Liverpool's Rafalution Ends in Turmoil

After six years of politics at Anfield, Rafael Benítez could be heading for the exit door with the club in turmoil

The longest goodbye in Liverpool's normally straightforward managerial history has featured feuds with warring owners, a campaign to seize total control of first-team affairs, a staff clear-out at an academy that was under-achieving partly because Benítez offered so few chances to its recruits, and numerous flirtations with other big European clubs, which the manager has used, sometimes not unreasonably, to consolidate his power in the face of two American speculators who seek a huge profit on their borrowed buck.

Kenny Dalglish's stress-induced departure was traumatic, and the Graeme Souness three-year reign induced tremors, but there has not been instability on this scale since before Bill Shankly's time. In that context, many Liverpool fans who might have felt a reflexive loyalty to Benítez for the miracle of Istanbul, where the club won their fifth European Cup five years ago, now consider the Spanish martinet's personal future less important than the restoration of order before Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City consign the boys in red forever to the comparative oblivion of the Europa League, or worse.

To slide from losing two Premier League matches in 2008-09 to 11 a year later provides incontrovertible proof of an unravelling. Equally Liverpool will be absent from the Champions League for the first time since 2002-03 and there are no funds to burn in the fight to peg back Spurs and City, never mind rejoin the old conflict with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Liverpool's most daunting challenge will be finding a new buyer and to sell Benítez's old job to an A-list coach, whose first task will be to purge the squad of bored players and then restore the output of an academy that stopped producing stars after Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler. A new manager could only play the long game: hope Torres and Gerrard can be persuaded to stay, and gamble that under new owners Anfield will leave the politics where they belong.

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