Was Ferguson right in his assessment of Benitez?

Not even the 750 miles of land and sea between Italy and England can stop Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson taking a swipe at his old Liverpool enemy Rafael Benitez.

Sir Alex chose to reopen old wounds ahead of last Sunday’s clash between his United side and fierce rivals Liverpool by blaming Benitez for the recent decline of the five time European Champions and not the club’s squabbling American owners. Ferguson could have easily avoided the Benitez issue if he had wished, but couldn’t resist one last dig at the new Inter Milan boss.

“I don’t know if Liverpool’s current situation is anything to do with the financial position,” commented Fergie.

“In the last regime they spent a lot of money on players, far more than Manchester United did. They had a huge squad of players, so I don’t know if the financial position is anything to do with it.”

The pair clashed repeatedly over transfer spending and budgets while Benitez was in charge at Anfield. In March 2009 the Spaniard told his United counterpart to ‘check his figures’ after Ferguson argued that the Merseyside Reds had easily outspent their rivals since the start of Benitez’s reign in 2004.

Depending on whose figures you believe, Benitez spent £240m during his six-year Anfield tenure, while Ferguson spent £223m over the same period. The former Valencia boss recouped around £165m, giving him a net spend of £88m (or £14.6m per season). While Ferguson’s net spend over the last six seasons works out at £58m, £30m less than Benitez. Benitez’s £14.6m-a-season certainly does not represent outlandish spending for a club which needed complete overhauling when he arrived in 2004. The over-inflated £80m cheque United received from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo also tips the scales in United’s favour.

Ferguson spent money reshaping his United side following Chelsea’s emergence as champions in 2004 & 05, while world class talent Wayne Rooney arrived from Everton in 2004 during Benitez’s first summer at Anfield. Sir Alex also added the defensive duo of Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra to his squad in 2006, undoubted high-quality additions to the Old Trafford set-up. Benitez also had successes in the transfer market with signings Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Pepe Reina and Javier Mascherano. Although Ferguson has been building from a position of strength, he can still point to three league titles and a Champions League win having spent less money than Benitez.

Benitez had success himself at Anfield, twice breaking the club’s record Premier League points total, a European Cup and a FA Cup triumph. It is incredibly harsh to blame Benitez for Liverpool’s decline when the club have been underachieving for the last two decades. The ownership saga did not help Benitez who had to manage in difficult conditions throughout his time at the club, as the boardroom battle rumbled on in the background. The effects of the ongoing sale process still continues to suck the life out of the club today and cannot be simply discarded when evaluating the club’s current plight.

Ferguson has seen the departure of six Liverpool managers during his 23-years at Old Trafford, claiming to have got on well will all of them except Benitez.

“You should examine him [Benitez] not me. I’ve always enjoyed a good relationship with Liverpool’s managers,” revealed Ferguson.

“Both clubs have always addressed the situation properly after games. That changed under the last regime, but it’s not a big issue for me.”

Clearly not. Liverpool fans have always backed Benitez’s stance on Ferguson and his refusal to pander to the longest-serving manager in English football. Benitez clearly got under Ferguson’s skin and still continues to provoke strong opinions from the Scot despite having long departed to Italy. Here’s what the former Liverpool boss had to say about Ferguson’s comments.

“I am honestly surprised that an experienced and important manager like him said these things and spoke so much about me, considering I’ve been in Italy for three months,” said the Nerazzurri boss.

“I can only add that the Liverpool fans know the story and they know the truth. They also know it’s easy to judge when you’ve been in power for 24 years.”

Of course Benitez had his failings but you cannot alter history to blame him for the club’s gradual decline and mismanagment over the last 20 years.

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