No SWP, 2 strikers & a RM - names unknown, goodbye Cisse, Moro}
We've done it the hard way
May 16 2006
EXCLUSIVE By Chris Bascombe, Liverpool Echo
THE scale of Rafa Benitez's achievement to date, and challenge ahead, was underlined as he and his side accepted the accolades of their adoring public for the second consecutive May.
While Liverpool's manager and players spoke in determined fashion about the Premiership title being next on their hitlist, others were revealing their intention to sign Michael Ballack and Andrei Shevchenko.
Benitez can only dream of recruiting such high profile names, but rather than become demoralised by the way his rivals pluck the ripest fruits from football's grapevine, the Reds boss says his club has already shown strategic transfers are as important as record-breaking ones.
In fact, Benitez argues those clubs who achieve success in an era which, logically, ought to be dominated by the biggest spenders in world football are justifiably given more credit for their achievement.
"I hear some people say they never get the credit they deserve when they win trophies, but there are some achievements which are more valuable than others," said Benitez.
"I congratulate teams like Wigan and West Ham who have done very well with no money to spend, and I think there is more value in our success in the last two years because we've done it without being able to go out and buy the most expensive players in the world. That's harder.
"I won't be going away this summer saying we are the best club or that I am the best manager, but it's important people understand how hard my staff and players have had to work for this success because it's not been easy for us. If we get a lot of credit, it's because as a club we deserve it."
Benitez's transfer plans will be discussed at a routine, end of season board meeting this Thursday, as more high profile ins and outs are expected this summer.
Mark Gonzalez, Gabriel Paletta and Fabio Aurelio are the first new faces Benitez hopes to parade before pre-season, with two of those deals officially confirmed and the other awaiting formalities.
Two strikers and a right midfielder are also top of the agenda, with the list in the Spaniard's possession prompting a daily guessing game.
"We have a saying in Spain if you shoot enough bullets at all the targets, you might get lucky and hit the right one eventually," is Benitez's response to the various players he's been linked with to date.
The likes of Craig Bellamy, Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe have been discussed, but Benitez sees pros and cons in each of them and knows he can buy cheaper, more technically gifted strikers abroad.
He's also weighing up how much he'll have to spend, with some of those names requiring more wheeling and dealing to bring to the club than others.
The suggestion he'd pay as much as £12m for Bent, for example, can be dismissed out of hand.
Similarly, despite claims Shaun Wright-Phillips could leave Chelsea for Liverpool, the Reds see no prospect of Jose Mourinho agreeing such a transfer. Wright-Phillips is not top of Benitez's wanted list for the right side of midfield anyway. His main target for this position plays in Europe.
Benitez may also need a back-up keeper if Jerzy Dudek or Scott Carson move on.
"I will be going to the Champions League Final and then enjoying a holiday with my family," said Benitez on his immediate plans.
"I'd prefer to bring in new players before the World Cup, but it's not always possible. We may have to wait, but my staff are working hard.
"We've been thinking about the future throughout the season and now we will do so even more because the season is over.
"It's clear to everyone we've made a lot of progress, and now the idea is to take the next step."
The summer departures are often as eye-catching as the arrivals.
Benitez's intention to sell Djibril Cisse is an open secret, with the main issue being who'll buy the striker and how much of their £14m the Reds can get back.
Fernando Morientes' surprise omission from the Spanish World Cup squad won't help his or Liverpool's cause in attracting buyers.
Benitez will listen to offers for the forward who has clearly failed to settle in England.
The Spaniard was already back at his desk yesterday morning, paving the way for a busy closed season, but also reflecting on a weekend which underlined to him how his fans crave more success as much as him.
Benitez is glowing in his praise for the supporters who turned out in their thousands on Sunday to welcome the players home.
He said: "It would have been a lot easier for the fans if the parade was taking place on a nice day, but considering the bad weather it was even more amazing to see so many of our supporters come to see us.
"There was one youngster who must have ran alongside the bus for 15 minutes singing 'Rafa Benitez'. When you see this, you realise what it means to our supporters.
"When I joined Liverpool from Valencia, I knew how special our fans were, but since I've been here I've realised it even more.
"The last time I saw fans like this was in Tenerife when we won promotion, and everyone was so happy.
"I told one of my friends from Tenerife this was exactly the same only on a bigger scale. Now we want to win a lot more for them, for the club and for ourselves."