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Oh, couldnt you just hear the press box sharpening their pencils
IN RAFA WE TRUST Mike Hopper Sunday 11 11 07 Oh, couldn’t you just hear the members of the press box flattening the keyboards with relish. Martin Jol has gone so, judging by last week it seems they’re now gonna have a go at Rafa for a few weeks. What is it that’s asked about the role of a journalist: Do they report the news or try to make it? For sure they seem obsessed that there is widespread criticism of a supposedly beleaguered Liverpool Manager right across Merseyside. Well, it might be coming from the callers on the phone-ins, many of whom rarely if ever attend a game and in some cases actually form an opinion from listening to radio commentaries, but for sure, the old ground resonating yesterday to songs proclaiming with gusto the name Rafa Benitez, told a totally different tale. But that is news to be reported and for the many southern journalists with their northern prejudices and pro-London bias, it doesn’t suit the stories they want to tell. Last week at Ewood Park, Rafa’s selected team burned off Blackburn to such an extent that with the fresh legs of three substitutes, they camped in the opposition penalty area for the final 20 minutes, but failed to score with a whole series of shots on goal. Yesterday was much the same. At three-quarter time, Fulham were dead on their feet. No doubt, the Reds ought to have converted at least one chance to ease the stress, but have you read a word of praise for Rafa for the psychology and timing and choice of his replacement players? Indeed, they’re even querying why Torres didn’t start! 60 Minutes: A normal time for a substitution and with all four outfield extras sprinting up and down the touchline hoping for a call, Rafa brings in Ryan Babel. You should have seen Torres’s face in front of us, Main Stand! Down near the Kop end his frustration was clear to see. My, was this fellow raring to go! An athlete so keyed up he seemed ready to blow a fuse! However, but a few minutes later the call was to come and our £20m superstar was unleashed on a Fulham defence which, if not totally legless, wasn’t far short. It was obvious from the moment the Spaniard entered the fray that he was up for it, and for me, the Manager deserves the maximum praise for the way he applied the psychology. If truth be told, the supporters had seen so many chances squandered, to say we were confident of a winner would be a massive overstatement, but with hindsight, the moment of stadium elation was surely inevitable even if the goal was a terrific take. Torres beat his marker to the long kick from Reina by quick movement while the ensuing dribble against Aaron Hughes was also the result of fast feet against tired legs. Once again in the last quarter of the game a Benitez team was rampant. And why? Because they had a massive fitness edge. Another Liverpool manager once wrote that every substitution must result in an improvement over the replacement. And methinks it’s about time the press box learned that those who attend matches support their manager. Certainly the advantages of his rotation system are becoming self evident before Christmas, let alone in the last stages of the season! Certainly as the Kop roared out his name in song, calls for his hanging were clearly in the mouths of pen- pushers seeking to create startling headlines. As for yesterday’s game and the Blackburn one before it, whatever else a manager may be able to do, in the final analysis he cannot stop players throwing away gilt- edged chances and indeed, the odd open goal. His role has ended with pre-match preparation and if opportunities are coming by the bucketful, he’ll be every bit as frustrated as we are in the seats. Nobody will ever agree 100% with selections but as the banner on the Kop regularly proclaims: In Rafa We Trust! And long may it be so! Meanwhile, as I ponder his story in one Sunday paper, I’m trying to figure out the position of Chris Bascombe for the News of the World. Until very recently, as the LFC Correspondent in the Liverpool Echo, he was a terrific writer with a brilliant style to suit that role. But most certainly his new column bears nothing of that quality, though that might be through a need to get copy in speedily especially after a 5.15pm kick-off. But to come to the point. Is the guy still in the know as he was? Because the story he’s penned for today’s NOTW will send shudders through every Reds supporter –the suggestion that all is far from well in the relationship between Messrs Hicks and Gillet; the result it seems of financial disagreements with regard to the new stadium, borne out of the impending financial crisis in the States (and possibly over here!). As papers leech off each other, watch for it being widely circulated with a huge negative slant in the dailies tomorrow. But then, isn’t that where this little missive started out?
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