Article by Imraan Adam @imadam786
Last week I began exploring why I didn’t think that this Liverpool team had peaked just yet to try and put to bed some of the concerns that were surrounding some sections of the fan base. I began looking at where past Liverpool teams have fallen short and where they had gone wrong in the season after, I looked at Roy Evans’s 1996/97 team as well as Gerard Houllier’s 2001/02 side and I looked at where both managers went wrong. This week I want to look at the Rafa Benitez era as well as looking at Brendan Rodgers and how the northern Irishman broke our hearts.
So I left it last time with Liverpool getting rid of Gerard Houllier in the summer of 2004 and it wasn’t long after that when Liverpool announced that Rafa Benitez would be taking the helm at the club. Benitez came from Valencia where he had won two Laliga titles as well as the UEFA Cup, he was well known for being a shrewd tactician and he was very stubborn in his method.
As a fan, Benitez probably gave me some of the best nights of being a Liverpool supporter, obviously everyone will remember when we won the Champions League in Istanbul in 2005, but even the run to the final gave us fans the kind of nights that we never thought we would experience and as Liverpool became European Champions for the fifth time in the most amazing way possible the future looked bright. Which it was, Liverpool won the FA Cup the following season and in 2006/07 we reached another Champions League final, the “Rafalution” was beginning to take shape.
Essentially Benitez was building a team that dominated in the midfield area, it was no coincidence that fans came up with the song with “we’ve got the best midfield in the world”, because that’s where the team’s strength lied. Throughout Benitez’s reign he built his midfield around Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and a holding midfielder, so in the beginning that was Didi Hamann and then later it became Javier Mascherano, these three players became the heartbeat of that Liverpool team and in 2007, when a world class striker in Fernando Torres was brought in, the team was finally ready to mount a title challenge.
In 2008/09 season Liverpool did just that, however after an abysmal January which saw the Reds eight points behind leaders Manchester United it was always going to be an uphill battle. Despite this we gave it a good go and a 4-1 victory at Old Trafford and a 5-0 win against Aston villa the next weekend with United losing again put Liverpool right back in the race for top spot.
Unfortunately it was too little too late, as when the Reds drew a crazy game against Arsenal 4-4 we were left with too much to do, Liverpool finished two points behind United in second place. The next season we were expected to mount another challenge for the title, however that summer Benitez’s stubbornness got the better of him as one of his master plans back fired big time.
After the 2006 World Cup it was quite obvious that England needed a new combination in midfield and for a while Gareth Barry was tried with Steven Gerrard, for some strange reason Benitez really liked this combination and set his sights on bringing Barry to Anfield at the expense of Alonso. This left a lot of fans questioning Rafa’s sanity but in the summer of 2009 he decided to get rid of Alonso, a key part of that midfield. I remember the day Alonso left as even though Gerrard and Torres had both committed themselves to the club I knew we were in trouble. Benitez went after getting his hands on Barry but when that move didn’t come off he decided to turn to Alberto Aquilani to fill the hole left by Alonso.
This was never going to work mainly because Aquilani was injured when we bought him and he would miss the first three months of the season, that’s never a good sign, also Aquilani was a completely different player to Alonso. He didn’t have the range of passing that Alonso had which was instrumental in the way Liverpool attack, the Italian was more of a quick passer but he liked to keep it short and mainly did his damage in the final third.
This meant that over the course of the summer Liverpool would have to completely change their style of play and as everyone knows this can’t be done in the space of a couple of months. Once again the team started to disintegrate and ended up finishing the season in sixth position miles off the Champions League places and an eternity of the Premier League title. Benitez was sacked at the end of that season and Liverpool were left with a team that again needed to be rebuilt.
In the next few years Liverpool spent most of the time in darkness, Roy Hodgson was brought in after Benitez, why I really don’t know, but after that plan failed miserably within five months Liverpool turned to an old hero in Kenny Dalglish to try and steady the ship. The King’s arrival seemed to galvanize the players and despite Torres stabbing us in the back and going to Chelsea Liverpool went from just outside the relegation zone in January to finishing the season in fifth position, the King had worked his magic.
However Kenny’s biggest problem was that Liverpool decided to extend his contract at the end of that season to another three years, admittedly it was something that we all wanted at the time but looking back in hindsight I don’t know if we were holding onto the past a little too much. Dalglish was brought in at a time of great instability both on and off the pitch, FSG had just taken over and the club were in huge financial difficulty left by the previous owners, their names shall not be mentioned mainly because they make me so angry.
Dalglish’s job was to give the team a bit of stability and create a solid platform to go forward, which he did, however when he got the contract extended he was then expected to develop the team and as he had been out of the game for so long this was something he was unable to do simply because football had moved on so much since his day. At the end of the 2011/12 season Liverpool decided to part ways with Dalglish and brought in Brendan Rodgers.
The Northern Irishman had made a name for himself at Swansea where he had guided them to promotion to the Premier League and against all odds they had survived the drop in their first season. Rodgers came in with a reputation for playing attacking attractive football and the owners were impressed with the way he wanted to lead the club and he was given a three year contract.
By this time Liverpool had a new hero for the Kop to adore, Luis Suarez, who was brought in to partner Torres ended up replacing him as the club’s number one striker. Suarez was simply becoming world class and his relationship with Gerrard was off the scale.
Rodgers also brought in Daniel Sturridge and both him and Suarez very quickly formed a deadly partnership up front. Liverpool started 2013/14 season slow and steady winning their first three matches by a 1-0 score-line but in February after Liverpool demolished Everton at Anfield and then toke apart Arsenal again at home by beating them 5-1 and scoring four goals in the first 20 minutes we found ourselves in the middle of a title race rather unexpectedly. We then went on a crazy twelve game winning run that left us within inches of the League title.
Every Liverpool fan knows what happened next and I’m not going to go into it because it’s still too painful, but one thing I will say is that I will never say Liverpool are going to win the League again until we actually have our hands on the trophy. That season there was no doubt that the team was inspired by both Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez and the decision to sell Suarez at the end of that season baffled me, but what baffled me even more is despite getting £70m for the Uruguay international Liverpool were reluctant to spend any of that money to replace him instead, Rodgers wanted to bring more young signing into the club.
Liverpool did make one big panic signing that summer in Mario Balotelli who was a complete flop and the following season Liverpool struggled to get anywhere near the performances of the previous campaign. What didn’t help as well is that it came out quite early on in the 2014/15 season that Steven Gerrard’s contract was up at the end of that season, not only hadn’t he been offered a new one but he stated that he had no plans to retire, and I think Liverpool thought he would.
Now we don’t actually know what happened to the contract Gerrard was eventually offered but the word on the street was that Rodgers didn’t want him there anymore as he didn’t like big personalities in the dressing room, again this is only speculation but if you look at how many big players Rodgers got rid of while he was at Liverpool this theory kind of makes sense and with Gerrard announcing he would be leaving the club at the end of the season to go to America the whole team and club crumbled around Rodgers. The link between the fans and the club that had been there for so long was gone and Rodgers was never able to recover. He lost his job in October 2015 and with Klopp coming in the rest is history.
Now the crucial point I wanted to make when I started writing these articles is that this summer Liverpool have not lost and are not willing to lose any of their key players, Mohammed Salah and Roberto Firmino are both tied down to long term contracts and we have brought in some key signings already that will strengthen the team. The reason why I don’t think we have peaked yet is because we are still moving up both in terms of the players we have at the club and the players we are bringing in. To misquote a famous television advert “the future is bright, the future is red.”
Article by Imraan Adam @imadam786