PETER CROUCH: If you don’t buy into Rafa Benitez’s fun-free methods, it can turn ugly


Rafa Benitez will forever remain a great manager. That will not change. But taking the Everton job was always a tough ask, even for a man of his standing. As soon as they started losing games it was going to be an immediate uphill battle and one he has sadly lost.

Let’s be honest here, if his name was anything other than Rafa Benitez, there would not be as much of the understandable anger among the fans. I’m not sure we would be talking about his sacking either, because he was only six months in. But Liverpool was the obvious problem. Everton fans think Liverpool fans are laughing at them. That is a huge factor in summing up the way in which Rafa’s spell in charge has spiralled.

I wrote in this column in August that Rafa could become truly loved by the entire city. What’s the saying? It takes a tall man to admit when he is wrong? Oh, a big man. Well anyway, it has not worked out and it was only going one way after the defeat at Norwich. The individual errors, the sloppy mistakes. No manager can do a great deal about your centre half skewering one into his own net or your left back setting up the opposition’s striker.

Rafa Benitez will forever remain a great manager. That will not change, despite Everton

Rafa Benitez will forever remain a great manager. That will not change, despite Everton

If the fans and the players don't buy into Benitez’s fun-free methods, it can turn ugly quickly

If the fans and the players don't buy into Benitez’s fun-free methods, it can turn ugly quickly

If the fans and the players don’t buy into Benitez’s fun-free methods, it can turn ugly quickly 

We do not know what goes on behind closed doors but from the outside looking in, the players did not seem to be playing for him. Some of them have not played for a number of managers in recent years. What I can say from experience playing under him is everybody must buy into his methods if his team is to be successful.

Training was not that enjoyable, it was quite regimented. Very tactical and difficult mentally more than anything. That constant battle of keeping yourself switched on. You do not mind that if you believe and for me, it was a privilege to be at Liverpool — I’d do whatever I was told. But if things do go badly, you are not performing to the maximum, I can see how players could turn.

If his name was anything other than Rafa Benitez, there would not be as much of the understandable anger among the fans, who help up a 'Benitez - Get out of our club' banner

If his name was anything other than Rafa Benitez, there would not be as much of the understandable anger among the fans, who help up a 'Benitez - Get out of our club' banner

If his name was anything other than Rafa Benitez, there would not be as much of the understandable anger among the fans, who help up a ‘Benitez – Get out of our club’ banner

From experience playing under him, everybody must buy into his methods for the team

From experience playing under him, everybody must buy into his methods for the team

From experience playing under him, everybody must buy into his methods for the team

Players like to be tested in little small-sided games, they want shooting practice. I would try to do extra finishing afterwards and Rafa would always cut the session short because he had a certain time limit on how long training had to be. Everything was so scheduled and mechanical. Nothing off the cuff.

Rafa wants to control everything, really. At Liverpool when I was there, we had so many big characters that were onside. He was, and still is, an iconic figure. Everybody bought into what he was doing but if you do not then it becomes tricky.

Take the warm-up in training. You really need to be pulling in the same direction for this. It was 15 minutes of nobody touching a football, Rafa had it in his hands. All of us had to stand in our own positions on a pitch. I’d be up front with Fernando Torres, Craig Bellamy, Robbie Fowler. 

Training was not that enjoyable, it was quite regimented. Very tactical and difficult mentally

Training was not that enjoyable, it was quite regimented. Very tactical and difficult mentally

Training was not that enjoyable, it was quite regimented. Very tactical and difficult mentally

Rafa would always cut the session short because he had a certain time limit on everything

Rafa would always cut the session short because he had a certain time limit on everything

Rafa would always cut the session short because he had a certain time limit on everything

Rafa would run towards you with the ball and ask, ‘How would you deal with this?’ We would then all move as a team, getting into shape. That was the warm-up: shape. Or how we were going to press (yes, pressing existed 15 years ago).

It was such a change. I had come from Southampton under Harry Redknapp where every day was a real buzz. We had a laugh, it was very relaxed, although it is probably worth pointing out that we went down! The atmosphere was very different at Liverpool and I just assumed — with it being my first time at a massive club — that was just the way it was.

I do feel for Rafa. There has not been much money to spend and, if you look at it, the signings have actually been the major positives. Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend have probably been their two standout players. Interestingly, it feels like those two bought into Rafa and have flourished.

Bargain signings Demarai Gray (centre) and Andros Townsend have been their two standouts

Bargain signings Demarai Gray (centre) and Andros Townsend have been their two standouts

Bargain signings Demarai Gray (centre) and Andros Townsend have been their two standouts

The major injuries — Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison (left) — have hampered them

The major injuries — Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison (left) — have hampered them

The major injuries — Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison (left) — have hampered them

The injuries — Dominic Calvert-Lewin in particular, Richarlison as well — have hampered them but defensively they are nowhere near it. And that is such a shock. Rafa teams do not defend badly because the thing with him is the meticulous planning, so defensively his sides are usually really solid.

It always felt like we would keep a clean sheet. Pepe Reina won the Golden Glove two years on the bounce. That came from the whole team, a state of mind. So when I watched Norwich cut them open through midfield, it did not bode well. That was a bad, bad defeat.

Who do they go for now? Everton have gone through a lot of managers with lots of different styles since David Moyes and none have worked out. It is such a big club but they have not got it right again. Rafa was a big shout but his departure looked inevitable by the end.

Don’t write Wood off just because he came from Burnley

Chris Wood seems to be getting a bit of grief and the only reason for that, from where I’m sitting, is the fact he has come from Burnley.

It is that Burnley stigma again but he is a very sensible signing. With a bit of luck, he would have got off to a goalscoring start against Watford on Saturday.

He really struck me when I was at Turf Moor in 2019. He was an unbelievable finisher and the quality of his game surprised me. I should not have been surprised, because he had a good first 18 months in the Premier League and had scored at Old Trafford a few days prior to me signing on deadline day.

Newcastle forward Chris Wood seems to be getting a bit of grief because he was from Burnley

Newcastle forward Chris Wood seems to be getting a bit of grief because he was from Burnley

Newcastle forward Chris Wood seems to be getting a bit of grief because he was from Burnley

Chris is a complete forward - Burnley would never have sold him but for the release clause

Chris is a complete forward - Burnley would never have sold him but for the release clause

Chris is a complete forward – Burnley would never have sold him but for the release clause

Chris is a complete centre forward and can let fly off both feet. Burnley would never have sold him but you cannot do anything about the release clause. Sean Dyche would obviously have wanted to keep him. He was the main man and they have struggled with injuries.

It is a lot of money but should be prudent. It is a double-whammy for Newcastle as they have recruited a good player and pinched him from a relegation rival. It is a great move for him, more money and the fans will really take to him once he starts banging goals in. Newcastle fans love a centre forward — Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Andy Cole, Peter Beardsley. It was a place where I always fancied playing at some stage.

Electric Villa Park is perfect for Stevie  

The Aston Villa v Man United game was fantastic, wasn’t it? I really enjoy watching Steven Gerrard’s teams — Rangers before and now Villa. He stirs up an atmosphere. Villa Park can buzz when it gets going and Stevie has tapped into that already.

Honestly, it can be a goosebump stadium and is a perfect arena for Stevie to thrive. A few games stick out from my time there — definitely the derbies, like when Dion Dublin headbutted Robbie Savage. It was electric that night. The same when we beat Chelsea in the Carling Cup. There have not been enough of them like that and Stevie is getting that going again.

The signing of Philippe Coutinho benefits that enormously. I love him as a footballer. A genius. I spoke to Jack Grealish last year and he was saying how watching videos of Coutinho would help him before games. There are not many players who are studied by their peers. 

I really enjoy watching Steven Gerrard’s teams — Rangers and Villa. He stirs up an atmosphere

I really enjoy watching Steven Gerrard’s teams — Rangers and Villa. He stirs up an atmosphere

I really enjoy watching Steven Gerrard’s teams — Rangers and Villa. He stirs up an atmosphere

The signing of Philippe Coutinho benefits that enormously. I love him as a footballer. A genius

The signing of Philippe Coutinho benefits that enormously. I love him as a footballer. A genius

The signing of Philippe Coutinho benefits that enormously. I love him as a footballer. A genius



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