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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
(For a different paper this time, hence the shorter word count)

Is the FA Cup important again? It's the only explanation for the sudden turnaround at Anfield. Like a battered wife, the Liverpool fans have taken one beating too many and they're rising up, teeth bared, against Rafa Benitez. Elimination from Europe didn't get this kind of reaction, nor did a string of defeats in the league. The FA Cup though? In the third round? Fetch me a bedsheet, Matron, it's banner-painting time.

It's a shame because the Liverpool fans had been teaching the rest of us a lesson in the meaning of 'support'. Chelsea's followers boo draws, Arsenal's gleefully celebrate the resubstitution of their own failing youngsters, but the Kop were absorbing a season's worth of misery with nothing more than a renewed chorus of 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. That's how football used to be, before the blanket media coverage and shift from 'fan' to 'customer'.

Rafa Benitez seems to have lost the support of everyone this week but, assuming that he doesn't break with character and fall on his sword, he's not going anywhere. He's been lashed to the wheel with a rolled-up five year contract and there's no chance of the board paying him off in full. In fact, given that Liverpool's last signing cost less than Peter Beardsley did in 1987, there's little chance of the board paying anything.

Benitez isn't blameless. He has spent the last five years swapping one mediocre player for another and he failed to adhere to Shankly's maxim that the league was their 'bread and butter', choosing to make Europe the priority. But despite all that, he remains a first class strategist with an impressive record of success. You dont win La Liga with Valencia by accident and it takes real talent to win the European Cup with Milan Baros, Igor Biscan and Djimi Traore in the team. If Liverpool did swing the axe, who else is there? Jose Mourinho? He's waiting for Old Trafford. Guus Hiddink? Would he really risk his reputation on a busted flush like this? Kenny Dalglish? After ten years out?

The simple fact is that Benitez has always been the best man for the job. This is a diabolical season, but there isn't anyone better qualified to turn it around. The FA Cup isn't that important.