by James Davies
THURSDAY, APRIL 16, 2009
"Valencia were an implacable steamroller. They were like boxers who pinned their opponents to the rope and wouldn't stop until they had annihilated them. The tremendous intensity of their play earned them the nickname 'The Crushing Machine'." Sound familiar...?
Taken from the book 'Rafa Benitez' by Paco Llloret, this quote will resonate with any Liverpool fans who remember the sense of optimism buzzing around the club when it was announced that Rafa was to leave Valencia and become Liverpool's manager.
Senor Benitez had taken on Real Madrid's Galácticos and Barcelona's free-flowing style of football, and lead Valencia to their first league title in thirty one years. Now he was about to take on the task of guiding our club’s future and the hope was that he could do the same for Liverpool.
The key difference is that Valencia had been in two Champions League finals and had a squad already filled with quality. They just needed to apply themselves better, and under Rafa's astute guidance, they did so.
I've done a great deal of homework about Rafa, none more so then when we won the Champions League. I wanted to learn about things such as his childhood and his career as a semi-professional in Spain's second tier.
I learnt how his methods formed and how he is stubborn to the core; how his sides always gave off an air of confidence and were always superbly well organised. Thus, the title of 'The Crushing Machine' given to his Valencia side was well deserved and a compliment of the highest order.
I've spend a lot of time over the last few years defending Rafa, and far too often it's been Liverpool fans I''ve defended him against. I've repeatedly turned to the facts that I've learned about and argued that given time, Rafa would make us a crushing machine too.
Well, today we are clearly witnessing a Liverpool side that is very close in style to the Valencia side that won two titles.
We have a solid spine, full of world class players; we have a goalkeeper that is as good as any in world football, and as striker who mixes the finishing ability of Hunt, Rush and Fowler with the pace and skill of Van Basten.
Furthermore, we are playing the best football seen at Anfield for many seasons, which is we are second in the league and rightfully involved in our first serious title challenge for twenty years.
So why is it that so many Liverpool fans are still not happy?
I think that they expect us to be clear of Manchester United at this stage. In many respects they are correct, as we have admittedly dropped silly points at home this season.
I believe the the problem lies in memories - we all remember the glorious era of the 70's and 80's; the guarantee that come what may, we'd be picking up at least one piece of silverware, and most of the time it was the league title that would be gleaming in the trophy cabinet.
Worryingly, I think there are a lot of Liverpool fans who have forgotten how we actually won all those league titles. It wasn't a case of every season being a foregone conclusion where we'd just turn up on the last game of the season as champions. On many occasions during that glorious era we had to dig deep to pull ourselves to the top of the table when it mattered
Take the 82/83 season for example - our early form was so bad that Sir Bob Paisley had to come out and ask for the fans to give the side more encouragement during a difficult spell that saw us down in 13th place in December.
By May, however, we'd won the league after going on a superb run, which also saw us snag yet another league cup.
Similarly, in the 1985-86 double winning season, we had to go to Chelsea and win (not hard back then) to ensure our 16th title. Man Utd had started the season with ten straight wins but fell away, leaving Everton to lead the way up until a few terrible results towards the end of the season allowed us to pip them in the most satisfying manner imaginable.
It frustrated me greatly when our own fans began writing our chances off following a few disappointing draws at home mid-way through this campaign.
While I shared their frustration I accepted that the season was a marathon and there was still plenty of time left for us to move into top gear and for our rivals to slip up.
This has happened and we are still in the mix, which fits with what we wanted at the start of the season, i.e. not to be out of the title race by Christmas and not to be aiming for just fourth spot and champions league football.
Liverpool football club exists to do more than that and this season we have taken a massive step towards our goals. And whether we walk away with the title or not this season has inarguably seen us make real progress.
The people to thank for that are the players, the back room staff and of course, Rafa Benitez.
I learnt a long time ago how to win arguments – I just pointed to these facts.
And now we are seeing our club once again learning how to win titles.