Liverpool Future Begins Now

In the next days and weeks, Liverpool Footbal Club will finally kick-start the changes required to return to the top of the English football hierarchy. Starting with transformations at the management level and culminating with new ownership desperately needed to stabilize the boardroom culture, Liverpool needs a shake-up, although not a clear-out. Rafa Benitez seems likely to have managed his final match in charge of the legendary English club yesterday with a non-descript stalemate at relegated Hull City. But without a clear successor in the scope, Liverpool faces the challenge of finding the right combination forward and not making changes just for the sake of change.

Liverpool Manager Rafael Benitez might be set for a move.

Liverpool Manager Rafael Benitez might be set for a move.

Rafa, still contractually committed to the club for the long term, has enjoyed a lengthy tenure at the club on the wings of Liverpool’s miraculous Champions League run in 2005. Yet despite contending every year in most competitions and despite being provided with the budget to build his squad, Rafa has failed to seriously challenge for the most prestigious trophies over the past four years. His transfer policy has been far from stellar, but neither disastrous. He is responsible for bringing to the club core players like Pepe Reina, Fernando Torres and Mascherano, but he also spent a lot of money on players who never established themselves at the club. Liverpool has fifty-six (56) players under contract, a very inflated number for any conceivable roster requirements, one that surely must be reduced. Even including young, developmental prospects, how can a roster of that size be manageable? Rafa bears direct responsibility for player transfers and in this regard he has generated more failures than successes, particularly when compared with someone like Arsene Wenger, who excels at player transfers.

The first question is where would Rafa go? He has been repeatedly linked with Juventus, which is a flattering bargaining chip for the job he may really covet – managing Real Madrid. The latter possibility seems most plausible. Madrid manager Pellegrini came up short of objectives this year and has less than a 50% chance of keeping his job, depending on potential successors. Mourinho was said to be lined up for the Madrid job, but his success with Inter strengthens the possibility that he will continue in Italy. Mourinho has a perfectly antagonistic relationship with Barca and he is a winner, among other considerations. He would add toughness and commend the respect of the Madrid Galacticos. But Rafa to Madrid also makes a lot of sense. A return to Spain to take over a club with the highest ambitions, a long list of compatibilities, a reunion with Xabi Alonso and Arbeloa. The Juventus option simply doesn’t measure up for Rafa.

If Real offers Benitez the opportunity and Liverpool adequate compensation, the next question is who would succeed Rafa at Anfield? Should Inter lose the Champions League final, maybe Mourinho will give serious consideration to a return to England. The draw of Liverpool’s passion and sensational supporters, along with a challenging project, might be enough of an incentive. But the greatest obstacle for Mourinho might be Liverpool’s undecided ownership situation. That alone will steer him away. After Mourinho, there is no obvious candidate. Frank Rijkaard from Galatasaray? Martin O’Neill from Aston Villa? Roy Hodgson from Fulham? Guus Hiddink would have been a great option, but he is unavailable.

Sometimes a fresh start is positive for all parties. No matter who is in charge of Liverpool in August, the club’s terrible relationship with its American owners must be resolved. That negative energy seeped into every tier of the organization and among the supporters. Liverpool has a good core of players to build around and only needs a few additions to get to the next level. A solid central defender like Benfica captain Luisao, two midfielders and another forward to play along side Torres would be enough. Off-loading at least ten players at reasonable prices and getting all players to play up to their potential will be the real challenge for Liverpool’s next manager, be it Rafa or his successor.