not won a single trophy in nearly 5 years; do you see Arsenal fans calling for him to go? No, they know the abilities of their manager as do many Liverpool fans know the capabilities of theirs.

Benitez won the Champions League in his first season at the club, following up with the FA Cup a year later. His net spend is under £100m in his 5 year stay, the highest spent on one player was Fernando Torres for£ 21.5m, how many times has Sir Alex Ferguson spent over that amount in his stay at Old Trafford?

Of course, Benitez can’t go without criticism, and I think this is what Redknapp was trying to get at when speaking about ‘manipulating’ the fans. It is not all the Americans fault. Although he has missed out on players due to the clubs refusal to sanction more funds (this was certainly the case with Gareth Barry and may have had the knock on effect of being partially the reason for Liverpool’s failings this season), most of the players at the club now are players he bought. The fact is dropping out of the Champions League, winning one match in ten in all competitions and falling thirteen points behind league leaders Chelsea in November is not good enough. Things must start improving soon, preferably against Everton on Saturday, or the financial peril of not finishing in the top four may become a reality.

One hope is that now Benitez has control over transfers, with a Managing Director Christian Purslow backing him, he may begin to turn things around. Transfer money should be more forthcoming in the summer when the new shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered starts, but will it be too late by then? Will “in Rafa we trust” be a past memory, I hope not, but improvements need to be made, performance wise and in terms of player personnel. Liverpool’s project, like Manchester United’s all those years ago, must be a long term one to win the Premier League, patience but most importantly continuity is required. Continuity at management level, a principle shared by new MD Purslow:

Liverpool Football Club is on a long-term journey and that journey is to be the most successful club, firstly in our country and secondly in the world and you don’t do that by worrying about short-term results. You do that by having long-term plans centring on the people and the strategy. Rafa Benitez is absolutely central to that plan.

He may be central to that plan at the moment, but how long for, if results continue to be poor? Liverpool during their current financial plight can’t afford to be out of the Champions League, and it would be difficult for players such as Fernando Torres to stomach another season of Europa League action. Loyal Rafa fans must understand that practical implications will have a strong say on the Spaniard’s future. Continuity is no doubt a good thing and something which most Liverpool fan’s understand, but there may well come a time soon when Rafa has Ferguson’s tipping point moment such as January 1990. Which way will the tide turn?