Friday, June 4, 2010

Farewell, Rafa.

There is a man in many boys' (and girls') lives who yields a certain undeniable power over their emotions and wellbeing. That man dictates the mood of the said boy (or girl) for the rest of the week, based on his words and actions and leadership.

That man is not their father.

That man is the manager of their football club.

Greater than any star player in a team, a football manager is the man who is judged at the end of the day with regards to how a team performs. He is the conductor of the Soccer Club Symphony, the man who lifts and drops games with a wave of his hand, the ever-changing hero and villain from week to week depending on how the game eventuated.

Rafa Benitez exploded onto the English soccer scene with a breath-taking, seemingly impossible Champions League final win for Liverpool in 2005, making them the only English team to win the Cup five times. His tenure as manager has vacillated between the brilliant and the bizarre, buying outstanding performers while squandering money on a fair few duds.

No one can deny that he has orchestrated the emotions of millions of Liverpool fans worldwide, and I can remember at least three times where my heart had literally stopped when we managed to grab victory out of the wretched jaws of defeat:

1) The 3-1 win versus Olmpiakos which brought us into the group stages, leading to:
2) The 3-3 draw in Istanbul in the Champions' League 2005 final, where Liverpool had come from 3-0 down during half time to win the Cup on penalties.
3) The 3-3 draw in the 2006 FA Cup final, where Liverpool had to come back from 2-0 down and then 3-2 down to win the Cup, again on penalties.

There are many more moments like that which I can recall, watching soccer live at home by myself at 3 in the morning, my leg shaking uncontrollably from excitement, yelling at the TV screen for no good reason, and then jumping around the room like a delirious puppy whenever we scored.

Lately, though, it has been a more resigned slump as I reach for the TV remote to switch off the TV in disgust way before the game is over, knowing that defeat was inevitable. And then switching on the TV again right at the end to confirm my worst suspicions, secretly hoping against all hope that Liverpool had pulled a miracle out of nowhere to win.

Too many subsequent losses, and fingers start to point, and they always fall on the manager in the English game. Apart from Arsenal and Manchester United, managers are only as good as their last season in the English Premier League, and so, after six years, we have finally had to say goodbye to Rafa Benitez after a disappointing season last year.

Like a soccer orphan now, we are searching for a new father figure to lead the club to greater heights, and to the Holy Grail that is the elusive Premier League title.

Farewell, Rafa - Mr. Benitez sir - who has meant so much more to me and millions of other Liverpool fans than he will ever know.

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