The Last Word: Rafa gets taste for blood but is the likely victim

Benitez's public blatherings are not the 'Liverpool way' and will ensure there is no happy ending
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The Independent Football

It was appropriate that what is turning into a mini-Greek tragedy should have begun in Athens. The final whistle had barely blown on the 2007 Champions' League final when Rafa Benitez, the losing manager, set the wheels in motion for a tale of pride, ambition and greed, played out in front of a mournful Kop chorus, in which Rick Parry, flawed hero turned villain, is unlikely to be the last victim. Do not expect a happy ending.

Many saw dramatic irony too, on that emotional night, in the fact that the quality of Liverpool's striving against the familiar foe of Milan was clearly superior to two years previously in Istanbul, yet brought a diametrically opposite result. Benitez, however, was for once not inclined to dwell on his fabled "small details"; after railing only briefly against the football gods – and the referee for not playing sufficient added time – he turned to the bigger picture and, as The Independent recorded: "There was a clear warning from the Spaniard to George Gillett and Tom Hicks as he blamed a lack of high-calibre signings... Benitez pulled no punches on the future direction of Liverpool."

The following morning, British journalists visiting the team hotel for a more considered debriefing were astonished to discover he was now attacking with almost reckless abandon, and that Parry was as much of a target as the owners. Transfer dealings were too little and too late; Liver-pool were standing still while others pressed on; Manchester United had just finished 21 points ahead of them, he pointed out, and immediately spent £18 million on a midfield player (Owen Hargreaves) while he was unable to get a cheque signed; the whole structure of the club was wrong, the commercial set-up feeble; it was time for action, not endless talk.

Even those closest to Benitez were shocked, not only by such a naked challenge to the club hierarchy but by the fact it had been issued so publicly. Jamie Carragher, lamenting this departure from "the Liverpool way" of conducting business, may have expressed the hope that the lapse was only temporary, yet little that has happened from that moment until the announcement on Friday of Parry's departure has offered him and fellow loyalists any such encouragement.

The American owners' response to the provocation was along the lines of getting even rather than angry. A supposedly sympathetic response that included authorising the purchase of Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel even won them some friends in the stands before a disastrous public relations blunder in offering Benitez's job to Jürgen Klinsmann, with Parry heavily involved. Benitez was told to "shut up" and concentrate on his job of coaching.

Had the Americans stuck together, he is unlikely to have survived, but they have long been drifting apart. As the phrases "sub-prime" and "credit crunch" came to have as much significance in Britain as Dallas, and much-trumpeted plans for a new stadium collapsed, the Kop chorus wailed more plaintively and factions developed: Hicks and Benitez in uneasy alliance on one side, Gillett and Parry on another. By April last year, Hicks apparently regarded Parry as "a disaster", but Gillett refused to sack him.

How on earth will they agree on a new chief executive, and how will the chosen one align himself in the war between the two? Of the names in the frame, the commercial director, Ian Ayre, and finance director, Phil Nash, are known as Hicks men; others such as Brian Barwick, formerly of the Football Association, and Keith Edelman from Arsenal would come with allegiance unknown but much bitter experience of football politics.

So to Act Four or even Five of the drama, in which Benitez is supposed to bring stability by signing a new contract but constantly finds reasons not to; undermined, he believes, in his pursuit of Gareth Barry, betrayed by media "lies", demanding more control of transfers and the club's academy, which the highly regarded Steve Heighway felt compelled to leave. Now Parry is to follow Heighway out of the door at the club they both loved, equally dismayed at being marginalised by the manager's quest for more control.

Such is the unhealthy volatility of the whole place that last week, on the eve of a crucial Champions' League tie, rumours suddenly swept Merseyside and Madrid that Benitez was on his way out. Perhaps the rumourmongers simply had the wrong man. But as another championship challenge falls away, how long before patience runs out on one side or the other and the Kop wails its final chorus of doom?

Crassness of Woods' sponsors is insult to rivals

Word reaches 'The Independent on Sunday' that the Tiger Woods camp was not impressed about the huge expectation that greeted his comeback in Arizona after an eight-month absence. They thought all those "Tiger will win" predictions were neither realistic nor fair and cast a negative shadow over what was always likely to be an early exit from the World Match Play.

But they should look within some of their sponsors' marketing departments. Nike cranked up the hype with their stream of adverts showing Tiger back in his lair and his rivals running for cover. Yet it was on the firm's golfing website where the anticipation was allowed to become presumptuous, if not arrogant.

The morning after the world No 1's 4 & 2 defeat by Tim Clark, Nike were still displaying which colour of shirt he would be wearing for the next three days. So we presume Woods (right) planned on donning a white polo shirt for a trip to his garden centre yesterday.

In his comeback, Woods does not need his own people piling on pressure. The next time Nike act in such a crass way, he should instruct them to remove this insult to opponents. If they disagree, he should tell them: "Just do it".

James Corrigan

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