Benitez has left reds in dark tunnel
FORGET the squabbling owners, the failure to build a new stadium and injuries to key players -- Rafael Benitez only needs to look at the squad he is leaving behind to realise why his time is up at Liverpool.
The painful truth for Liverpool and their supporters is that the new manager at Anfield, whoever he turns out to be, will find a worse squad at his disposal than that which Benitez inherited from Gerard Houllier in 2004.
And you could even argue that Liverpool are in their worst state since Bill Shankly arrived at the club more than 50 years ago.
After six years under Benitez, it is definitely time for a change at Anfield. Credit must go to managing director Christian Purslow and chairman Martin Broughton for being strong with their decision, but whoever comes in faces a mammoth task, one which will start with a blank sheet of paper and a realisation that it will be a long haul ahead.
You could be looking at three to four years before Liverpool get back to where the club should be.
But although Benitez will cite a variety of reasons -- the owners, key players losing form, the financial problems -- he is the man who has filled a squad that is littered with bad buys.
Benitez made too many mistakes with too many players. In recent seasons, he hasn't got any right beyond Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano and, possibly, Glen Johnson. They were all big-money buys and players of proven quality.
Benitez has had money to spend, but when he has bought players in the mid-range market, they just have not been good enough and that is why Liverpool's bench has been so poor in recent months.
Regardless of the ownership issue, which needs resolving as quickly as possible, Liverpool need rebuilding on the pitch, but if I was in charge at Anfield and I had money to give to the manager, would I give it to Benitez?
The answer would be a categorical 'no' because he has spent too much money on average players and we are now seeing the fruits of that because Liverpool are a long way short of competing to finish in the top four, never mind fighting to win the big boys' trophies.
It became clear to me halfway through last season, when Liverpool were out of the title race and the Champions League before Christmas, that the time had come for change.
But the board could not make that change because Rafa had only recently been given a four-year contract that meant he held all the aces. Whoever gave him that contract must have had a screw loose because it was absolutely crazy.
The decision has now been taken and a replacement must be hired sooner rather than later.
I would imagine that the board will have a good idea who they want to bring in, but I don't have a preference, other than wanting somebody who will buy well and who will take the job on under no illusions about the challenge he faces.
If Liverpool continue to drift away from the Champions League positions, then there is a fear that mediocrity awaits three or four years down the line.
But, while I don't foresee the club sliding into a Leeds United-style situation, despite the uncertainty over the ownership and the growing debt, many Liverpool fans will feel they are already experiencing their own Leeds meltdown.
Leeds and Manchester City both fell all the way to the third tier, but Liverpool have scaled much greater heights than those clubs and, for many fans, languishing in seventh with no prospect of winning the league or European Cup is Liverpool's equivalent of playing in League One.
The ownership problem will not go away until the club is sold and while the owners want much more for their stake than potential buyers are willing to pay, it is difficult to foresee a speedy resolution.
In this day and age, will any prospective buyer not want some return on their investment? Probably not, but all that Liverpool fans can hope for is that whoever buys out Tom Hicks and George Gillett will have the club's interest at heart and that they won't use it as a money tool.
The only light at the end of the tunnel for Liverpool at the moment is that they still have Steven Gerrard and Torres.
If the club decides to cash in on those two, it might raise £90m for new players, but what kind of statement would that send out? Unfortunately, if Gerrard and Torres go, there will be no light and a dark tunnel for Liverpool. (© Daily Telegraph, London)