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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 May 2007, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
Benitez's big challenge
By Simon Austin

Liverpool's possible first XI in 2007/8
Rafael Benitez was itching to start his summer spending after Liverpool's Champions League final defeat by AC Milan.

"We must spend big and spend now," the Reds boss told reporters following his side's 2-1 defeat in Athens.

"Our fans know what we need to do and so do I. We need to pay the price needed for each position."

The Athens defeat again highlighted Liverpool's desperate need for a world-class playmaker to create chances and a predatory striker to put them away.

Benitez will have a sizeable transfer fund this summer, courtesy of the club's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Definitely going: Robbie Fowler, Jerzy Dudek
Likely to leave: Bolo Zenden, Mark Gonzalez, Sami Hyypia, Craig Bellamy
Will listen to offers for: Peter Crouch, Harry Kewell, Jermaine Pennant
Linked with: Samuel Eto'o, Carlos Tevez, David Villa, Aaron Lennon, Fernando Torres, Daniel Alves

But former Liverpool striker Michael Robinson, now the leading football presenter on Spanish television, says this will not guarantee success.

"This summer will be very, very interesting for Rafa Benitez and Liverpool," Robinson told BBC Sport.

"He didn't have huge spending power at Valencia and hasn't had at Liverpool either so far. This will be the first time he has had a transfer budget to match those of the European elite and it will be fascinating to see what he does with it.

"To date, tactics have always been the star of Rafa's teams. He hasn't really dealt with star players before in his managerial career, apart from Steven Gerrard.

"He doesn't care for egos or players who can't fit into his structure. For example, he has always made it very clear to Gerrard that he must fit into the structure of the team and sometimes play out of position, if that's what he believes is best."

Michael Robinson
Sometimes it seems like Rafa is sat in the dug-out with a remote control

Michael Robinson
Liverpool have often lacked the spontaneity and improvisation to turn tight games this season. Yet Benitez has been wary of 'flair' players during his career, instead preferring discipline and stability.

His refusal to always select Argentine playmaker Pablo Aimar at Valencia was a cause of friction with the club's board and he has mainly signed functional players during his time at Anfield.

He could cite a lack of substantial funds as the reason for this, although Robinson wonders whether such players fit in with Benitez's nature and footballing philosophy.

"Rafa is a very educated man who sees football tactically brilliantly," he said.

"Sometimes, for my own taste, he gets over-methodical with the tactics. Sometimes it seems to me he's sat in the dug-out with a remote control.


"The times I have enjoyed watching Liverpool play are when it seems the batteries are going low on the remote and the players do what they want.

"If you want entertainment from Rafa, you might be left wanting. But if you want to win and be extremely competitive, he's your man.

"He's won a European Cup and I don't think any other manager in the world could have done that with the same players."

What is beyond question is that there will be plenty of comings and goings at Anfield this summer.

Benitez has already cited the need for a prolific goalscorer. To make way, he has released Robbie Fowler, seems certain to sell Craig Bellamy and might also listen to offers for Peter Crouch.

Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o and Valencia's David Villa are rumoured to be top of Benitez's wanted list and Robinson is a firm admirer of two of La Liga's best players.

"Eto'o is an excellent all-round centre forward and a proven goalscorer," he commented. "He also makes an enormous difference to the general play of Barcelona, even forgetting his goals.

"Often we will praise Andres Iniesta, Deco or Xavi for a great pass but what we might not notice is the way Eto'o lost his marker and moved to open up the possibility of the pass.

Extremadura: Spanish Second Division (1997)
Tenerife: Spanish Second Division (2000)
Valencia: La Liga (2002 & 2004), Uefa Cup (2004)
Liverpool: Champions League (2005), FA Cup (2006)

"He is also fantastic at defending from the front, closing down and making it difficult for the opposition to get the ball out from the back."

Villa has emerged as one of the hottest properties in European football over the last two seasons.

"David Villa is simply a fantastic footballer," stated Robinson. "He would score goals in any league in Europe and the Spanish national team should be based around him. He's quick-witted, has a superb touch and is an instinctive goalscorer."

Benitez is also eager to sign top-class wide players after Mark Gonzalez, Bolo Zenden and Jermaine Pennant failed to grab their chances at Anfield.

He is a long-term admirer of Seville's outstanding right-sided Brazilian, Daniel Alves, and has also been strongly linked with Blackburn's Morten Gamst Pedersen.

Yet whoever Benitez lands, he will be unwilling to tolerate egos and his tactical genius is likely to remain the star of the Liverpool team.

We must spend big, says Benitez
24 May 07 |  Liverpool
Comment: Reds fall short
23 May 07 |  Football
AC Milan 2-1 Liverpool
23 May 07 |  Europe


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