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Now players have given up on Rafa

IT'S wrong to pick on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard as the most obvious symptoms of the awful state Liverpool football club is in, but it's now plain to see from their performances against Manchester United that they've had enough.

Players usually know when a manager's time is up and if they're smart, a long time before anyone else realises it.

Rafa Benitez has nowhere to go now. His best players can no longer muster the belief needed to go to Old Trafford and win against the odds. They did it for him last season and many times before when his reputation was on the line but not any more.

If Benitez uncovers his eyes for a moment and takes a long look at the video of this game, he will see what I saw and I think everyone else saw at Old Trafford yesterday.

We saw a fantastic start for Liverpool frittered away and Manchester United ease to another three points and perhaps another Premier League title without really breaking sweat.


We saw Torres at his brilliant best for the opening goal but turn into a petulant child as the game slipped away.

We saw Gerrard ghosting around the pitch without much purpose, occasionally bursting into activity but mostly ineffective.

In short, we saw a Liverpool team in decline. The club is now in danger of being tailed off in the race for fourth place and might even struggle to qualify for the Europa Cup unless they win it. On the basis of this performance, the only way is down.

I make no apologies for criticising Benitez, which I've been doing for some time now, but for me the case was closed on him months and, if I'm honest, years ago.

Had the American owners acted when Liverpool's Champions League fate was sealed before Christmas, a new manager might have been able to lift things enough to have a real go at a fourth-place finish.

As things stand, Manchester City, Spurs and Aston Villa all look better equipped to win the race for the final Champions League slot.

Liverpool's share of the Premier League pie drops significantly with each place lost and that, combined with the absence of any Champions League cash next season, makes the club an even more unattractive investment prospect than it already is.

Even the players have now stated openly that the club needs at least five or six quality signings and you won't get much change out of £60m after that.

It has already been widely reported that Benitez has negotiated a £20m settlement clause if he is sacked by Liverpool and it is difficult to see any other outcome than that at this stage.

Perhaps the Liverpool supporters who felt that I was too hard on Benitez now understand why. This is a crisis time for the club worse than any experienced for many moons.


The real concern is that there is no obvious route out of the mess and if I was Gerrard or Torres at this moment, I would be having a serious discussion with myself and my nearest and dearest about the way forward.

They must be having a hard look now at the future and I'm sure there are clubs all over Europe that would be happy to fork out huge amounts of cash for either or both players -- even in these recessionary times.

If that's the route the owners choose to ease Liverpool's debt, the consequences on the pitch would be devastating.

It wouldn't be so bad if there was a half dozen young lads pushing up from the Academy ranks and filling in the gaps created by poor work in the transfer market over many years.

Home-grown talent served Liverpool well for many years but Jamie Carragher and Gerrard are the last to come from that source and they've been in the senior team for over a decade.

Manchester United still have the money to buy in the best but the Old Trafford production line is still functioning, even if the names coming through it are more exotic than they used to be.

Alex Ferguson is now sitting pretty at the top of the table while Chelsea's season has hit a major obstacle and I've no doubt that he would prefer to be fighting it out with Wenger than Ancelotti for the Premier League title as we enter the home straight.

Chelsea still have a stronger squad than Arsenal on the pitch but a lot more going on off it and the fallout from all the negative publicity has clearly impacted on individual and collective performance levels.

Ferguson will believe that he can stay ahead of Wenger, never mind Arsenal's handier run-in on paper and win United's 19th title -- finally overtaking Liverpool on the all-time list.

If that's all Liverpool fans had to worry about, it would be bad enough.