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The Rafa-Sam Feud: A Liverpool Fan's Opinion

In response to @downthemannyrd's piece, we've had a Liverpool fan get in touch....

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On Sunday afternoon, our own @downthemannyrd Tom wrote this excellent bit about the Sam Allardyce/Rafa Benitez 'feud', which has been detailed in the former's new book, and the latter's paranoid interviews.

Now, we've been contacted by a Liverpool fan - one of his mates actually - who wanted to write a piece about the rivalry but from a Merseyside perspective. So, here it is, reprinted without editorial involvement:


I would consider the author an authority on most things in my life, especially football.

However, so irked am I by this article I feel compelled to respond. I'll be concise, I'm quite sure nobody wants to read the ramblings of a scouser who is so clearly pro-Benitez I could be his chief propagandist. In the interest of balance, I am also an Allardyce fan - I firmly believe he deserved the England job in 2006, a fact that is often cited by my match-going friends to discredit my opinion on just about any football related matter.

If you didn't already know, or you hadn't inferred from the above, Allardyce is widely disliked on the Kop. I am very much in the minority as an admirer on Merseyside, in spite of my love for Rafa.

What I find most impressive is that by the time Liverpool had appointed Benitez, there is an argument that Bolton had the better side. Bolton Wanderers. Better than Liverpool. We weren't quite in our all-conquering 80s guise at the time, but still. A huge gulf in resources (amongst many other chasms) had been overcome and Bolton were competing at the top end of the table. The fact that only goal difference separated us by the end of Benitez's first season speaks volumes for the frankly unbelievable job "Big Sam" had done.

The tiff between the two obviously stems back to that period.

I would agree that Benitez is insecure. However, his record against Allardyce is strong. That defeat at the Reebok in summer 2004 (Luis Garcia WAS onside) and one further humbling at your gaff aside, Benitez got the better of Big Sam's Bolton. The freshly reopened feud has little to do with similarities (although there are some).

The view from Allardyce supporters seems to be that he deserves more (whether it be acclaim, opportunities, or respect) and Benitez, essentially, deserves less. The "nowt to do with Benitez" quote embodies this divide.

I would agree that Benitez's response - "what has he won?" - is not a fair barometer of success in this case. But to say Rafa perpetuated the "long ball" myth is unfair. You will know better than me, but other managers jumped on that bandwagon long before Benitez, and, let's face it, Big Sam does play long ball football.

Apart from the last couple of years at Bolton, when it was more varied but still identifiably "long ball", you can't argue against that. Maybe it's the snobbery that people, especially Allardyce, take issue with. Personally, I don't have an issue with it. Entertaining football is winning football. Maybe Messrs Wenger and Benitez don't agree, but so what?

It should be said that Benitez was no stranger to a long ball tactic himself when he felt it necessary. That aside, his main similarity with Allardyce is how defensive he is (personally, not tactically - although both apply).

The "fact" rant was a gamble that he felt would pay off from a position of strength, with Liverpool sitting top of the league at that point. Gerrard can say how embarrassed he was and fans across the country cite this as a "meltdown" moment all they like, but Benitez simply does not do meltdown. He wanted to stir things up and challenge the embarrassing stranglehold of United over English football (and I don't just mean on the pitch).

Liverpool fans loved it and our league record following that rant was one defeat in eighteen. Rafa had not cracked.

He had led Liverpool from a being a disjointed squad, challenging with Bolton in the Premier League to two Champions League Finals, a domestic title charge and being ranked the top team in Europe by UEFA coefficient. His reign at Liverpool would have ended with at least one title had it not been for the farcical ownership and the inability to compete with the top clubs in the transfer market.

The money quickly disappeared on servicing unmanageable debt - I know Wanderers fans can sympathise with that. In spite of greater challenges, his win percentage is the best of all modern Liverpool managers. Better than those before and since.

Same applies to his time at Valencia, where he masterminded triumphs in La Liga (Valencia's first for over 80 years) and in Europe. Barcelona? Real Madrid? Who the fuck you tryna kid?

Ok, Inter didn't go swimmingly for Rafa, but the end was harsh - 3 trophies and an indifferent start to the league campaign was enough to get him sacked after 4 months. His Napoli tenure was consistently 7/10. But his record and trophy haul still compares favourably with managers before and since. Then we come to Chelsea. Despite some disgusting treatment from the Stamford Bridge "faithful", he vastly improved on the win percentage of Villas-Boas and Di Matteo before him, falling slightly short of Mourinho who followed him on a full-time basis.

A different spin on the same facts shows Rafa does compare favourably at his previous clubs, though admittedly some more than others.

One thing you simply can't argue with is he knows how to win a trophy. Could Allardici have done the same as he so confidently asserts? Even the biggest Allardyce fan would have to admit it's highly improbable. His jealousy and bitterness has grown out of a sense of what might have been, and Benitez is the man he looks at with most envy. Benitez has his flaws but is undoubtedly an elite level manager. He rejected numerous top jobs whilst at Liverpool and chose the wrong jobs after left. Big Sam, you could argue, did the same upon leaving Bolton.

Rafa now has the chance at Real Madrid to prove once again that he is one of the very best. A chance Allardyce will never have, whether he deserves it or not.