Rafa Benitez leaving and Roy Hodgson joining in 2010 was probably the start of a decline which lasted until Jurgen Klopp’s appointment (bar our wonder-season in 2013/14)…
The Spaniard had won a Champions League and an FA Cup at Liverpool and come very close to title glory as well in 2008/09, but with the club’s ownership situation in complete turmoil, he decided to leave after a poor 2009/10 campaign.
Just a few weeks before his decision was announced, RBS had appointed Sir Martin Broughton as our stand-in chairman, whose job it was to find buyers within six months. Hicks and Gillett owed the bank £300m and RBS demanded they sold Liverpool to pay their ever-increasing debt.
Broughton has claimed that he didn’t want to sack Benitez, or want the Spaniard to leave at all, but that strange behaviour from our former manager suggested he was looking to leave the toxic environment.
We all know Benitez was a notoriously stubborn man and occasionally impersonal to boot, so these claims are reasonable – although we have to also accept that the manager was working under ridiculously poor owners who will go down as one of the worst things to happen to our club.
“I had expected, given that, that with me coming on board, Rafa would actually make an effort to align himself with a potential ally. It turned out to be quite different,” Broughton told the Echo in an exclusive interview.
“This may be me being old fashioned, but I didn’t want my first meeting with Rafa to be on the phone. I wanted a face-to-face meeting.
“Almost immediately after I was appointed, there was a match on a Monday night (against West Ham) so I sent a message to Rafa that I would like to have breakfast with him on the Tuesday morning. Don’t interfere with the manager on the day of the match, so let’s have breakfast the next morning.
“That was fine, but it turned out that that was the week with the volcanic ash problems, and Liverpool were off to Spain on the Thursday.
“They were leaving Tuesday lunchtime, so I didn’t think that would stop Rafa from meeting Tuesday morning. That wouldn’t have been an issue for me, but in the early hours of the morning a message went from Rafa to Christian Purslow to say that he couldn’t meet me because he had to be off Tuesday lunchtime.
“I didn’t really understand that. I had been at the club three days maybe at this point, and still hadn’t met him. So anyway he went off to Spain, then the following weekend there was an away game (at Burnley) which I didn’t go to.
“Then the following week there was the replay (second leg, against Atletico Madrid) and again I asked to meet for breakfast the day after the match.
“Liverpool won the game but went out on away goals, and again in the early hours comes a message that says ‘I’m too distraught with the result, my head’s not in the right place, I can’t meet’.
“To me, this is getting weird. This was the second opportunity to meet, just for a chat.
“But on the Saturday, in his pre-match chat with the TV, Rafa says ‘I don’t understand what is going on here, the new chairman has been here nearly two weeks and I’ve not even met him yet!’
“I thought ‘hmm, I see the tone of things now!’ But I still didn’t want him to go. I’m used to people playing silly games at times, so I thought let’s keep it straight.
“We had an interesting thing where I did then meet him, and I had a two-hour download from Rafa, without being able to get a word in, where he told me what was wrong.
“That was fine, get it off your chest, it’s not a complaint at all. I like to hear his version. I then had another meeting with him maybe a week later, and got the same two-hour download.
“I kept interrupting ‘Rafa, you told me that…’ and he said ‘you just need to hear this…’ before we could have a conversation.
“Essentially, I was saying to him ‘what do you need?’ In my background, if you want investment you say what is wrong, what have you tried to do about it that hasn’t worked, what do you need and how is it going to work.
“He had come with a shopping list which included, for example, a left back. And I said ‘Rafa, you’ve been here six years, and you’ve bought six left backs and you’re telling me none of them have worked. So what are you going to differently this time?’ There was no answer.
“I asked him to write down everything he wanted and why it was going to work. And he did. He thought it was totally incomprehensible from a football viewpoint but he did it!
“And I was beginning to think we were starting to get on the right wavelength, when it became obvious that he wanted to have discussions through his lawyer – and that’s when it became obvious that he wanted out.”