If you're on this site, you're probably well aware of the lengths I went to defend Rafa while he was manager. If not, there are a whole host of posts tagged "Benitez" on the right sidebar. 38, in fact, as soon as I hit "publish post." I'm more than conscious that many will see this as biased. So be it. And yes, defending the manager of Inter Milan while criticizing Liverpool's isn't just unfamiliar territory, it feels almost wrong. I shouldn't have to write that I support Liverpool FC, not Rafa FC, to cut off the inescapable retorts. But here we are.
And, for another disclaimer, this isn't to argue that Benitez didn't make mistakes. Robbie Keane and Alberto Aquilani, among others, will top the list of transfer gaffes, and you could argue that almost every purchase since the summer of 2008 – the last window where Liverpool spent more than they made – backfired. Alonso's name will be inevitably and unfairly raised. There were the conservative tactics, especially away from Anfield, although those tactics look less conservative after what we've seen so far this season. Benitez was inflexible far past the point of stubbornness more often than not, as are most managers. And he was political animal all too willing to use the media to fight his battles, especially with the owners.
But when Liverpool's current manager uses one of the club's greatest legends to insult the former manager, ostensibly in an attempt to buy himself time and curry favor with a xenophobic media, it's distasteful in the extreme and deserving of a response, no matter the uncomfortable position it puts the club and the fans in.
"When it was mooted the club wanted me for the job I made it clear to Kenny I wanted him on board and it wouldn't be like it was with Benitez where you are here in name but never allowed to set foot into Melwood and we don't want anything to do with you."
Paul Tomkins, who had multiple opportunities to visit with Benitez, called it a 'flagrant lie.' Given all we read about how Benitez was the one who brought Dalglish back, and how happy Dalglish was to be back, I absolutely believe that it's a flagrant lie. And it's an infuriating, self-serving, bush league lie. In keeping with almost everything that's exited Hodgson's mouth over the last three months.
I've made it crystal clear that I think Hodgson is the wrong man for the job, and I'd like him gone as soon as possible. His comments weren't the straw that broke the camel's back, as that back was broken long before. Two narrow wins over the mighty Blackburn and Bolton haven't changed that opinion. But that's not why I'm writing this screed.
It's also not written to promote Benitez as some sort of martyr, saint or savior, or to lobby for his return. For now, that chapter's been written. Abruptly and unfairly concluded too soon, but concluded nonetheless. But I won't stand for unfair revisionism – with the media still blaming Benitez for Liverpool's problems this season – or out-and-out lies. Yes, he made mistakes, but Benitez was the best manager Liverpool manager that I can remember – a list that also includes Souness, Evans, Houllier, and Hodgson. Not a murderous' row by any means, and certainly not comparable to the brilliance of Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, or Dalglish, but that's still an almost 20-year span. Benitez restored this club, if not to where it belongs – back on the "fucking perch" – than at least its pride. To deny or dismiss that is either agenda-driven or utterly lunacy. With Hodgson, or with the British media for that matter, it could be either or both. I'm sure it's a happy accident that the media took Hodgson's accusations at face value while Benitez's responses are labeled as "cryptic" or "rants."
Had Hodgson not made those unfortunate, ill-advised jabs, this wouldn't be the talking point. We'd be focusing on the marginal progress made on the pitch, looking forward to both Napoli and Chelsea, and Benitez wouldn't have suffered questions about Roy's comments in a Champions League press conference. But Liverpool's current manager would rather snipe at the former in an attempt to curry favor with the fans and buy himself more time. It's only fair that Benitez replied, to both set the record straight and protect his reputation. It would have been better for Liverpool, and certainly better for Hodgson, had Rafa not responded, but that can't be expected after what was said. And of course, those 90 seconds, and not the other 30 minutes about Inter Milan's upcoming match against Spurs, now dominate the national media.
After all we've heard this season, I can't say I'm surprised that Hodgson once again shoved his foot down his own throat, although trying to win over the fans and media by bashing his predecessor is a new low. And at the same time, I won't apologize for continuing to defend Benitez. Rafa fought for us – the first to sound a public warning about the owners' lies – and still fights for us even after his exit – see his Purslow comments from two weeks ago, which (coincidentally, I'm sure) came the day before Purslow resigned, in addition to yesterday's.
That's why I'll continue to defend the former manager, and continue to lobby for the exit of the current.