Benitez will be given time to restore the style of old

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The Independent Online

If the employment of Gérard Houllier as joint manager with Roy Evans marked a transition at Liverpool, as the club introduced a first outsider into the Anfield family since a passionate Scot called Shankly arrived from Huddersfield Town 45 years ago, appointing a second foreign manager this summer has brought an iron curtain crashing down on the old days and the old ways.

If the employment of Gérard Houllier as joint manager with Roy Evans marked a transition at Liverpool, as the club introduced a first outsider into the Anfield family since a passionate Scot called Shankly arrived from Huddersfield Town 45 years ago, appointing a second foreign manager this summer has brought an iron curtain crashing down on the old days and the old ways.

Evans is long gone, the entente with his new French colleague proving less than cordiale, and as of the end of the season Houllier is history. But so are his assistant Phil Thompson and first-team coach Sammy Lee, representatives of the Seventies and Eighties in a line of former bootroom staff running right back to Shanks himself.

Rafael Benitez has brought in his own men, retaining only the former Hibernian manager Alex Miller as coach and Steve Heighway, who as academy director is the last, tenuous link with the glory days. So what else will this new man bring to the job and the club? Hard work, certainly, from himself and his players, who were putting in long hours at the Melwood training ground before departing for the current three-match tour of the United States and Canada (they beat a weak Celtic team 5-1, lost 1-0 to Porto on Friday and meet Roma on Tuesday).

He is wisely setting no targets and making no boasts, not even opting for the populist vote by promising to transform Liverpool back into the exciting stylists whose passing - and passes - Anfield supporters lamented long and loud (booing optional). "At Valencia last season we scored 71 goals, while Real Madrid scored 72," he said with a Houllier-like reverence for statistics. "We conceded 27 and Real perhaps 40. So we had a balance. For me that's important."

More encouraging for Disenchanted of Dingle is a reminder of how Benitez transformed Valencia into a more entertaining side while keeping them in contention for the important prizes: "When I arrived they had been twice in the Champions' League final. They were a good team. Perhaps a little defensive. So we tried to be more offensive. Most important was to move the defensive line 10 to 15 metres forward, so the team arrived in attacking positions more often and made more possibilities to score. In the second and third years, you could see the difference."

Second and third years... it may still be necessary for the Kop to curb their impatience, for this is clearly a long-term project, as illustrated by the five-year contract that helped make the job such an attractive one: "For a manager that is very important because you have time to change things and do what you want. I don't have a target. I'm not going to say we have to win the Premier League this season. The club have told me we have time. I will work every day with my staff - but not with difficult targets. The only target is to improve."

There are injury worries. Benitez will be in the market for a midfielder after Vladimir Smicer sustained ligament damage against Porto which could keep him out for six months. Djibril Cissé, the £14m striker inherited from Auxerre, has impressed with his pace and control. Signing a Spaniard, Josemi, a right-back or centre-half, from Malaga does not mean a rush of foreign imports: "The English players are important because they know the supporters, the stadiums, the clubs."

The prospects for bridging that gaping gap behind the top three? "It would be very easy to say 'we'll be the best'. We are talking about a gap of 30 points. If we work hard and effectively, and the players want - really want - to win, then I think we can do it."

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