Benitez defends his Liverpool record
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has launched a strong defense of his five-year reign, arguing that the increased value of the club and his squad showed that his tenure had been a success.
Results on the pitch, though, paint a different picture with Liverpool facing elimination from the Champions League and enduring a torrid domestic run that has raised questions about the club’s future financial health.
Liverpool hosts big-spending Manchester City on Saturday having lost five of the opening 12 Premier League matches and sitting in seventh place, 11 points adrift of leader Chelsea.
But Benitez is not panicking about the possibility of the team missing out on one of the four Champions League qualifying spots.
And the Spaniard maintains that Liverpool has grown into a stronger entity on and off the pitch since he joined from Valencia in 2004.
“We are much better now than we were three or four years ago in every single thing,” he said. “In the commercial department, the marketing department, in football … the team is working and improving, and is better than before.
“To achieve 86 points in the league last season is part of the progression. The direction of the club is right.”
But Liverpool hasn’t won a major honor since the 2006 FA Cup, which came after triumphing in the Champions League final at the end of Benitez’s first season.
And Benitez accepts the criticism of his approach to the transfer market, insisting he is “trying to build something and leave a legacy for the future.”
“When we have spent big, normally it’s been very good business,” he added. “Ryan (Babel) was signed for the future and we are waiting for his improvement. He has to be more consistent.
“With the fringe players, we needed to take a gamble on Bosmans (free transfers) and one, two million-pound players. Some of these players have not been good enough for us. It is a risk you have to accept when there is not too much money about.”
Despite co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. burdening Liverpool with 245 million pounds of debt, selling Spain striker Fernando Torres is not on the agenda.
“I’m confident it will never happen,” Benitez said. “If it did, I’d resign.”
Working within financial constraints, Benitez insists he has constructed a strong and valuable group of players.
“In 2004 the squad was worth, what, 100 million pounds? Now perhaps we have one player worth that,” he said. “The whole squad? Maybe 250 million pounds.
“The club was nearly sold for 85 million pounds five years ago. Now the price is 500 million pounds. We must be doing something right.”
Benitez received some positive news Tuesday with captain Steven Gerrard declaring himself fit to face City following a groin injury.
“I’ve had a problem in my groin that has taken a while to get over but I’m just relieved the second injection seems to have done the trick,” Gerrard said Tuesday. “It’s a case of so far, so good, and the aim now is to make sure I get a good week’s training under my belt so I’m ready for the game with City.”