By David Lynch
A managerless, rudderless Liverpool are officially at a crossroads. Though the appointment of Kenny Dalglish and his subsequent sacking may well have delayed it, now is the beginning of the Fenway Sports Group revolution on Merseyside.
The fan clamour for Dalglish put the club’s American owners in an awkward position upon the realisation that Roy Hodgson was damaging the Reds’ on-the-field performances, and more importantly, the club’s brand.
The string of results the Scot led his side to thereafter created a reluctance to upset loyal customers, forcing John W Henry and Tom Werner to bend to supporter will.
Now, with Dalglish’s league performance proving insufficient to keep his job, despite two impressive cup runs, this was supposed to be the Boston-based owners’ chance to stamp their authority on the newest addition to their sporting portfolio. However, yet again they find themselves confronted by another insatiable yearn amongst the club’s fan base.
Another prodigal son being called to return; the elephant in the room, or el elefante - Rafael Benitez.
|DALGLISH'S LAST REIGN V RAFA
| LIVERPOOL'S RECORD WITH DALGLISH
LIVERPOOL'S RECORD WITH BENITEZ
Much like ‘King Kenny’ before him, the Spaniard is the undoubted favourite amongst Kopites to take the job. As Goal.com exclusively revealed this week, only Andre Villas-Boas and Wigan boss Roberto Martinez remain as candidates to take the seemingly poisoned chalice.
Yet, unlike Dalglish’s return, this is a comeback which carries far less risks. Though three trips to Wembley should never be as callously disregarded as they have been in an era where Champions League is everything, Liverpool’s league form last term was undeniably cause for concern.
There was sufficient evidence of the flaw that few fans wished to contemplate upon the 61-year-old’s appointment - a failure to move with the times tactically - to at least potentially justify Dalglish’s removal.
Such stagnation is something of which Benitez, a borderline obsessive scholar of the game, could never be accused.
A return for the Spaniard would not be a misty-eyed call to a former legend, or an attempt to stitch together the widening gap between the club’s glorious past and its uncertain future - Benitez is just by far the best man for the job.
When there is a world class manager living in the nearby Wirral who requires no compensation, knows the club and has succeeded on a budget at both Liverpool and Valencia, the phrase looking a gift horse in the mouth comes to mind.
Quite simply, calls for a “fresh face” are fatuous. The tendency in football to flirt between opposites in management are well documented, but describing appointing one of the game’s most forward-thinking personalities as a backward step is flippancy in the face of what is one of the most vital decisions in the club's history.
Of course, the chances of any new manager will certainly not be tainted by past failures, but that has zero correlation with the likelihood of future triumphs.
Though a seventh-placed Premier League finish brought the Spaniard’s first reign on Merseyside to an end, the subsequent talk of 'rebuilding' and failure even to get as close to fourth as the Reds did that season betrays the constraints the Spaniard was under.
Yet, unlike Dalglish’s return, this is a comeback which carries far less risks
Benitez rightly receives flak for his ill-advised venture into boardroom politics toward the end of his tenure but with the club still recovering from Hicks and Gillett’s irresponsible ownership, those battles take on a favourable light.
In fact, not even contacting Benitez has its own downfalls beyond the clear football-related myopia. There is a real risk that he could become the next Dalglish; perhaps not sat in the boardroom waiting, but only separated from his true love by the stretch of water which detaches the Wirral from Liverpool - something the fans will be fully aware of.
Should results under a new man prove unsatisfactory, he will become an unbearable Champions League and La Liga winning itch that one day must be scratched. It is a pressure which could cause a fresh face to crumble.
The presence of Ian Ayre in the boardroom is of course a rather sizeable stumbling block for any return; the managing director represents the last man standing from the crippling Hicks and Gillett era. However, with Christian Purslow - the club’s divisive former managing director, who endured a famously fractious relationship with Benitez - backing him for the job this week, then surely Ayre can swallow his pride too.
This is something that the former Valencia man may be forced to do himself if he is to fit into the rigid structure which FSG are reportedly looking to impose.
Such flexibility is something you expect Benitez would be willing to show for the love of the club. That said, whether he has the humility to make his own move towards the Americans should they continue to ignore him is another matter entirely.
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