January 29, 2009 |

It’s a strange world English Football. Only here can a man who is dropping the proverbial corporate ball, be allowed to demand that the company give him more of the ball. That was never intended to be funny. There is nothing amusing about what Rafa Benitez is doing – or failing to do – at Anfield in the New Year.

He continues to lash out at all and sundry as to why he has dropped 14 points in his 7 of his last nine encounters. At some juncture, this being that time and place, when opportunity after opportunity has gone begging, any words describing “why” start blending into excuses for an obvious inability to stop them from doing so.

You can’t complain that teams are parking the bus. Of course they are. You are Liverpool Bloody Football Club. It doesn’t seem to bother Man U, who – by the by – were kind enough to give us every opportunity to be streets ahead at this point in the season with their indifferent start to the season – an uncharacteristic courtesy that was never going to last.

Being the master tactician, you adapt and overcome. Because you certainly can’t expect suspicious neighbours to hang the “welcome” sign knowing full well you’ve come to pilfer their wares. And if you insist on using the front gate at every house, that’s exactly where they’ll be waiting for you.

As for bad luck, people won’t suffer too much of it before looking for a new talisman.

The more you hear, the more it sounds like a petulant, frustrated fat kid not getting his way, and the more he talks the less is getting done. He’s expending so much energy blasting hot air into the domestic atmosphere he seems to be totally out of steam when it comes time to deciphering a way to get maximum points. Somebody needs to help him find the off switch.

But there is more to it than bluster. Watching yesterday’s game helped solidify something that has hung in the ether, unnamed and unspoken.

This team has become in every way, shape and form Rafa Benitez’s team.

His methodical preparation for each game (which initially might have passed as an endearing quirk) has translated into methodical, plodding performances from his players that has leeched every ounce of creativity from them to the point that it makes average teams look world class and mediocre opposing players seem fresh from International duty. It looks like he has run out of answers to the “anything else?” questions being posed by opposing managers who have already taken the measure of his battle plan.

It is becoming more and more evident that he has a pathological drive to prove that Liverpool Football club is his club, regardless of the damage to his position and that of his team on the log. As he systematically isolates himself through action or inaction, come Christmas – or a messy ending to a winnable domestic season – friendly faces and good cheer will be in short supply. In a sink or swim situation, doggy paddle is a poor choice of stroke.

His squad selection is another indication of his need to put the Benitez brand on the club. Lucas Leiva has absolutely no place on any field where Liverpool Football Club’s first eleven sets foot. Yesterday cemented that fact. By continuing to favour the young Brazilian who is obviously not up to the task, Rafa is effectively saying “I do what I want”. In lieu of telling that to the board directly, he’s deputized Lucas to do it for him.

No, Anfield isn’t burning just yet, but there is definitely signs of a healthy smoulder.

There is still a lot of football left to be played, but the all-too-familiar feeling has started to creep in that the boat has come and gone. And it’s not likely to come back while someone continues to fire broadsides in its general direction.