“Liverpool had their share of bad luck… but Benitez has spent five years making his own luck… Also-rans tend to get what they deserve. No matter who they are” – Rory Smith

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “This will have no bearing on Rafa whatsoever. He signed a new five-year deal four months ago and in those terms he is four months into a five-year journey. You don’t deviate from long‑term plans for people and the way to take the club to the next level because of two late goals against Lyon, and that’s what it boils down to… We budget for a level of performance that maybe fans would not like to be at, it’s prudent. If we have three home games in the Europa League we are equivalent to what we budget for in the Champions League. We are very disappointed but we could have played one home leg, one away leg and been out. I like to think we’ll be taking 40 or 50,000 fans to Hamburg in May and if we get halfway to doing that we will make more money than we would from one round in the Champions League. It is a missed opportunity financially but it has no effect on budgeted performance, and that’s the key thing. Budget prudently and then you don’t get negative surprises if football doesn’t go the right way.”  – Liverpool managing director, Christian Purslow.

Runner-up: “I’m shocked, especially as I had a good relationship with the manager. He brought me to the club and helped revive my career. That was the same with a lot of the players. I have spoken to a few of the lads and we all feel sorry for him. A lot has happened over the last few months with players not getting paid and people from outside the club hammering us. Paul tried his best to keep the players together and persuade them to give 100 per cent. I am very upset because it is easy to blame the manager. If we lose a game we get changed and go home and life goes on but he gets sacked. It’s not fair.” – Kevin Prince Boateng.


Today’s overview: Liverpool’s Champions League dreams are over this season, and the Merseysider’s woes are trawled over by the fourth estate.

Looking to understand where it all went wrong is Kevin McCarra. “No one would seriously propose that Benítez has resources of the depth to be found at, say, Manchester United or Chelsea. In the minds of the fans it is infuriating to witness that contrast even if the inability to take the title since the inception of the Premier League has emphasised the discrepancy of means for many years.”

Adopting a more finger-pointing approach, Richard Williams concludes “the trouble with Liverpool under Benítez is that they produce results in big matches only when goaded to a frenzy by the consequences of their own earlier inadequacies.” On a similar note, Richard Neale chimes in with the stats that “Benitez’s record this season in all competitions is: P 20 W9 D3 L8. His side are bereft of confidence and ripe for the taking in Sunday’s Merseyside derby if only Everton’s squad was not so racked with injury.”

Continuing to point out Benitez’s failure is Rory Smith. “True, they have had their share of bad luck… but Benítez has spent five years making his own luck. He, and his team, cannot cede responsibility now… Also-rans tend to get what they deserve. No matter who they are.”

The financial implication of Liverpool’s Champions League exit is once again assessed in the backpages, and according to the Scouse noises the monetary shortfall should not be a big concern.

Andy Hunter explains “Purslow is currently searching for new investors willing to meet Tom Hicks’s and George Gillett’s asking price of £100m for a 25% stake in Liverpool. While that process may be complicated by demotion to the Europa League, Liverpool are expected to suffer a budgetary shortfall of only £2.4m for this season as a consequence of their group exit.” A slightly different set of numbers are forwarded by Ian Herbert, writing “the immediate financial cost to them is as little as £2.6m, as they had only budgeted to reach the last 16, but a longer run could have brought in millions more in revenues and helped the club’s pursuit of new equity holders and the £100m they believe they can deliver in new investment for the club.”

In a separate article, Ian Herbert explains how Liverpool’s could still hit their financial targets in the Europa League. “If Liverpool play three two-leg ties in the Europa League campaign next spring, they would expect to earn around £3m and therefore be £400,000 ahead of their budgeted European earnings for this season.”

Despite some feel confident of pricing up Liverpool’s cost of elimination, David Conn is more strategic is concluding “it is impossible to calculate precisely the financial cost to Liverpool of their dire failure to qualify for the Champions League knockout stage but it is safe to assess it as several million pounds the club could have seriously done without losing.” Following suit, Henry Winter advises his readers to “forget the financial cost of this collapse, the millions Liverpool will not make from continued feasting at football’s top table. It is the emotional price that will prove most substantial, the painful realisation that they are now amongst Europe’s also-rans.”

Picking up on the ‘also-rans’ sentiment, Martin Samuel pooh-poohs Liverpool’s participation in the Europa League. “Ignore what Jamie Carragher says about it not being such a bad thing: the ignominy of joining the Thursday club is a humiliation that will not be easily forgotten. Remember when AC Milan went to Portsmouth? It was like seeing a once famous face reduced to doing pub gigs.”

By contrast, looking for silver linings, Andy Hunter argues that Liverpool’s defensive display against Debrecen encouraged hopes of a brighter season. “Pre-Budapest, Liverpool had kept only one clean sheet in 10 matches away from Anfield this season and that was against Leeds United of League One in the Carling Cup… It is surely no coincidence that Liverpool’s most effective holding midfielder [Javier Mascherano] has rediscovered the industry and commitment that attracted Barcelona’s interest since Argentina’s torturous qualification for the World Cup was finally assured.”

Also trying looking on the bright side, Oliver Kay suggests that Liverpool can win the Europa League. “If they emerge triumphant in the Europa League final in Hamburg next May, a prospect raised by their ever-optimistic supporters as they stood in the cold after the final whistle, last night’s anguish will seem worthwhile. But, really, it is a painful fall from grace for a team who thrashed Real Madrid 5-0 on aggregate as recently as March.”

Turning to the Premier League, the headline story this Wednesday is Portsmouth’s sacking of Paul Hart.

First to review the tenure of Hart is Jamie Jackson. “The only surprise about Portsmouth’s Paul Hart becoming the first managerial casualty of the Premier League season tonight was that it took so long. Thirteen games, of which the opening seven were lost, had passed in the usually trigger-happy world of English football’s top flight before he was sacked.” More sympathetic views come from , commenting “there will be widespread sympathy for Hart, an eminently decent man, who kept the club up against the odds last season, bringing order and discipline on and off the field after the chaotic reign of Adams had left Portsmouth in danger of relegation.”

Looking further ahead, Matt Lawton warns off perspective replacements for the Pompey hot-seat. “All candidates might yet think twice about accepting such an offer when they discover how disgracefully Hart was treated by a club that has already been badly damaged by poor leadership… [Hart] had to watch, powerless, while the majority of his best players were sold, and tried to maintain some stability when the club was the subject of takeovers and, at one stage, was late paying the players’ wages.”

Jamie Jackson then focuses on potential replacements at Fratton Park, noting “Avram Grant will be among the candidates discussed by Portsmouth… with Darren Ferguson emerging as the bookmakers’ favourite.” Henry Winter though plumps for Alan Curbishley to be handed the reigns at Fratton Park. “If Portsmouth’s board has any sense, and it is a quality not readily associated with the club in recent years, then it will turn to a manager who commands instant respect, someone like Alan Curbishley, although he is reportedly not interested.”

The chances of the 2018 World Cup returning to England look even bleaker today after yet another high profile internal fallout has undermined the British bid.

Reporting on the latest debacle, Owen Gibson and Matt Scott scribble “[Premier League chairman, Sir Dave] Richards quit the restructured board after concluding he could no longer work with Triesman, in a development that again lays bare the dysfunctional relationship between the men in suits who run English football.” More sarcastically, Matt Dickinson observed “the 2018 World Cup bid team are to unveil a new slogan to replace ‘England United — the World Invited.’ Sources have told The Times that the wording will be: ‘We hate each other’s guts over here — but please vote for us anyway.'”

At he end of his tether, Paul Kelso barks at Lord Triesman to resign. “From the outset, England’s campaign has been dogged by political interference, hampered by unconvincing leadership and undermined by wearying domestic disputes… Lord Triesman shoulders a considerable share of the blame. To have any chance of success he had to bring people with him, and so far he has failed.”

But, according to Nick Harris, England’s World Cup bid remains strong. “Damage to the bid is likely to be minor. The host nation for 2018 World Cup will be voted for in December next year by the 24 members of Fifa’s executive committee (ExCo). Even those ExCo members who are paying attention to the parochial squabbles in England (most are not), believe it largely irrelevant.”

Onto the rumours and speculation, where James Ducker kicks things off by reporting that Manchester United are battling to hold onto one of his key players. “Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, fears that he will lose Nemanja Vidic next summer. Barcelona and Real Madrid want to take Vidic to Spain while the Serbia defender is also being tracked by AC Milan in Italy. Ferguson will try to talk Vidic out of leaving, but he is understood to be genuinely concerned that the player may have had his head turned by the idea of a move to the Continent.”

It’s not all bad news for Manchester United though, as Mark Ogden trumpets “Sir Alex Ferguson is aiming to lure Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik to Manchester United next summer… Napoli are likely to demand a fee of £25m for a player whose value could escalate on the back of a successful World Cup. ”

Moving to London, Antony Kastrinakis farts “Arsene Wenger is eyeing up a £14million summer move for the new Thierry Henry. SunSport can reveal the Arsenal boss wants to bring in Nice striker Loic Remy.” The Sun follow that up with the requisite Spurs’ rumour, which today claims “Tottenham are poised to make a move for Honduras ace Melvin Valladares. The 25-year-old striker, who plays for Real Espana in his homeland, was recommended to Spurs by fellow countryman Wilson Palacios.”