Despite a European Cup success and an FA Cup success, both won since Arsene Wenger last delivered a trophy to Arsenal's trophy cabinet, the 50-year-old Spaniard has faced a torrent of inexplicable pressure from the media, ex-players and other 'expert' commentators on his contribution to the Merseyside giants.
Zonal marking and wasteful expenditure in the transfer market are two of the sticks with which Benitez was regularly beaten. But how much of it is genuine criticism and not a load of hot air?
The denunciation of zonal marking reminds me of a time when English pundits laughed at and mocked continental goalkeepers for opting to punch clearances instead of claiming the ball in a commanding strong-arm fashion. Or the days when football formations were 4-4-2 v 4-4-2. Nowadays, punching clearances is the norm. 4-4-2 is a standard long since deviated from. Times change.
New ideas, so wrong at first, are slowly, although reluctantly embraced - the zonal marking system will be too, eventually. Whether you are pro or anti-zonal marking, it didn't stop Liverpool winning those two trophies, or finishing second in 2008-09. So it obviously isn't the flawed system the ignorant proclaim it to be. It does work.
Let's then explore the transfers. Over 150 between comings and goings in five years does seem a large number. Compared to other clubs? Manchester United, the benchmark in English football, released or sold upwards of 75 players during the same period so it appears normal.
Excluding those players signed by Gerard Houllier, Rafael Benitez's transfer record is far more impressive than we have been led to believe by the agenda-driven onslaught of misguided criticism levelled at the Spaniard.
Examining the figures closely actually shows that the net cost of the players bought by Benitez and later sold is virtually non-existent, in fact there is possibly even a small profit when you take into account the small army of free transfers the former Valencia man has acquired.
No doubt Robbie Keane was a failed transfer. Benitez's fault? We assumed so at the time but we have since learned that Keane wasn't a player the Spaniard wanted - not without Gareth Barry in the mix at least.
Andrea Dossena was an undeniable flop, with one momentary exception at Old Trafford, and a sizeable financial loss. Jermaine Pennant too, the heaviest in fact. Fernando Morientes, yes, another failure in the transfer market on the part of Benitez. So in terms of players he bought that have since departed, three absolute disasters in six years, with a total loss of £14.5 million can be attributed to Rafael Benitez.
In that time, Manchester United brought the likes of Owen Hargreaves, Anderson, Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov into their ranks, with a total value of in excess of £75 million. Perhaps not deemed complete failures yet but it's proof that even the best make transfer blunders. Juan Sebastien Veron, Louis Saha and Kleberson are further examples of that from days gone by.
Yet at United, such ill-fated heavy spending is masked by the success of a well-established team built on the foundation of the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. Benitez's Liverpool simply didn't inherit that base of proven winners. Yet to those proven winners, Sir Alex Ferguson was allowed to add £15 million-plus investments like Rio Ferdinand, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Carrick, Hargreaves, Berbatov, Antonio Valencia. Seven in total, and three costing well in excess of what Liverpool's most expensive player Fernando Torres cost. Liverpool have only ever bought five players worth more than £15 million and one of them left within a matter of months.
In fact if you take out Keane, and Aquilani, who was merely a lower-cost replacement signing and not a major one-off expenditure, Javier Mascherano (2007) and Glen Johnson (2009) have been Benitez's only big money extravagancies outside of Torres.
Of the players he has purchased that remain at Anfield, I have taken the liberty to apply a conservative current value. Again the dozens of free transfers yet to filter through the Liverpool system are omitted as we don't know the net value/loss that they bring to the club. The figure as detailed below shows that there is a conservative decrease of a little over £3 million in the current value of the players Benitez brought in. That is nothing to do with the likes of Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, who nobody can deny, have improved significantly during the Benitez era.
|Player||Net Transfer Cost
||£20 m (worth £30m)
||£20 m (worth £13m)
|Robbie Keane||£7 m loss|
||£18 m (worth £20m)|
|Glen Johnson||£18 m (worth £12m)|
|Ryan Babel||£11.5 m (worth £8m)|
|Xabi Alonso||£19.5 m profit|
|Dirk Kuyt||£9 m (worth £8m)|
|Albert Riera||£8 m (worth £2m)|
|Peter Crouch||£2 m profit|
|Andrea Dossena||£4.5 m loss|
|Lucas Leiva||£6 m (net worth £5m)|
|Jermaine Pennant||£6.7 m loss|
|Martin Skrtel||£6.5 m (worth £6.5m)|
|Pepe Reina||£6 million (worth £12m)|
|Luis Garcia||£2 m loss|
|Craig Bellamy||£1.5 m profit|
|Daniel Agger||£5.8 m (worth £8m)|
|Momo Sissoko||£3 m profit|
|Fernando Morientes||£3.3 m loss|
|Yossi Benayoun||£5 m (worth £7m)|
|Diego Cavilieri||£4 m (worth £3m)|
|Sebastien Leto||£2.5 m profit|
|Mark Gonzalez||£3.5 m profit|
£8 m Profit
|Net Increase/Decrease (teams value)
||£3.3 m Decrease
There is a continued list of players that Liverpool have signed during Benitez's reign that have cost downwards of £1 million that have not made a substantial profit or loss and would not sway the argument in either direction.
On the basis of the transfer activity of the last few years, the fact that Liverpool have maintained some level of competitiveness with the top three at all is in itself an achievement. Benitez has done marvellous work. Sure, he's not a transfer whizz like his Arsenal counterpart, but nobody is.
But by the same token he didn't join a club backed by a billionaire owner and add £70 million worth of talent to a squad on the verge of competing for the league title as Jose Mourinho did at Chelsea.
Instead, with restricted funds and without the budget for one-off big money purchases, he has done all he can, all any honest evaluation could genuinely expect - he's taken small steps forward, slowly building an ever-improving side. Sure 2009-10 was a step in the wrong direction, but to make Rafael Benitez the scapegoat for the turmoil at Anfield is entirely wrong.
If, as expected, he moves on, Benitez will undoubtedly continue to excel, more so if he gets the backing the likes of Ferguson, Wenger, Mourinho and Guardiola enjoy. He's done it in Spain, in England and perhaps next in Italy. What happens next to the wounded, debt-laden Liverpool Football Club he will leave behind is a scary thought.
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