So, the end has come.
While Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are down in South Africa getting ready for the World Cup, Rafa Benitez gets edged out of Liverpool. Beaten he may be, but he will also go away very rich. I hope he’ll also go away with the gratitude and affection of a club for which he clearly feels great respect.
OK, some of his domestic tactics were inexplicable, some of his substitutions bizarre and some of his player purchases incomprehensible (er… Robbie Keane… er…), but he is a decent man who gained the respect of the fans when the club itself was becoming a mess. American ownership of the club has been a disaster – and must, surely, end soon – but Rafa kept the faith and stood up for his players and the fans. It is only a pity that he was the one to go instead of the owners. New ownership, new money and a different regime might have allowed him a bit longer to keep the ship afloat.
Rafa might have been distant from his players (according to rumours from the dressing room) and it might actually be in the best interests of club and manager for him to leave now. But I hope he has been able to go with dignity (as well as a shedload of money) and some satisfaction. Whatever else he did or did not achieve, he has always seemed to many of us a good, loyal, intelligent and honest man.
And I would forgive him anything for that night in Istanbul in May 2005 when his new team stole the Champions League from AC Milan and the thrashing of Manchester United last season. We hoped for more, but those two games left a sweet taste in the mouth.
Now we have to make sure we don’t lose Torres or Gerrard.