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Football: Blood Red - Sky's the limit for prophets of doom; How dare fans back Reds in hour of need!

Byline: CHRIS BASCOMBE

HOW long will it take to get over the trauma of Tuesday night? Hopefully, 90 minutes if Liverpool beat Watford.

But as supporters regain their composure after a humiliating week, how comforting to know others will continue to get angry on The Kop's behalf.

The absence of a public execution at full-time on Tuesday is a grave concern to those who feel a riot is justified whenever Liverpool lose.

There was even an absurd claim by one scribe that the real problem at Anfield is the fans, who are too slow to maul their manager and players when they fail.

How dare you sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' when your side is losing 6-3. Haven't you read the song sheets on offer around the rest of the country, where poetic lyricists slave over ditties about sacking managers, boards and players?

Thank goodness you have Sky Sports News TV reporters working diligently to find someone who'll speak on behalf of those who don't agree with the thousands of hardcore fans on The Kop and will demand for Rafa Benitez to go. The real voices of Anfield, to be sure.

Yes, the cameras may have to dump 100 or so interviews with supporters who'll speak logically and reasonably about the current situation in order to find those three barely coherent Irishmen they did to attack Benitez, but their motives can't be questioned.

After all, they've got Charlie Nicholas working for them, and everyone knows what a big red he is.

"Benitez goes on about the Champions League and FA Cup win, but that's history," Charlie, who isn't at all sour about failing to sign for the club in the 1980s, keeps reminding us.

How right he is. It was all of eight months ago Benitez lifted the last trophy to be presented to an English club, and a full year earlier the greatest cup competition in Europe was secured. Could he spend pounds 100m on a team capable of getting a 1-1 draw with Wycombe? And what's he actually won since May, apart from the Charity Shield, which doesn't count?

You can't use this as a basis for saying he's a great manager, especially when his team is only ahead of magnificent Arsenal in the Premiership by one lousy point, and only narrowly finished above Arsene Wenger's side last season, too.

Besides, everyone knows all Benitez did in 2005 was pick the team, decide the tactics and buy the player who scored the goals which took Liverpool to the final. Didn't actually play in the game like Sir Alex in 1999, did he?

Benitez is following tradition because Gerard Houllier had nothing to do with 2001 either. In fact, didn't Kenny Dalglish win the double with Joe Fagan's team, Fagan do the treble with Paisley's players, and wasn't everything Paisley did down to his inheritance? The obvious conclusion is the last manager who actually had influence on winning a trophy was Bill Shankly.

Thanks to the Sky team for battling for this truth on the fans' behalf. They have to in order to compete with BBC TV who, as Ferguson so correctly pointed out 17 years ago, is run by Kopites.

The bias seeps through every broadcast of Match of the Day.

Whenever Liverpool win a game, such as their fabulous victory at Spurs a few weeks ago, you can lay bets the Reds will get the much sought after, prized schedule at five to midnight.

That's the bit where they pile the two remaining fixtures together and Mark Lawrenson and Alan Hansen are spared the embarrassment of analysing and discussing how well their former club has performed.

What we all really want from Jocky and Lawro is the continuing undermining of Benitez, slaughtering him after every major defeat and completely ignoring the ongoing, major issues which are at the core of Liverpool's recent past, the present and the future.

And the last thing we needed from either of them was to use their platform as high profile former players to raise awareness of the protest ahead of the Arsenal game last weekend - particularly if they'd been ordered not to by their BBC producers. They have their pride, you know.

To be fair to Hansen, his love of Liverpool is unquestionable, but there is a growing sense Benitez's decision not to employ a former Anfield hero to his senior coaching staff has caused him far more grief earlier in his reign than his predecessor ever had.

Houllier's paranoia about the former players was legendary, and God forbid Benitez will explore similar territory by lashing out in similar style.

But of the two, Benitez has far more reason to complain.

The presence of Phil Thompson alongside Houllier undoubtedly bought the Frenchman more initial toleration, and only in the latter part of the reign did the criticism reach the kind of level Benitez has been subjected to, most notably from those ex-players who earn a living on the national broadcast media.

Steve Heighway's ECHO interview this week included numerous points of interest, and one of the most perceptive points regarded the fundamental dishonesty within the game which he felt was perpetuated by Sky.

They're in the business of promoting their product. Football is for sale by them. Their real concern is subscription fees, and everyone they employ has a duty to speak in histrionics. When big clubs like Liverpool don't perform well, they're not worrying about the impact on the club, or reporting events in a sensible, considered way.

They're concerned about making sure there's enough hype and dramatic fall-out around to attract viewers to their daily coverage - and today's pay-per-view fixture.

When Liverpool win, Sky win. If they lose, Sky win.

CAPTION(S):

MASSIVE INFLUENCE: Did Rafa Benitez have nothing to do with Reds' cup triumphs in 2005 and 2006?
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 13, 2007
Words:970
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