Something is very much amiss at Anfield this season. Liverpool looks like an average team having a good season. That would be great if they were an average team. But this is Liverpool. The cauldron of speculation is furiously and continually abubble as to why, but what repeatedly surfaces is Rafa Benitez’s rotating wheel of fortune.
What Rafa is doing is not uncommon. Houllier did it. Unfortunately, acquiring players and then changing their job descriptions without real need was almost always to ill effect. Remember the 2002 World Cup Senegalese striking sensation El Hadji Diouf? Of course you do. He was the big-money transfer that spent most of his big-money tenure on the right wing. You might as well have put him in goal. He probably would’ve been more effective there.
Perhaps it is not so much what Rafa is doing at Anfield, but how he is doing it that is incurring everyone’s ire. It’s because it bears all the marks of tinkering, and tinkering is something that people by and large have no understanding of or much patience for unless it’s providing a discernible and immediate benefit.
It’s a frustration that has some cause. After all, why anyone would buy a microwave oven that is in perfect working order and then purposely try to turn it into a toaster – especially when it is an expensive, trophy-winning microwave. And what is even more incredible is trying to understand the logic of why anyone would take key parts out when they aren’t broken and then leave in the non-essential parts that are broken.
Rafa is perpetually looking for a combination of parts that will just click, and he hasn’t found it. Worse yet, in his quest for perfection he discards his experiments with little after thought or apology – sometimes even when they work. And while he fiddles, Anfield’s faithful burns.
It is a system of moving parts that seemingly defies logic. The strategy of horses for courses is universally recognized; but sometimes the winning horse never gets to see the same track twice. It only frays nerves more when there is no real explanation as to why. Or at least that is what Stephen Warnock, ex-Liverpool and current Blackburn Rovers left back, would have you believe in his interview before the match up last weekend. Reading beyond what might be construed as Warnock’s wine blended from the finest sour grapes, the notion that Rafa institutes his policy with impunity will only curdle more the already embittered sensibilities of fans and players alike.
Of course Rafa has his stock responses, the rhetoric as to why he continually does what he is doing. But all rhetoric, when it fails in practice, is just that – rhetoric. And it doesn’t matter what language or country it’s used in for it to be hollow talk.
What is truly remarkable is that in a club comprised of almost entirely blooded international stock, there are no real cracks of discontent appearing in the façade. There are murmurs and the occasional rumbling of restlessness in the ranks but nothing outwardly seditious. Perhaps it is a testament to Rafa’s ability to get everyone involved to see his vision and tow the line. Either that or he has everyone fearing for their professional futures.
Yes, thinking outside the box can provide wonderful and unexpected results; but on the downside, when you pull something apart so many times sometimes the pieces don’t quite fit like they used to. So when tinkerers get it right, they are heralded as inventors and innovators. When they get it wrong though, they are ordinarily – and summarily – run out of town. Unfortunately for Rafa right now, the pudding he is tinkering with is a bit light on proof.
It’s only a matter of time before the brilliant sheen of the past fails to blind everyone from a dull present. And now, especially now, it becomes imperative for Rafa to stitch together a team that will get the job done. Should Europe, which is the only testament to the success of his fabled/maligned system slip completely from his historically iron grip, eventually the domestic Emperor will come looking for his clothes.