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50:50 Liverpool’s Rafa Benitez decisions

Posted by horasio on May 20, 2009

“The Spaniard” knows he cannot afford to get it wrong if he is to build on a hugely promising campaign this year, that he needs players of the calibre of Fernando Torres, not Antonio Nunez, if Liverpool’s wait for a league championship is not to be extended to a 21st year.

Benitez’s record in bringing players to Anfield, though, has been somewhat hit and miss since his own arrival five years ago, most glaringly with the signature of Robbie Keane for £20 million, last summer.

That is not to say it’s all been bad – though it’s hardly all been good, either.

Five of the best

1. Fernando Torres, £20m, Atletico Madrid, 2007 – Most of Benitez’s transfer errors have come on mid-priced players and the Spaniard certainly has a case to suggest that when he does spend big, he gets it right. Torres, the club’s record signing, was seen as a risk but his pace, power, skill and heart have made him the most dangerous striker in England.

2. Xabi Alonso, £10.5m, Real Sociedad, 2004 0 Benitez’s first big-money signing settled immediately into the English game, orchestrating Liverpool’s play expertly on the way to Istanbul, where he sealed his place in the fans’ hearts by scoring the third in that miraculous comeback. His form dipped slightly in the previous two campaigns but he has been the club’s best player this season.

3. Jose Reina, £6m, Villarreal, 2005 – His claims are widely scorned by those who see him only fleetingly, but Reina has developed into one of the world’s best goalkeepers in the last four years. The Spanish international more than makes up for a very occasional nervousness on crosses with his organisational prowess and the outstanding accuracy of his distribution.

4. Javier Mascherano, £18m, West Ham, 2007 – An unmitigated disaster at Upton Park, where he suffered the ultimate indignation of being used as a reserve for Hayden Mullins, the Argentine international captain has blossomed since Benitez took him to Anfield, initially on loan, in January 2007. Arguably the finest defensive midfielder in the world, there are few more terrifying sights in football than Mascherano, in full flight, determined to make a tackle.

5. Luis Garcia, £6m, Barcelona, 2004 – The diminutive attacking midfielder may have frustrated as much as he delighted, but his place in Anfield folklore is secure. The so-called ghost goal which sent Liverpool to the Champions League final at Chelsea’s expense in 2005 repaid every single penny of his £6 million fee, but just as memorable were his long-range strikes against Juventus in the previous round and Jose Mourinho’s side again in the 2006 FA Cup semi-final.

Five of the worst

1. Robbie Keane, £20m, Tottenham, 2008 – The antidote to Benitez’s claims that when he spends heavily, he does so well. Keane was supposed to partner Torres in a side revamped by the arrival of Gareth Barry, but found himself surplus to requirements when the England international stayed at Aston Villa. Just seven goals later, he returned whence he came, the only solace being that Benitez recouped most of his money.

2. Jermaine Pennant, £6.7m, Birmingham, 2006 – The answer to Liverpool’s problems out wide when he arrived, Benitez would know admit Arsene Wenger let the one-time child prodigy go for a reason. Produced one stellar performance – the 2007 Champions League final – but precious little else. Now on loan at Portsmouth and heading for the Anfield exit on a free transfer.

3. Fernando Morientes, £6.3m, Real Madrid, 2005 – Some transfers shouldn’t work but do, some should work but don’t. Morientes, one of Europe’s best strikers for a decade, arrived amid much fanfare in January 2005 but struggled to cope with the pace and strength of Premier League life. He left just 18 months later, for half the price, after scoring a measly 10 goals.

4. Andrea Dossena, £7m, Udinese, 2008 – If £7 million seems a reasonable price to pay for an Italian international defender, then consider that not only did Liverpool have two perfectly good left-backs before Dossena’s arrival (and after, arguably) but he had only played in that position for one season of his career. Likely to leave this summer for a fraction of the fee.

5. Ryan Babel, £11.5m, Ajax, 2007 – While Benitez has signed worse players – Nunez, Josemi, Kromkamp, Voronin – their fees were all so low they were, essentially, no-risk purchases. Babel’s price tag, though, looks extortionate compared to his performances. Once one of Europe’s brightest prospects, the Dutch international has gone backwards at Anfield and, should he stay, has much to prove to himself and his manager alike.

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