Pool need to take financial hit and replace Benitez
If you wrote a script entitled 'How Not to Run One of the Great Football Teams' and based it on the current plight of Liverpool FC, you would be wasting your time. It would be rejected as simply too implausible, too utterly detached from the classic means by which a big team maintains its status.
There were occasions in extra-time on Wednesday -- as Reading strode with some contempt into the fourth round of the FA Cup -- when the only decent thing to do was avert your eyes.
This was especially so when the camera panned, in its sadistic way, on the troubled countenance of Rafa Benitez.
In football, as in life, there are good nights and bad and there is also something which in a well-ordered club announces that this is surely the end of the road.
It says everything about Liverpool that when such an occasion arrived, as it had been promising to do in various forms for most of the season, the idea that Benitez had little option but to resign flew against the fact that such nobility would involve the loss of £20m.
The Kop used to sing and shout that in Rafa they placed their trust. Now it seems the only thing he can be relied upon to do is refuse to walk out on a personal fortune. He is due though, given the nature of football and loyalty these days, rather more serious recrimination that this. By far the heaviest criticism must be that he has utterly neglected the old Liverpool tradition of team development.
The current team -- led by Torres and Gerrard (pictured) -- was thought to have a chance of winning the title, but now that looks like the last word in fantasy.
Benitez won one Champions League and reached the final of another one. He won two titles for Valencia. This was not the work of a man without substance but the indictment has become too heavy, too sustained.
It centres around the charge that his appreciation of players is simply too flawed. He lost Xabi Alonso, the driving force of the team, the essence of their competitive character, and now, with the season effectively over, it is plain that he failed utterly to replace him -- at least in a way that might just have maintained the momentum built last season.
Alberto Aquilani came from Italy with a history of physical vulnerability. Now that he has finally made the team, with everything in ruins, it is plain that if his talent is fine and pretty at times, it does not begin to match the force Alonso provided.
For a time, Benitez's apparent desire to shape every moment of a Liverpool performance, his frequent presence in the technical area, suggested someone well down the road to becoming a control freak but, if that was the process, it was reasonable to think there would be a formidable accumulation of victories along the way. Instead, we have had a growing sense of someone who had long since shed his certainties and could now only supply a dangerous increase in hope and speculation.
Despite the chaos among the ownership and the repeated claim that the manager has not been able to compete with his most serious rivals, the fact is Benitez has had the means to do some serious team building. But he has bought poorly and the result is obvious. Liverpool are a team shrivelling before our eyes.
There is, no doubt, some points of comparison with Manchester United, at least in the matter of team decline, with Alex Ferguson anguished by the effects of Cristiano Ronaldo's departure, the loss of authority in midfield and the growing irrelevance of Dimitar Berbatov. United's recent performances are not that far removed from some of Liverpool's -- ie, defeat to Leeds and parity with Birmingham.
It is also true that any script based on United as a model would these days probably meet the same fate as the Liverpool version. This week's news that part of the American ownership's final credit-crunch strategy may be to sell Old Trafford and the training ground is a striking vindication of the supporters' pressure group who have long talked of such developments.
Still, whatever United's current torment, and the worries of Ferguson about his ability to re-seed the team, and lift some of the burden on Wayne Rooney, it cannot be compared at this point with that of Liverpool.
Benitez has saddled himself with too many mediocre players and too much of a routine of excuse. Ferguson has brought some pressure upon himself with constant complaints about referees, a method of diverting attention from the poor performances by his team which is beginning to wear thin.
Yet United are still contenders, still from time to time capable of showing that they have both some resolution and the capacity to sharply improve their efforts.
That keeps them in a different street, at least for the moment, to Liverpool, who are not only crippled by impoverished ownership but also a manager who seems to have finally accepted that his redeeming power, at least at Anfield, has almost certainly slipped beyond recall.
This leaves Liverpool with what some say is a dilemma. Do they jettison Benitez and pay the price and then perhaps wait for someone like Jose Mourinho, who always has a bit of that redemption material lying around -- at least over the short term, to become free. Dilemma? Hardly.
Benitez, surely, has finally hit the wall. Liverpool should begin to pick up the pieces as a matter of great urgency.