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Rafa's ghost haunts Anfield succession of trial and error

Liverpool are in a tricky position when they argue against short-termism. Not because they sacked Roy Hodgson after six months. If anything, Hodgson's miserabilist reign was indulged for far too long.

When Liverpool sacked Rafael Benitez in the summer of 2010, they had finished second in the league a year before and reached the last eight in the Champions League.

The act of suicidal impatience when Benitez was fired makes the Roman Abramovich era at Chelsea look like working in placid Switzerland while Benitez tried to get things done under the Borgias. It certainly matches the dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti and, in terms of the damage done to the club, the consequences have been greater.

Liverpool overachieved under Benitez. His own highly developed sense of intrigue contributed to his downfall but key players within the club listened to opinion-formers whose opinions had been previously disregarded. They made a persuasive case that Benitez had reached the end of the line. He was a political being and Liverpool was feeding that obsession with politics.

For that reason, it was easy to make the case that he should go. There was no case at all for sacking Benitez and replacing him with Roy Hodgson, a sequence of events that has removed Liverpool from the front rank of football and should prevent anyone who put forward this two-point plan as a solution to Liverpool's problems from commenting on the club for some time.

If clubs do have a DNA, then Liverpool demonstrated theirs in their rejection of Hodgson. Like a body rejecting an unsuitable organ, Liverpool fans revolted against a man who would laugh on tv at the idea that the club could challenge for the title. Benitez is trying to recover and so are Liverpool. He appeared at the Soccerex conference in Manchester last week when he should really be managing a club in the Champions League.

This Bonfire of the Danglers is everything football does badly. Football does self-loathing best of all, especially if the opposite is self-regard and Soccerex is full of self-regard. Benitez was said by many observers to have given an unimpressive seminar. He would be better off sticking to what he does best: obsessively creating football teams that win against the odds. He is not a member of polite society. Like Roy Keane, he has no interest in small talk.

He has a bad image in the media but the solution is not to become what he is not and then be criticised for it anyway. He may as well be criticised for things that people don't understand.

Somewhere else on the Soccerex complex, Gerard Houllier was also speaking, delivering a talk which nobody could find fault with. Again, we see the point of these carnivals of bullshit. If you want good seminar, hire Houllier, Andy Roxburgh or Hodgson. If you want to win the European Cup with Djimi Traore or his equivalent, hire Benitez.

Benitez needs to become a mythical figure, the JD Salinger of football, somebody who is never seen, certainly never seen sitting on the Soccer Am sofa alongside a member of Snow Patrol.

Events at Liverpool since he departed have improved his reputation more than any PR offensive.

Things have got so bad this season for Kenny Dalglish that it has led to an attempted upward revision of the Hodgson era. This would make sense if Liverpool fans were happy with League results, but they aren't as the sight of a minority turning on one of the greatest figures in the club's history demonstrates.

Liverpool may yet be able to point to two trophies and claim a successful season but the true consequence of this season has been the damage done to Dalglish's reputation, mainly by Dalglish himself.

For the greatest player the club had, and a man who has done more than most for the club and the city he loves, this has been a trying season. His handling of the Suarez case was a mess which may have wedded him closer to the hardcore but has also brought a weariness to many on the outside.

Liverpool's supporters insist they do not care what others think of their club, all that matters is their own view of Dalglish. Their hysterical reaction whenever anyone does offer a negative opinion suggests that they care quite a lot, like the man who says he is not the jealous type but sits twitching in the corner whenever his girlfriend leaves his side. This has compounded the errors of judgement made in the transfer market.

Certainly, Liverpool's purchases last summer were the worst since Gerard Houllier brought in Salif Diao, El-Hadji Diouf and Bruno Cheyrou to Liverpool, even if honourable mention must be made for the summer Benitez signed Alberto Aquilani.

Under Dalglish and Damien Comolli, Liverpool adopted a Buy British policy, based around the idea that players from the Premier League would settle quickly. If by settling, you mean revealing their inherent mediocrity, then it is Mission Accomplished. By every other measurement, the policy has failed.

The Director of Football Comolli is being set up as a scapegoat. At Tottenham Hotspur, he continued a Buy British policy which was in place when he arrived. Nobody can say for sure when this policy was abandoned but there may have been a subtle revision round about the time Tottenham entered the relegation zone. Some were happy with Liverpool going down this road.

"We've got a great togetherness about the squad, there's a lot of British players there now," Jamie Carragher said last October. "We went for a meal out before the derby and it was interesting that my wife could actually talk to some of the other wives without having to think of something in Spanish or French or something different. I think that will be a great thing for us this season."

It's heartening that the wives of the new signings have made such a positive impression at the dinner table, because the results on the pitch have been all that could be expected from a self-limiting approach to recruitment. Liverpool had six British players on the pitch when they collapsed at QPR. They started with the same number in last weekend's defeat to Wigan.

The new owners have allowed Dalglish to spend. This is to their credit, as is the indisputable fact that they are not Tom Hicks and George Gillett, but at crucial times they, and the managing director Ian Ayre, have been missing.

They are able to rectify mistakes of the past. Liverpool have been in turmoil for spells under the last two managers. One was a divisive figure, who inspired loyalty in a strange band of acolytes but was undermined by defects in his character and was accused of being paranoid. The other won the European Cup.

Dalglish brought unity which, given all that had gone before, was a spectacular achievement. Now he needs to rectify his own mistakes. He is not entitled to time, no manager is, but patience may be the best way of making up for all that went before.


Sunday Indo Sport