James Corrigan: Behind the scenes with Rafa the remote-control freak

View From The Sofa: Champions League, Sky Sports
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The Independent Online

Set the scene in your mind. It's just before midnight and after yet another deeply unfortunate match, in which Liverpool played the majority of the football but somehow ended up scoring the minority of the goals, Rafa Benitez bursts through the door and heads straight for the sofa, picking up the obligatory seven remotes as he goes.

As he hits the fast-forward button cranking it right up to "x30", Mrs Benitez walks in. "Rafa, why do you always do this?" she asks, strangely speaking in English to her fellow Madridian. "Who cares what they think? You always say you don't." And the very next day at the training ground there is Rafa saying to the collected journalists, "Who cares what they think?"

Actually, Rafa, you do. Just as you do not "turn down the volume" when the pundits appear. Otherwise you'd ask, "What did they say?" when asked what you thought of what they said and not, "What did they ever win?" There again, as one of his critics – after the latest midweek farce in which Fiorentina played the minority of the football but somehow ended scoring the majority of the goals – was Graeme Souness, Benitez might merely be making a fair assumption. "The Scoteesh gentleman" – as Mrs B probably does not refer to him – has been laying into him for months. In fact, almost as long as Liverpool have been losing.

In October, the boy called Souey accused Benitez's Keystone Koppites of being "plod, plod, plod", while the very next month he slammed Benitez for "being lucky for winning that European Cup very early into his reign". Poor old Graeme didn't win a European Cup very early into his reign on Merseyside and the fans indeed proceeded to turn on him when they finished sixth in the League. I mean, how unlucky can you get?

Filled with such an understandable rage of injustice, is there any wonder Souness picks holes in Benitez? On Wednesday, "The Scoteesh Cochino" – as Mrs B probably does refer to him – envisaged a top-fourless scenario in which Liverpool could go into "meltdown". Souness fears they could lose their best players – rumoured to be Torres and Gerrard – and with the warring Yanks on top, it could very well be asbestos glove time. It was a bleak finish to a night which had been billed with such promise.

You really have to hand it to Sky, they would never just let you settle down for a match with the notion that there is nothing whatsoever riding on it. Even when there is nothing whatsoever riding on it. They evidently subscribe to the Don King mantra – "It's not what you've got to sell that counts – it's how you sell it and how you yell it".

On Wednesday it was evidently all about Alberto Aquilani and the first start for that Italian Benitez bought just after the Silver Jubilee. "They've waited and waited," said a breathless Ian Darke as the camera scanned around the Kop searching for a face which didn't look as if it had been waiting for a bus.

Meanwhile, Souness declared, "If he's good on the ball and he works hard, they'll like him." You could have cut the tension with an atom-divider. By the 30th minute and with Aquilani looking less like a Messiah and more like a midfielder with a pretty decent pass, Darke cut to the heart of the hype. "Aquilani has become twice the player over the weeks and months he has not been playing," said the commentator. "Liverpool fans have come to regard him as the saviour."

In the studio, Souness sniffed, while Mrs B started the countdown for the after-match brutality. That Sky+ has so much to answer for.

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