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Liverpool: What If... Rafa Hadn't Gone On That Mad Manchester United Rant in 2009

by Ian Salmon
16 April 2013 25 Comments

In reality Rafa blew Liverpool's chances of knocking Manchester United off their perch when he lost his sh*t. Now imagine what would have been had he put that piece of paper away.


In reality Rafa blew Liverpool’s chances of knocking Manchester United off their perch when he lost his sh*t. Now imagine what would have been had he put that piece of paper away.

Remember Rafa’s rant? Imagine what Liverpool could have achieved if it had never happened?

Obviously I have no proof of this but nobody will ever be able to persuade me that the piece of paper didn’t have something to do with it. Possibly everything.

It seems a small thing when you look back at it but time will see January 8th 2009 as pivotal in Liverpool’s history.

We were top of the table, something that hadn’t happened for quite some time. Benitez’ plans appeared to be coming to some kind of fruition although there were still strong rumours that we would lose Alonso at the end of the season, Rafa’s unseemly public courtship of Gareth Barry having apparently upset the midfielder although if he was unsettled, he was displaying his dissatisfaction with a frankly world class season.

Ferguson had, of course, been shooting his mouth off. The usual paltry gamesmanship, desperate to disrupt Liverpool’s momentum, complaining about the rough hand that the fixture list had dealt United; playing away in the league after every away Champions League fixture. Obviously nobody else had ever had a comparable challenge. Certainly not us the previous year.

At his weekly press conference on that Thursday a journalist asked Benitez for his response to Ferguson’s suggestion that Liverpool may become nervous in the run in.

“I was surprised by what has been said but maybe they (Manchester United) are nervous because we are at the top of the table,” he replied and proceeded to pull a small folded piece of paper from his pocket. It appeared for a second as though he intended to read from it before changing his mind and returning it from whence it came. To this day he has refused to talk about the contents of the note. The theory is that he had prepared a statement of some. Presumably we will have to wait until his tenure at Anfield ends and his inevitable biography in order to find out.


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The Saturday following Rafa’s press conference saw a slim win at Stoke maintain our lead at the top of the table with the following week’s confident victory over our neighbours Everton at Anfield afforded us some breathing space. Space which proved necessary with a disappointing draw away at Wigan on the 28th of the month

The disappointing and nigh on traditional loss away at Middlesborough was the only low point of the rest of the season. The high point? The 4-1 victory over Manchester United at their own ground as our procession toward title 19 gathered pace.

The 4-4 home draw with Arsenal could have proved problematic if it were not for them also holding United to a draw (although goalless and infinitely less entertaining) at Old Trafford.

Whatever Alonso’s intentions had been earlier in the summer, it would appear that the hysteria surrounding our first league title in 18 years and our first of the Premiership era was enough to convince him that his future remained at Anfield. The addition of the much scouted long term target David Silva the following summer provided the extra spark of creativity and class that Benitez had long sought giving us the wherewithal to notch up European Cup number 6 with a 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich at the Bernabeau.

Although the addition of Luis Suarez to the the squad at the beginning of 2011 has only seen last season’s FA Cup victory over Chelsea added to our trophy tally and United appear to have wrapped up this season’s league to bring them to the number 18 that we were stuck on for so long the emergence of new young talent such as Suso, Sterling, Wisdom and Kelly gives hope for the future.

As Rafael Benitez heads toward his tenth season at Anfield and a hopefully renewed title charge following three consecutive third place finishes it looks as though we owe a great deal to that fateful Thursday in January 2009 and a mysterious change of mind over a small, unexplained piece of paper.

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

laughing gravy 2:58 pm, 16-Apr-2013

What if???? What if my auntie was my uncle?

eoghan 3:11 pm, 16-Apr-2013

liverpool had a better points-per-game after 'rant' than before it, including 4-1 win at Old Trafford

Paul 3:14 pm, 16-Apr-2013

Oh dear, how lazy! A quick look at the stats would have shown Liverpool's performance for the remainder of the season to have been exactly the same as pre 'rant'. They won the exact same points-per-game pre-and post 'rant', the reason United won the title is that - like every year - they had a better 2nd half to the season, nothing to do with rafa's 'rant'. If Liverpool hadn't been denied a perfectly legitimate goal at home to Stoke and United not been given unjustified injury time vs Villa Liverpool would have won the title. If's and buts... As for the 'rant', it was a very clever ploy to put pressure on the ref for that weekends game between united and Chelsea at OT (it didn't work, United hammered them) but it was exactly the kind of thing that Ferguson does every year and is hailed as some kind of pychological genius for doing so. But when anyone else does it they are cracking up?! United won the title because they had a better second half to the season, they had a better (more expensively-asembled) squad and they enjoyed better luck with big decisions. It had nothing to do with Rafa's well thought-out, calmly delivered speech (or 'rant' if you read/write for the Daily Star!)

laughing gravy 3:19 pm, 16-Apr-2013

Don't quote me on this Paul but i think Rafa benitez spent (in his Liverpool tenor) more than alex ferguson did.

j75j 3:22 pm, 16-Apr-2013

What if Liverpool had given the job to Mourinho and not Rafa in 2004?????lol

NAh 3:56 pm, 16-Apr-2013

As I remember united's form went trough the roof right after rafa's "clever" rant. Thought it was absolutely idiotic of rafa to stir them on, no matter how right he was. Know to pick you battles is something a smart man do.

Paul 3:57 pm, 16-Apr-2013

Laughing gravy, it was roughly the same but United's squad in 08/09 had players like Rooney, Ferdinand and Ronaldo who were there from before Rafa joined LFC and who cost aprox 70mm so united's squad was undoubtedly more expensively assembled. Overall Rafa spent less than United, Chelsea, City, Villa and Sunderland(!) while at Liverpool but still won Euro Cup and got 86 points in 08/09 - which would have won the title in the following 2 seasons. A far more impressive feat than Mourinho getting the most expensively built squad of all time at Chelsea to finish one place higher than his predecessor and no Euro Cups (j75j)

Niall 4:45 pm, 16-Apr-2013

What's often overlooked about Rafas rant was his motivation. We were top of the league. We'd hammered Newcastle 5-0 at St James' on the previous Sunday. We were flying. But by Tuesday, all the papers were talking about was Stevie Gs Sunday night nightclub afray which resulted in an assault charge. Was it Rafas intention to divert attention away from Gerrard and take him out of the press' firing line? Surely, an assault charge (and a potential jail sentence if found guilty) for our best player and captain would be more disruptive to the squad and Gerrard himself and perhaps is as much of a reason for the mixed form over the next few weeks than the infamous rant.

Paul 4:47 pm, 16-Apr-2013

Nah, united's form was the same as it is in the second half of every season, ie better than the first half. United fans/Ferguson pyscophants in the media try to paint Rafa's speech as a 'mind games' victory for Ferguson but there's absolutely no evidence to support this. Liverpool's form remained the exact same post-speech to give them a massive points total which, as I pointed out, would usually be enough to win the title (some adverse affect!!) and United's second half to the season was no more/less exceptional than usual so I fail to see how the 'rant' changed anything, despite what the media and this article deceive themselves into believing. By the same (il)logic you could argue any of Ferguson's comments that season inspired Liverpool to their best ever PL season. Obviously that's an equally ridiculous argument but one no less ridiculous than the 'Fergie out-pyched Rafa' one. Statistically and anecdotally Liverpool played the best football of Rafa's reign in the second half of that season (4-1 at Old Trafford, 1-0 at Bernabau, 4-0 vs Real at Anfield, 5-0 vs Villa). It just doesn't get mentioned cos it doesn't fit the tiresome 'Fergie always wins mind games' myth (which is always strangely missing from the narrative in the seasons United dont win the title, eg last season)

Paul 5:01 pm, 16-Apr-2013

Niall, very true. Gerrard's form was shite for weeks after that incident. I always think the 2 things that cost us the title that year were Gerrard's arrest and the spring international break cos United were on the ropes when that break came; they'd just been hammered by us and well beaten by Fulham in succession. Their confidence was on the floor, there for the taking but then the break came and they were able to re-group - which they did brilliantly in fairness. Just as Ferguson believes United were the best team in '92 when Leeds won the title, I reckon Liverpool were the best side in 09 (only 2 defeats, most goals, Stoke 'goal' disallowed, Macheda scoring in 7/8th minute 'injury time, etc) But unlike United in '92 who backed Ferguson in the transfer market that summer to sign the 1/2 players to get them over the line the next season (Cantona), Rafa was given crumbs by Hicks and Gillett and the club actually made a profit in the next 3 transfer windows!

Tim 5:35 pm, 16-Apr-2013

Didn´t see it mentioned that United had 3 games in hand on the 10th Jan and winning all three actually would have put them top anyway.... There are so many stat mistakes in the last two paras I am wondering whether the whole thing is meant to be satire!!

laughing gravy 5:36 pm, 16-Apr-2013

@Paul, actually Paul you're wrong, just checked it on a transfer website, during Rafa benitez time at Liverpool 04 to 2010 he spent NET £104million, in the same time frame Alex Ferguson spent NET £21.9million, and really you can't use the excuse Rafa came in and had to make sweeping changes, with that squad he inherited, he won them the European cup final, so in reality, they wasn't that bad, instead of tinkering here and there, he made sweeping changes and in doing so messed things up

Sean 6:26 pm, 16-Apr-2013

Post that supposed rant Liverpool won 10 and drew 1 of last 11 games. They also beat united 4-1 at old Trafford. Failing to see how that could be described as poor post his comments? Ps Rafa spent 78m net according to the times and left Liverpool with Torres mascherano Johnson agger reina etc.. Context please

Ian salmon 7:09 pm, 16-Apr-2013

May be worth pointing out that after Rafa's rant (which I loved) we drew the next three games on the bounce. Stoke, Everton and Wigan. For my money the list was damaging for that week immediately after - its certainly how I felt at the time.

Jim G 12:10 am, 17-Apr-2013

Niall - You are absolutely spot on. I said exactly the same thing at the time but nobody listened. We had just gone top with the win at Newcastle when the news broke about Gerrard, and as soon as I heard it I knew we wouldn't win the League. The papers would have been full of this for weeks, so Rafa took a hit for the team. Unfortunately it didn't pay off.

bnd 4:08 am, 17-Apr-2013

i think people always buy too much into this tupe of thing. these people are extremely professional and are much much more up on sports psychology than you or i. they also usually despise the press as the press make a huge deal out of nothing, often (witness this). they get hounded and yeah tey get angry - its often cited as one of the most stressful jobs. football fans need their gossip and myths though. how much do you think these managers are actually effected by mind games? people tend to reaf too much into it. off the top of my head - the games when gerrard an torres werent both playing we were struggling right? perhaps a lack of depth as opposed to a pschological meltdown.

bnd 6:11 am, 17-Apr-2013

@Nah - thats what United always do. why do people buy into this fergie mind game myth so much? I bet when he retires and writes his memoirs he'll write a long paragraph about how he loved stirring it so he could laugh at people who bought the whole kaboodle

Paul 10:50 am, 17-Apr-2013

Laughing gravy, your figures are way off. LFC's own website and many other reputable sources show Benitez' net spend to be £68mm over 6 years. And not a single Houllier signing played in 08/09 season cos they were all shit and sold (the fact Rafa won the Euro Cup with them just adds to the achievement. We barely got 10 million for the lot and none were ever heard of again). As stated, United already had Ferdinand, Rooney, Ronaldo, etc from the pre-Rafa era so United's squad was considerably more expensive in 08/09, whatever way you want to massage the figures. Bnd, completely agree. Torres and Gerrard only started 11 (eleven!!) league games that season. If they had started even 15 we would have walked the league, turning early draws into wins. Just another element of bad luck to add to Stoke, Villa injury time, international break, Gerrard arrest (although not strictly bad luck that one!), etc Ian, regardless of whether they drew next 3 games, they simply did not get worse results after the 'rant' and in fact, improved, therefore the article is completely and emphatically wrong. It's one thing to read this 'mind games/rant/cracking up' bullshit from the army of lazy, Fergie arse-lickers on Fleet street, but very disappointing to hear it from a fan who could have checked the stats in 20 seconds like the rest of us

Fr3sh 3:11 pm, 17-Apr-2013

if only

laughing gravy 7:15 pm, 17-Apr-2013

@ Paul..not that I’m particularly intested Paul, but honest, you are well wide of the mark, His NET spend is over or nearly over £100million during his time at anfield, read up on it mate, he brought in 76 players during that time, 76 bloody players, goodness me that’s almost 13 players a season, that’s a new team every year, benitez had a policy of throw enough shit at the wall, and eventually some will stick, in comparison United have only signed 88 players since 1992, works out at just over 4 players a season in a 21 years period, and as for Houllier signings, they wasn’t that shit mate, Liverpool ended up 4th in the league before benitez arrived, and he won the European cup with most of Houllier’s signings, in fact all of Liverpools European cup winning team apart from two players (Luis García and Xabi Alonso) were Houllier’s signings, Benitez won them the European cup, they finished 4th in the league the year previous, so as I’ve said not a bad team, what did Benitez do that very summer and winning the European cup????? He bought in 14 players and and sold 15 including shipping out 4 players he’s only just bought in himself, rectifying his mistakes, instead of tweaking the team because they’d won the European cup, he went potty and decided to make wholesale changes when it didn’t need it……and as for Gerrard and Torres only starting so many games? Was that through injury? Or was it through benitez chopping and changing his team? And remember all teams get injuries…oh by the way……..

Stan Dalglish 6:59 pm, 18-Apr-2013

I think we would still have finished 2nd. I did not think Rafa needed to say what he said but he was saying what alot of other managers were thinking but did not have the bottle to say. Ferguson has his little council like Allerdyce and previously Hodgson (please!) even the fight has gone out of Wenger so hoping Di Canio spruces things up. Probably not.

CraigLondon 6:19 pm, 30-Apr-2013

I remember watching that rant and thinking 'oh God Rafa,shut the fuck up,you're making yourself look like a twat,we're gonna lose this chance of winning the title'...he didn't,and we blew it

justice for football fair play 7:14 am, 1-May-2013

your all completely missing the point. even if rafa had kept his mouth shut. howard webb still knew wat he had to do that year. even now 4 years on that tottenham game still stands out as the most blatant corrupt football match to have ever been staged in england. even harry redknapp at the time said "i cant say the referee is dishonest cos ile be in a lot of trouble but that performance today was outrageous"

Andy 8:21 pm, 14-May-2013

Stoke was 0-0, Everton was 1-1 (Gerrard 67), and 'last season's f.a cup victory'?? Did I miss something? You've also said United look set to wrap up title number 18 and if I stand corrected you posted this piece 16th April 2013. I'm not sure if I've missed another bit of information but I've had the number 20 blazing all over my T.V screens since their 3-0 Villa win a couple of weeks ago. And to top it all off....'As Rafael Benitez heads towards his tenth season at Anfield'.....Erm.....I'm not sure what to say. In fact I'm that stunned about the lack of facts that I'm not even going to say. And I'm a Liverpool fan!! I'd sort the facts out before posting this in future.

Sean 4:32 pm, 20-Jan-2014

Liverpool won 10 and drew 1 if their last 11 league games. Seems like that 'rant' didn't do any harm...

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