ger_macThe knives are out for Rafa Benitez following Liverpool’s shock exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Championship outfit Reading on Wednesday night. The cold hard fact (no pun intended) now facing Benitez is that the Anfield side failed to overcome the challenge of a side languishing in the bottom half of the Championship despite fielding a full-strength side up until the forced substitutions of Torres and Gerrard.

So what now for the Spaniard? Should he stay on and see out his contract at least until the end of the season and then walk if Liverpool fails to make the top four? Should Liverpool finally cut their ties with a manager who has guided the club to Champions League  glory and runners-up spot in the Premier League only a season ago?

Three reasons Rafa might go:

1. FORM

Liverpool’s shocking loss of form with virtually the same group of players at his disposal since last season’s second place finish simply isn’t good enough. The Red’s pitiful exit from the Champions League group stages and difficulty in solidifying a top four finish suggests Rafa is unable to sufficiently motivate his players and may well have lost the dressing room.

Exiting the Champions League proved a severe body blow to the Spaniard as it was a tournament his teams consistently excelled in. The Spaniard’s meticulous nature on the training pitch is no longer effective in getting the best out of a group of players who continue (as a squad) to play below their abilities.

2. DISTRACTED TALISMEN

The loss in form of both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres has proved catastrophic. Both players have proved injury-prone during the current campaign but neither of Liverpool’s talismanic players have reached the heights of last season’s performances (remember 4-1 at Old Trafford?).

Both Gerrard and Torres must surely have one eye on the upcoming World Cup and will want to be as fit as possible ahead of this summer’s tournament. Benitez will be hard pressed to get the best out of either individual if all Liverpool have to play for is a top six finish.

The remainder of the Liverpool first team squad is struggling to muster a top four challenge never mind a tilt at the title and cannot carry the burden without Torres or Gerrard in the side.

3. FINANCE

Liverpool FC is currently unable to compete financially with the top dogs in the Premier League such as Manchester United, Chelsea and now Manchester City. The emergence of Man City as a top four pretender couldn’t have come at a worse time for Benitez.

Add to that the continual boardroom bickering and recent furore over Hicks Jr.’s resignation and Liverpool continues to appear in the news for all the wrong reasons. A seemingly restricted transfer kitty has scuppered Benitez from spending big on quality international players, apart from Aquilani, but the jury is still out there.

For a club steeped in Shankly, Paisley and famed boot-room history, the continual negative  headlines serve only to turn the heads of squad players and prevent potential transfer targets from considering Liverpool as a club worth signing for. In short, just when Benitez needed to flash the real cash, there is none available.

Three reasons Rafa might stay:

1. CONTRACT

Details on Benitez’s Liverpool contract suggest it will prove expensive for the Anfield hierarchy to part with their Spanish manager. Most Premier League clubs are somewhat reluctant to part with big transfer fees due to the world-wide recession and Liverpool are no
exception.

Even if Liverpool did decide to pay Benitez off, would the money owing to him impact on their immediate transfer budget?
The Spaniard is in the somewhat enviable position of knowing that irrespective of his side failing to finish in the top four his employers may decide to stick with him to avoid a costly payout. Only increased fan pressure might eventually force the board’s hand but until then Benitez could still be in charge at the beginning of next season.

2.  LACK OF ALTERNATIVES

One heartening point for the beleaguered Spanish manager in his current plight is that no viable alternative is available to take his place. Guus Hiddink was mentioned on more than one occasion in the last fortnight but has since decided to move to Juventus in an effort  to revitalise the \’Grand Old Lady’ of Serie A.

Jose Mourinho is another candidate but previous spats with Liverpool while in charge of  Chelsea seemingly rule out the \’special one’. Apart from those two, only the likes of Jurgen Klinnsman, Frank Rijkaard and even Marcelo Lippi would likely be considered for the post.

Kenny Dalglish would be most Liverpool supporters’ choice but is unlikely to want to return to the rigours of club management having been away from the role for some years.

3. THE SPANISH SITUATION

The Real Madrid job is something Benitez apparently covets but the job is not available – for now. Manuel Pelligrini is doing a surprisingly decent job in the hot seat at the Bernabeau and Real look like title contenders to Barcelona this season.

Should Real fail in their quest to claim back the Primera Liga title this term then there is no doubt Pelligrini will be politely asked to step aside and Benitez’s will be one of the names on the top of Madrid’s list to take over.

Leaving Liverpool – despite their current predicament – for the soap opera of looking after Madrid’s Galactico’s may not be the most appealing of assignments when you consider the job instability that accompanies the role.

Still, Benitez would find it hard to turn down such an offer with a bottomless transfer kitty to look after but the job stability of the Madrid role is worse than any other big club in the world.

At least at Liverpool Benitez may yet be given more time. Were he in charge of Real and had embarked on the horrific run Liverpool have endured of late, you can be certain he would have been sacked by now.

Whatever happens to Rafa Benitez in the coming months the Spaniard has revitalised Liverpool after the horror show that was Gerard Houllier. Liverpool’s renowned loyalty to their managers is being severely tested right now but is a more suitable alternative  available to the Anfield hierarchy?

I don’t think so and I expect Benitez to remain at the helm until at least the end of the season.  Unless the pressure becomes too much for the Liverpool board then expect Benitez to remain in charge.

For now.

Ger McCarthy is the author of Off Centre Circle, which chronicles the curious life of  a West Cork League junior footballer.

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