Rafael Benitez’s exit from Liverpool seems to mark the beginning of what is sure to be a long, arduous summer for Reds fans. The manager’s exit merely being the calm before the storm, a signal perhaps as to what is to come.
As when all managers depart, the players who are to follow him are immediately up for discussion. In reality, an exodus of players following their manager out of the exit door is a rare occurrence. Upon Jose Mourinho’s departure from Chelsea, many thought that Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, Ricardo Carvalho and others would all be leaving Stamford Bridge. It didn’t happen.
What separates the situation at Chelsea from that at Liverpool however is the respective positions of the two clubs at the time of the managerial casualty. When Mourinho left, Chelsea were still in a healthy position, with a strong squad. His exit was due to a clash of personalities rather than poor performance. Liverpool, on the other hand, are in a mess with boardroom strife and financial woe to contend with, as well as the task of improving a lacklustre playing squad.
Because of this, the threat of players leaving is a real one, not necessarily because of any loyalty to the manager but due to concerns over the future direction of the club. With such problems for the new manager to face, will the players afford him the time to turn things around? For players like Steven Gerrard, do they even have the time?
In truth, the number of players who could realistically leave Liverpool this summer runs close to double figures, a startling realisation. Although fans will be pleased to see some less notable names leave, the likes of David Ngog, Philip Degen and Nabil el Zhar, the departures of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano would be catastrophic, ending any chances the club have to make an impact next season and in the years to come. Others whose exits remain possible include, Yossi Benayoun, Albert Riera, Ryan Babel and even Alberto Aquilani.
Barcelona’s pursuit of Cesc Fabregas may help Liverpool to retain the services of Mascherano. It seems unlikely that Barcelona will be able to afford the Argentine if they have already acquired David Villa and Cesc Fabreagas for large transfer fees. As a Liverpool fan, I hope Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano will all still be at Liverpool next season; hope rather than expect at this stage. The clubs that will certainly be circling Liverpool for their players after their well-documented problems will not be overlooking a fire sale. Liverpool will not be selling their best players on the cheap and will demand big fees if they are to leave.
The departures of Yossi Benayoun and Albert Riera will be accepted by the majority of fans, two players who could generate a fair amount of money to give to the new manager. Their departures appear fairly certain at this stage.
The acquisition of a new manager may work in Liverpool’s favour in convincing Gerrard and Torres to stay, something that may have influenced the board’s decision with regards to Rafa Benitez. At times towards the end of last season the body language of Gerrard and Torres towards Benitez was not exactly positive i.e. vs Birmingham City. Instead of the players returning to Melwood rather forlorn and stagnant, (depending on how the World Cup goes..) they will be entering a fresh and exciting atmosphere, eager to return to meet the new manager and observe his methods. The training will have that extra buzz that all new managers create. This may just convince Gerrard and Torres to at least remain for one more year to see what kind of impact the new manager has. It was particularly pleasing to hear Pepe Reina, although expressing his disappointment at Rafa’s departure, committing his future to the Reds.
Changes were inevitable this close season, whether Benitez had retained his position or not. The squad is clearly lacking in quality and given the financial problems at the club, purchases can only be made from what is accumulated by player sales. Whilst the World Cup signals a preparatory period for many clubs in the summer transfer window, Liverpool may be one who start their transfer dealings early. If Liverpool are able to hire a new manager without too much delay, Gerrard and Torres will be eager to see what changes the club make before they return from the World Cup. If they see the club make steps to improve, make moves to significantly improve the squad and with an attractive manager in place, they will return from South Africa with much smaller question marks surrounding their future. With clubs certain to swoop once the World Cup finishes, if changes have not already been set in motion, Liverpool may have already run out of time to convince them to stay.
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