His crestfallen look in the Anfield press room late on Tuesday evening suggested that for once even he had no answers to the biggest footballing crisis to have engulfed the establishment during his tenure. But Rafael Benitez was back yesterday, launching his latest defence of his achievements at Liverpool ahead of Sunday's encounter with Manchester United by insisting that success cannot be judged on trophies alone and demanding that his club not be compared with others who have failed to lift silverware over the past three years.
The beleaguered manager, whose side will fall 10 points behind Manchester United if they fall to their first five-match losing run in 22 years on Sunday, maintains that consistency remains the most important attribute and that Liverpool have shown it. "This club has to win trophies. That is clear," Benitez said. "But it's not fair to judge us simply on silverware when you consider we got to the Champions League final in Athens two years ago and then finished second in the league with 86 points last season. We broke our Premier League points record [last season]. Some people will still say 'oh, no trophies'. We got to Athens, but people may still say 'oh, no trophies'."
Just words, some might conclude; the kind that are needed when Sir Alex Ferguson will soon be in town for an occasion Steven Gerrard may view from the stands. The Liverpool captain was receiving intensive treatment from the club's medical team yesterday in an attempt to get him ready to face the Premier League champions.
But a revealing insight into Benitez's current state of mi nd is provided in an account of a four-hour meeting and tour of Melwood which Benitez provided, the day after the 2-1 Champions League defeat against Lyons, to Paul Tomkins, a writer who contributes a column to Liverpool's website. It bears the impression of renewed self belief. Tomkins feared Benitez might cancel after seeing Cesar Delgado's injury time goal for Lyons leave Liverpool with a mountain to climb in Europe, but far from it. The Spaniard was evidently in ebullient mood and launched a staunch defence of his activities in the transfer market across the last four years in the course of the meeting.
Benitez said he considered 50 of the players he inherited from Gerard Houllier in 2004 to have been inadequate for his needs, including half of the first team, and he believes that the travails of some he has brought in – £7m acquisition Andrea Dossena is "a top pro who has struggled with the system"– have overshadowed the success stories like Emiliano Insua. Insua, bought for £1m, is the reason Dossena is out of first team contention, according to Benitez.
The manager told Tomkins that an independent medical assessor had told Liverpool that £17m Alberto Aquilani – bought to link the midfield with Fernando Torres – would be available by the end of August, a date which has been continually pushed back. Aquilani came through 15 minutes of his first reserve game on Thursday night and Benitez also believes that he now has young players with the potential to break through: teenage striker Dani Pacheco, Krisztiá*Németh, the striker currently on loan at AEK Athens and Nemeth's Hungarian compatriot, goalkeeper Peter Gulasci are rated by him.
In his more public defence of his own position, Benitez maintained that the three years since Liverpool last won a trophy (the FA Cup) "haven't been too bad." Though trophies were needed, he said, "you cannot put Liverpool in the same category as some of the other clubs that have not been winning trophies in that time. When you are up near the top of the table and reaching the final of the Champions League, maybe it's not as bad as some people may think. If you want to win things you first have to have a good team and then be consistent."
His words will not provide solace to Gerrard or Jamie Carragher, who feel time is running out on their quest for a title, though there are new signs behind the scenes that the club's American owners are seeking to divest themselves of other interests. Tom Hicks is moving closer to selling Texas Rangers having met a potential new owner this week, though Hicks Sports Group, which owns the Rangers, defaulted on $525m in loans earlier this year, which suggests there will not be new money in abundance even if the sale does go through.
Of United, whom Liverpool beat twice last season, Benitez offered this: "The main thing going into these games is that you stay calm. You cannot afford to think too much about if you win or lose before you've even played the game. That doesn't help. We can learn from the experience of last year. We have talked about the games we drew, but also know that United lost more games than us and still won the league."
The meeting with Tomkins illustrated how badly he wants his words to imbue his players with confidence. One of his favourite aphorisms, he told the writer, was passed on to him by Luis Aragones, the two times Spain coach. "You can't buy confidence in Marks & Spencer," Aragones told him.Reuse content