Liverpool winger Albert Riera has attacked manager Rafael Benitez, accusing the Spaniard of being unable to interact with his players correctly and thinking that he is aloof from them. Riera, who has featured to a much lesser extent this season than his breakthrough effort last season, told Radio Marca: “When the coach says nothing to you and you are well, with no physical problems and training well, you cannot help but think it must be something personal. I’ve been here two years and I know how he is. He’s never sorted out a situation with a player by talking with him. He thinks he’s in charge and everything else falls on deaf ears. His dialogue with the players is practically nil.”
Riera’s rash comments are a damning indictment of Benitez’ already questioned status as Liverpool manager – despite an important Europa League win last night, this news will have been an unwelcome wake-up call for Benitez who will know that with Liverpool facing an uphill struggle to make anything of this season, the dressing room has to have the right atmosphere. With club captain Steven Gerrard looking like an increasingly frustrated figure on the field with two recent acts of petulance, and with Fernando Torres being touted as a summer departure, Benitez will want to try and minimise the importance of Riera’s comments. For a player that wants to play often, the timing and content of Riera’s rant seems to be poorly calculated. He said: “I would like to be here for the rest of my career, but players live to play. My objective is to go to the World Cup and for this I have to play. Right now the only market open is the Russian one, I have offers from two teams and, looking at my situation, that has made me reflect a lot.” Managers tend to react badly to criticism from players so it appears that Riera will be have worsened his call to start appearing more frequently this season – Benitez’ immediate punishment, a suspension and fine, has intimated that Riera is living out his last days at Liverpool.
In the world of sport, dressing room and harmony in camp is an absolute must. Any sign of discontent can have an extremely derisory effect – in golf, for instance, high-profile golfer Tiger Woods has often said that he expects caddie, Steve Williams, to do his job without speaking to the press about their relationship. Football is no different. In 2008, during the drawn out ‘Gareth Barry to Liverpool’ transfer saga, Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill terminated the contract of Patrick Berger after the former Liverpool player told the Press that he felt a move to Liverpool would be an opportunity Barry would be daft to pass up on. Joe Kinnear and Charles N’Zogbia also fell out during the former’s short tenure, with Kinnear ending the dispute by saying: “There was not a day when he didn’t have some Mickey Mouse story about some club that wanted him.” Subsequently, both manager and player have left Newcastle, an event that is looking increasingly possible at Liverpool. Whether Benitez walks or is pushed remains to be seen but his position as a favourite amongst fans is becoming threatened as Liverpool struggle to gain Champions League qualification. Benitez, who made the now infamous rant towards Sir Alex Ferguson about ‘facts’, will currently be musing upon the idea of getting rid of Riera as soon as he can – Riera has not featured often this season and appears to be behind several players in the Liverpool pecking order.
If Riera is to leave, he will assumedly get his wish of first team football in a far afield league but, any move from Liverpool this season will be a move down in quality and may not get him into the already crowded Spanish midfield slots for the World Cup. Perhaps in hindsight, the former Espanyol winger should have kept his thoughts in house but now, after leaving dirt on his own doorstep, his return to training will undoubtedly be met with a volatile response from boss Benitez. This event should be a lesson to all players that as good as it is to be seen to have passion for the cause, criticising the manager will always have a derogative effect on the team and on the individual, as Riera will soon find out.