"What do you mean you've hurt 'your' knee, it's Liverpool's knee" - Bill Shankly.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Rafael Benitez: The Transfer Truth


We’re always being told about Rafael Benitez’s poor transfer record.

I’ve already commented repeatedly on his lack of funds in his time at Liverpool, and the fact that he’s built an entire squad out of funds gotten from player sales, but what’s the truth about his transfer record?

Has he signed a series of duds that have drained the Liverpool transfer kitty dry? Here’s a definitive breakdown of every major Benitez signing. You’ll find how much they cost, what they sold for, and a brief history of their Liverpool careers.

I hope you’ll find it as interesting as I did, and that it sheds some light on what Benitez has done in his time at Liverpool, as part of the larger picture of building a club from the ashes of UEFA Cup mediocrity.



Luis Garcia (In £6m, Out £4m)—Scored some fantastic goals for Liverpool, including five on the way to the Champions League victory in Istanbul.

Xabi Alonso (In £10.5m)—Signed as a relative unknown from Real Sociedad in Rafa’s first season. Now a mainstay of the current side, courted by Europe’s elite.

Antonio Nunez (In free, Out undisclosed)—More or less forced on Rafa Benitez as part of the deal to take Michael Owen to Real Madrid in 2004, Nunez never adapted to the English game, and returned to Spain after one season.

Josemi (In £2m, Out player swap)—Signed as cover for Steve Finnan, Josemi never adapted to English life and was later swapped for Jan Kromkamp.

Fernando Morientes (In £6.3m, Out £3m)—Signed as a proven goalscorer, Morientes never quite adjusted to the English game.

Scott Carson (In £750k, Out £3.25m)—Signed as cover for Jerzy Dudek, but decided to leave when he found opportunities slim behind Pepe Reina. Sold for a profit of £2.5m.

Mauricio Pellegrino (In free, Out free)—Signed towards the end of his career to give experience to the backline. Struggled to adapt to the pace of England, but nonetheless had a major effect behind the scenes in an unofficial coaching role, which was cemented when he became first-team coach in 2008.



Jose Reina (In £6m)—Signed as an unknown to English fans from Villareal. Currently seen as one of the best goalkeepers in world football, who has won the Golden Gloves in England three times in four years.

Jan Kromkamp (In free, Out undisclosed)—Struggled to adapt to England and the English language, Kromkamp was sold to PSV Eindhoven after a single season.

Boudewijn Zenden (In free, Out free)—Signed as temporary cover for the left-wing in 2005, Zenden’s time at Liverpool was marked by injury.

Peter Crouch (In £7m, Out £11m)—A publicly mocked player and shock signing in 2005, Crouch became an instant fan favourite, scoring crucial goals in the Champions League, and was later sold for a tidy profit of £4m.

Dan Agger (In £5.8m)—An unknown defender signed from Brondby, Agger is now being courted by some of Europe’s biggest clubs including AC Milan.

Mohammed Sissoko (In £5m, Out £7m)—Signed as a youngster from Valencia, Sissoko fought his way in to Liverpool’s midfield, displacing Steven Gerrard to the right side of midfield. Following some impressive displays and a determined comeback after an horrific eye problem, Sissoko eventually left for a profit due to midfield competition at Liverpool.

Jack Hobbs (In £750k, Out undisclosed)—Signed as a youth player, Hobbs was allowed to leave following further acquisitions in his position at youth level.

Robbie Fowler (In free, Out free)—Signed to provide more options up front in 2005.

Paul Anderson (In free)—Another young player signed for free, Anderson is highly regarded at Anfield, though his career has so far been beset with injury.



Dirk Kuyt (In £9m)—A first-team player now converted to a right-sided midfielder, and a fan favourite. Scored some of Liverpool’s most crucial goals of recent seasons.

Craig Bellamy (In £6.5m, Out £7.5m)—Seen as a risk by many, Bellamy was signed to improve the attack and give pace to compliment Crouch. He scored 9 times for Liverpool, including the first in the win at the Nou Camp, and was sold for a profit.

Jermaine Pennant (In £6.7m)—Brought in to provide options on the right, Pennant fitted in nicely in his first season at Liverpool, helping his new club to the Champions League Final, in which he played a starring role. Since lost out to competition for places, with the tenacious Dirk Kuyt brought in at right midfield.

Alvaro Arbeloa (In £3m)—Arbeloa managed to displace popular full-back Steve Finnan, and has been arguably one of Liverpool’s most consistent performers in the '08-'09 season.

Nabil El Zhar (In free) – Signed as a youngster, El Zhar is growing into a first-team player, with some decent performances under his belt, and he’s still just 22 years old.

Fabio Aurelio (In free)—Aurelio has grown into Liverpool’s first-choice left-back, displacing the popular John Arne Riise in '07-'08.

Mark Gonzalez (In £1.5m, Out £4.5m)—Initially refused a work permit, Gonzalez struggled to adapt to the English game, but was nonetheless sold for three times his initial fee.

Gabriel Paletta (In £2m, Out undisclosed)—Signed as a youngster, Paletta was allowed to return to Argentina after struggling to adapt to England, and used as a makeweight in the deal to make Emiliano Insua’s loan move permanent.



Fernando Torres (In £20m)—Signed as a player with potential that exceeded his actual worth. Now the most valuable striker in the world.

Ryan Babel (In £11.5m)—Signed as a 20-year-old against competition from Arsenal, and expected to be a player for the future, Babel fitted instantly into the team, scoring goals from the bench. Struggled to find the same form in '08'-09, but still only 22 years old.

Lucas Leiva (In £6m)—Just 20 years old when he signed for the Reds, Lucas was the highly promising Brazilian under-20 team captain. In the two seasons he’d been at Anfield, he has yet to fully win over the Liverpool faithful, but recent displays have illustrated a marked improvement and an adaptation to the English game. At 22 years old he has a long career ahead of him.

Martin Skrtel (In £6.5m)—Another relative unknown outside of Slovakia and Russia, Skrtel has managed to displace the excellent Daniel Agger in defence and is a current first-team regular.

Yossi Benayoun (In £5m)—Benayoun has had few opportunities to impress, but has managed to do so in recent weeks with some important goals and performances. Highly regarded by Benitez and his fellow players.

Andriy Voronin (In free)—Signed as support for Torres and Crouch, Voronin struggled to establish himself at Liverpool, but played 19 times for the club.

Dani Pacheco (In free)—Signed as a youngster, now a regular for Liverpool’s reserves and one of Spain’s brightest prospects.

Javier Mascherano (In £18m)—Initially signed on loan following a disastrous and controversial spell at West Ham Utd., Mascherano is now captain of Argentina and one of the world’s most highly regarded midfielders.

Emiliano Insua (In free)—Signed as a youth, he spent most of his early career in the Liverpool reserves, but has broken through in to the first team with a series of impressive displays.

Sebastian Leto (In £1.85m)—Signed as a youngster for the future, Leto was refused a work permit by the UK authorities, despite his track record on the international stage. The player has had no chance to establish himself in England as a result, but has already proven to have great promise.

Charles Itandje (In undisclosed)—Signed as cover for Pepe Reina following the moves of Dudek and Carson out of the club.

Krisztian Nemeth (In free)—Signed as a youth player. Currently regarded as one of the brightest young talents at Liverpool.

Lauri Dalla Valle (In free)—A youngster who had previously played for Inter Milan’s youth set-up. A current regular in the reserve team, and a young talent in the making.

Damien Plessis (In free)—Signed as a youngster. Made his senior debut against Arsenal in a confident performance.



Robbie Keane (In £19m, Out £12m potentially rising to £19m with add-on deals)—Signed by Rick Parry for a fee beyond what Rafael Benitez wanted to pay, and stopping the Gareth Barry deal from going ahead. Made 25 appearances in all competitions.

Andrea Dossena (In £7m)—Struggled to establish himself in his first season, but nonetheless contributed to Liverpool’s stunning victories against Real Madrid and Manchester United.

Diego Cavalieri (In £3m)—Signed as cover for Pepe Reina, and has shown signs of talent in the few starts he’s had.

Philipp Degen (In free)—Signed as cover for Arbeloa at full-back, his career has stalled repeatedly through injury. A Swiss international in Euro 2008.

Albert Riera (In £8m)—A player whose inclusion is largely credited with giving Liverpool’s attack an entirely new dimension this year. Signed as another unknown player from an unfashionable Spanish club, Espanol, after being mocked for a poor loan spell at Manchester City, Riera is now regarded as one of the squad’s most important players.

David Ngog (In £1.5m)—Completely unknown, Ngog signed as a 19-year-old youngster, and has already shown tremendous promise in his few first-team showings.



I think the one key thing I noticed is the sheer amount of signings in there that were free transfers, as well as the amount of players signed young and cheap.

Many of the players were relative unknowns at the time of signing, yet have now grown to become some of the biggest names in football.

It seems to me that when you have to buy young, inexperienced potential, you're often going to get the odd player that doesn't fulfill what's expected. But then again, you'll always get your Daniel Aggers and Pepe Reina's, that come from nowhere to grow into world-class players.

Benitez has made profits on many players considered to be flops by many, and used that money to purchase men previously out of Liverpool's league in terms of fees.

Make of it what you will, but for me there's no question: Rafa Benitez is shrewd, intelligent and clever enough to improve a squad year by year, until it's capable of challenging for major honours in every trophy campaign.

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Quote of the moment

Defying belief however, is a market Benitez has cornered quite well. The moment you think Benitez is clueless, he defies it by pulling off a result of majesty, like the one achieved in Madrid. The moment he is hailed a genius, he masterminds toothless surrender to a team going nowhere. In the ongoing Anfield power struggle, just when he was cornered by the firing squad, the Spaniard's demise at Liverpool looking practically assured with the ominous suspension of betting by the bookmakers, he squeezes out through a narrow trapdoor and eliminates Rick Parry. Rafa Benitez is Keyzer Soze.
- Just Football blog: The Curious Beast that is Football 28 Feb 2009