For all those Liverpool fans, like me who may be thinking the title is slipping away from us after an exciting but immensely frustrating night against Arsenal, I’d like to just take a reality check on the progress of the club under Rafa in comparison to our richer and more arrogant rivals down the road.
Consider the implications if either us or them finished 6th or 7th in the league. 20 or 30 years ago with a more level playing field in terms of club finances and playing staff this would have been a disappointment but not the end of the world.
These days however, I think it’s fair to say that questions would be asked, not only of the players but also of the manager and his staff. The present game relies heavily on a club’s finances; both on buying power and the ability to pay high wages but also on commercial attractiveness and effective merchandising.
Sadly for us, the Mancs with their soul-less but huge stadium and the higher number of bandwagon jumpers around the world means that they are quite a distance ahead of us in terms of income each year. In 2008 (according to figures from The Guardian) the arrogant ones earned a whopping £212M income compared to our own £133M. Whilst this may be still a very nice income thank you, how can a club with a 60% lower income hope to compete in the long-term against its richer rival?
The answer of course is to employ a more effective manager, coaching staff and give him the money to be better than his rivals in the transfer market at spotting a good deal. After some good Champions League campaigns we have finally seen Rafa make a real fight of the Premier League. When previously we have been out of it by January it looks like we at least going to be fighting the Mancs all the way until the end of the season.
“Ah yes” I hear you cry “but that’s not much good if we still finish 2nd in the end.” Actually Alex Ferguson should be absolutely ashamed of himself if he doesn’t win the league title and the owners should seriously question whether he should remain in the job. The reason is that Rafa’s squad consists of only 2 players who have cost more than £12M; Torres and Mascherano. All of others including Riera (£9M), Babel (£11.5M), Kuyt (£10.5M) have all cost less than is currently considered to be a reasonable price for a good player in today’s market.
Compare this to how many of the Manc squad have cost over this figure:
That’s almost a full team with a combined cost of £200M!!! How on earth can we be expecting to compete against a team like that? However, competing against them we are and the reason is that Rafa is a better tactical manager than Ferguson. Not only have we done the double over them this season but in the last few seasons (except the 3-0 at Old Trafford last year) we have consistently been the better team in head to head matches. This year has finally seen us get our rewards for domination in these games. What the Mancs have however is such a strong expensive squad that they can lose 4 or 5 players to injury and it makes no real difference. They just go and spend another £30M on a player out of their lose change.
Unconvinced so far of Rafa’s superiority over his grumpy, bad tempered Scottish rival? All things being equal a larger, richer squad should always win a league over 38 games. Let’s look however at a comparison of their results in the Champions League, where particularly in the knockout phase, bad tactical decisions will be your downfall against the best sides on the continent over only 2 games.
It may surprise you to know but Ferguson’s performance in the knockout phase of the Champions League is nothing short of appalling for a side that have such ease in dominating their own domestic league. Between 1998 and 2005 their one moment of very fortunate triumph was sandwiched by a period where they won only 1 knockout tie (against Deportivo La Coruna in 2002). In the other 6 years they went out at the first knockout phase every single time to the likes of Monaco, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Porto and AC Milan. In short every time they finally met some worthy opposition.
In 2006 they didn’t even make it to the knockout phase, finishing 4th (yes that’s bottom) in their group behind the European giants of Benfica, Villareal and Lille. Even in 2007 when they lost to Milan in the semi-finals they only beat Lille and a team that are no more than a shadow of their older teams, Roma.
It wasn’t until 2008 with Italian Football in particular suffering from a lack of resources and plagued by recent scandals, fines and weakening of their own leagues were the Mancs finally able to make their countless Sky TV millions pay at last and win the tournament by actually beating quality teams such as Barcelona and Chelski.
Ferguson no doubt looks at Rafa’s Champions League record with some envy. Having obviously won the competition in his first year in England and again reached the final 2 years later he managed as many final appearances in 3 years as the miserable one has managed in 14 attempts. Apart from one bad year losing to Benfica in 2006 at the first knockout stage, Benitez has always progressed to the later stages, beating Chelsea, PSV and Barca in 2007, Inter and Arsenal in 2008 and Real Madrid in 2009.
Ferguson gets a ridiculous amount of plaudits in the media for his success and ability as a manager. When he finally retires we won’t be able to turn on the TV without some sickening documentary about how he’s the greatest manager of all time. The real reason he hasn’t retired yet is that he’s nothing more than a figurehead of a global company with more money than they know what to do with.
All Ferguson does is play the waiting game. It was 7 years before he won the league title after he arrived. Why? Because before then he only had a little more money than everyone else instead of the millions more he has today. Only now are the Mancs looking like a regular threat in the Champions League. Why? Because only now the English league has far more money than the rest of Europe.
If the Manchester United owners applied the same Performance Management that is present in almost every other type of job Ferguson, with the assets at his disposal should be beating other managers in England with ease every single year. The next time that the Manc team fail to paper over Ferguson’s tactical cracks and they don’t win both the Premier League AND the Champions League he should be fired for underperformance.