Sam Wallace: Control freak Benitez picked the wrong week to go to war with the boardroom

Talking Football: What Benitez is asking for is unprecedented power. More than Ferguson and Wenger
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The final word in transfer dealings, proxy-chief executive, chief of the academy, answerable to pretty much no one. Seeing as Rafael Benitez's boardroom coup is now public, he may as well make a clean sweep of it and demand final say on all sandwich fillings served during match days at Liverpool. While you're at it, give him the key to the Anfield stationery cupboard too. You want 20 envelopes and a new printer cartridge? Better ask Rafa first.

The trouble with those many individuals in English football who harbour dictatorial tendencies is that they do not realise the damaging effect of their power grabs on everyone else. Benitez decided to go for the jugular of chief executive Rick Parry, to accuse him of mistakes over Daniel Agger's future, at precisely the wrong moment in the season. Everton visit Anfield tonight, Steven Gerrard is in court on Friday, and, as of Saturday, Manchester United have seized the initiative in the title race.

The timing of Benitez's declaration of war on Parry, of his alliance of convenience with co-owner Tom Hicks, could not have come at a worse time for Liverpool had Sir Alex Ferguson been sabotaging it himself. Benitez's attack over the weekend was not about what was best for the club, however much he might protest that it was. What Benitez did this weekend served only his own ends. For such a brilliant football strategist, it was a ghastly mistake.

Parry would never claim to be the last word in slick business acumen, but then neither is he the worst and losing out on Gareth Barry was not the first time a transfer has collapsed. Luiz Felipe Scolari cannot be too pleased at the way his club dithered over Robinho. Ferguson can count plenty of bodged transfer deals over the years, from Paul Gascoigne in 1988 to Ronaldinho in 2003. Benitez may want his own man in charge of transfers but how long before he decides the new chap is not up to it?

What Benitez is asking for is unprecedented power. More, it seems, than Ferguson who even now, with two Champions League titles and 10 Premier Leagues to his name, answers to chief executive David Gill, a chartered accountant by trade. More than Arsène Wenger, without question the greatest money-to-value operator in the modern transfer market, whose line manager is a rookie chief executive from America who only started work at the club this month.

Let us follow in Benitez's fantasy for a moment and ask whether he merits the power he craves. His track record in transfers is not as bad as popular myth suggests, in many respects it is much better than many give him credit for. He has shipped out the failures quickly (Gabriel Paletta, Mark Gonzalez, Fernando Morientes) or got them out on loan (Sebastian Leto) and traded even some suspect performers for a profit (Momo Sissoko, Jan Kromkamp).



There have been many successes too (Xabi Alonso, Pepe Reina, Agger), others he has profited on (Peter Crouch, Craig Bellamy) and his biggest investment of all, Fernando Torres, is maturing nicely. An exact inventory of prices, players, profit and loss is not a matter of public record. But broadly speaking, it would be fair to say that Benitez has a very decent, if not spectacular, record in the transfer market. Yet it is certainly not the record of a manager to whom any owner would wish to cede complete control.

As for his desire to take over the club's academy, it was most people's understanding that he had already done that. He has ousted the academy director, Steve Heighway, who brought through Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. He has, according to one estimation, signed 27 teenagers from 13 different countries to the academy over the last three and a half years. That does not sound like a manager who is struggling for influence.

If you still think that Benitez has got it right on Liverpool's academy, read chapter three, A Liver Bird Upon My Chest, of Carragher's recent autobiography. It is a compelling treatise on how average foreign teenage recruits have stunted the development of local Scouse talent. Carragher is scathing about Heighway's treatment at the hands of Benitez and Gérard Houllier, and less than complimentary about the likes of Paletta and Leto. It is very rare for a player to challenge his current boss in print but Carragher evidently felt strongly enough about the potential effect on his club.

Of those 27 teenagers signed by Benitez, Carragher names only Krisztian Nemeth and Dani Pacheco as potential Liverpool players. Otherwise he is left wondering why local boys Jay Spearing, Stephen Darby and Martin Kelly have not been given a chance by Benitez. "It's disturbing to hear some of the arguments made by parents who say they may send their child to Everton instead, simply because they are not seeing our local boys get a chance," Carragher writes.

No manager, not even one as talented as Benitez, can be allowed to run unchecked. Clubs are at their healthiest when the powerful figures who run them exert checks and balances upon each other. Of course, this being Benitez, the stories of a summer move to Real Madrid have already begun. That is the biggest joke of all. Can you imagine English football's biggest control freak at a club where the manager is the last person to know anything?

Parker still first choice for billionaire buys club

What is it about Scott Parker that fascinates the richest men in football?

Roman Abramovich had been in charge of Chelsea for barely eight months when he paid £10m for Parker (below). when Mike Ashley took over at Newcastle he inherited Parker, bought in the summer of 2005 for £6.6m. Big-spending Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson bought West Ham in 2007 and the call went up, "Get Parker". They did, for £7m.

Therefore it should have been no surprise that when Sheikh Mansour took control of Manchester City, one of the first players for whom he bid was Parker. This time, it seems that Parker is staying. Yet like a Lucien Freud painting or a 120-foot yacht, he remains this year's must-have item for any self-respecting billionaire.

Sound sense for Roman to want money back

One newspaper this weekend went big on the story that many long suspected: Roman Abramovich wants to sell Chelsea.

In these straitened times, if the Russian could get back the £600m-plus he has invested in Chelsea, the question is not why would he do it, rather why wouldn't he do it?

Cross purposes

"I belong to Jesus," says Kaka. Yes, but does that mean Manchester City have to pay him an agent's commission as well?

Comments