He was spending long mornings and afternoons watching football, analysing football, planning for his next job wherever it might be, and she found herself telling him to give himself a break and do something — anything — else.
Instead, he ended up being roped — not too reluctantly, it seemed — into coaching the football team at their daughter’s primary school on the Wirral.
“It was hilarious,” Montse recalled. “He stood there on the touchline and shouted at them as if it was the first division, waving his arms around.”
Benitez insists his instructions from the touchline were more measured than that. His recollection is that the other school had a big goalkeeper whose long kicks were causing trouble and that “his” team had a particularly talented left-footed player who was struggling to get into the game at centre-forward.
So, at half-time, he suggested the coach make a couple of tweaks, putting one player in the area where the goalkeeper’s kicks kept landing and switching the left-footer onto the wing where he might have more joy against the opposition’s small right-back. “They did it and they won,” he explained a few years ago, with a shrug.
It is a story that says a lot about Benitez: about his obsession with football and in particular his long-held belief that there is no on-pitch problem that cannot be solved by a tactical reshuffle here or a tweak there.
In Liverpool’s playing system under Jurgen Klopp, Fabinho is the shield. He sits in front of the two central defenders and helps solidify the defence as full-backs get forward.
“The main principle we have is, no matter what system the opposition play, we always have two centre-backs around the halfway line and Fabinho should always be screening that,” Trent Alexander-Arnold recently told The Athletic when explaining how Liverpool operate.
This style of play makes it less likely that Fabinho will score from open play. It is for this reason his Liverpool goalscoring tally is seven in 145 games.
During the 2019-20 season, Fabinho scored twice from outside of the box against Manchester City and Crystal Palace. His only goal before those strikes arrived against Newcastle United on Boxing Day in 2018.
Having waited 319 days to score his second Liverpool goal, Fabinho celebrated his hit against City by pointing at his wrist as if to say “about time”.
In the 2020-21 season, Fabinho failed to score in his 42 appearances but did play centre-back 24 times.
Things have changed. Fabinho ended his drought against Leeds United in September.
Life was good in Syria. They had a roof over their head and there was always food on the table, much of it grown in the field next to their home.
But then it all changed. As civil war broke out in 2011 and then escalated, the airstrikes started and the bombs started to fall on Daraa, Aleppo and towns and cities across Syria.
“Our house was demolished,” Weam tells The Athletic through an interpreter. “The strike was direct on our house. We were in the shelter, underground, because we knew there were bombs coming. We were in the basement.”
In desperation, fearing for their lives, they fled Syria nine years ago. Some made the same journey on foot, walking for days on end, sleeping rough. Some of them froze to death on the treacherous, unforgiving trek across the mountains.
Weam and her family were luckier — “A guy hid us in the back of his car” — and were driven out of the war zone, across the mountains, into Lebanon and eventually here to a refugee camp in the Beqa’a Valley, where the barren landscape is broken up by neat rows of tents.
When they arrived here, the sense of relief and, fleetingly, hope was overwhelming. But those emotions have faded as the years have passed, the conflict back home has continued and the plight of the Syrian refugees has been largely forgotten or ignored.
The Al Yasmine refugee camp was established in conjunction with the Lebanese government in 2016 as an emergency measure to house a small number of the 1.5 million Syrians who had fled across the border. It was never intended as a permanent settlement, as was made clear when the order came through to demolish the concrete and wooden structures the refugees had built there.
“All three are geniuses. They gave a masterclass in football coaching.”
Fulham fans might remember Hoogland from his relatively brief spell at Craven Cottage in 2014-15. Bundesliga observers will remember him as a solid right-back who spent the best part of 14 seasons in the top two tiers of German football. Champions League completists might recall him as the man who scored Schalke’s goal in the away leg of a 2013-14 last-16 tie against Real Madrid.
But arguably more notable than all of those things is that Hoogland is, as far as The Athletic can work out, the only man to have played under the three “geniuses” he mentions: Ralf Rangnick, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel.
The trio of Germans that currently occupy three of the most significant jobs in English football are inextricably linked. Rangnick influenced and was a contemporary of Klopp. Tuchel followed in the footsteps of Klopp by being head coach of first Mainz and then Borussia Dortmund. And Tuchel’s coaching career started when Rangnick gave him a job in the Stuttgart youth set-up. They remain probably the most influential coaches of a generation in their homeland.
A rare gift then, to have played under and learned from all three. Hoogland began his senior career with Schalke, where he made his Bundesliga debut under Rangnick in 2005. A couple of years later, he was persuaded to drop down to Bundesliga 2 by Klopp, who was trying to take his Mainz side back to the top tier after relegation at the end of 2006-07. And then, when Klopp left in 2008, Tuchel took over after Jorn Anderson’s year-long spell in charge and Hoogland was part of the Mainz side that did finally win promotion.
Next up in this Sensible Transfers series, it’s Liverpool and the search for someone to further enhance their firepower…
Barring a late change of heart, Liverpool won’t be adding to their forward options during the January transfer window.
In the absence of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane due to the Africa Cup of Nations, Jurgen Klopp is relying on Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Takumi Minamino to step up and deliver. Divock Origi’s comeback from injury should also help ease the goal burden before the cavalry return from Cameroon.
However, come the summer, Liverpool will be looking to enhance their attacking department. There is much to sort out. Not least the contract situations of Salah, Mane and Firmino, who could be entering their final year by then. Do you run the risk of losing any of them for nothing in 2023?
Unless Origi plays enough games between now and May to trigger an extra 12 months on his contract, he will be a free agent and the Belgian will need to be replaced.
The Liverpool midfielder had grasped his chance after being handed a recall by Jurgen Klopp. He had effectively ended the contest with his first Premier League goal for seven months to seal a morale-boosting victory over Brentford.
“I told you!” he bellowed at Andy Robertson while grinning from ear to ear before the duo warmly embraced. Having stuck an arm in the air and urged the left-back to find him at the far post, Oxlade-Chamberlain ensured a pinpoint delivery got the finish it deserved with a diving header in front of the Kop. The reaction from both his team-mates and the staff on the touchline told you everything about the esteem in which he’s held.
Yet within a couple of minutes, the feel-good factor inside Anfield was dented by the sight of Oxlade-Chamberlain limping off after turning his ankle. He disappeared down the tunnel shaking his head in frustration. Another bout of misfortune. Klopp described it as “a shadow” on what was otherwise a day full of positives for Liverpool.
“We hope it’s nothing serious but it’s too early to say,” Klopp said. “That’s the life of a footballer. It could have happened to anyone.”
Jurgen Klopp said this week that he feels “very positive” about Liverpool’s contract talks with Mohammed Salah. “There are, I think, enough reasons for being pretty positive,” he said. “‘Good conversations’ — that’s what I could say. These things take time. Nobody has to worry. It’s just the situation.”
That mention of “good conversations” is encouraging. It is not like, for example, the situation between Paul Pogba and Manchester United, where contract talks have taken place against a backdrop of dissatisfaction on both sides. It is not like the situation Klopp encountered at Borussia Dortmund when relations with Robert Lewandowski’s agents collapsed in the final year of his deal as it became clear they were lining up a move to Bayern Munich.
There have been a few escalations over the course of Salah’s contract negotiations with Liverpool — a flirtatious and seemingly strategically placed interview with a Madrid-based newspaper, a few indiscreet tweets from his lawyer and advisor, the interview GQ published this week with Salah, in which he said, “It’s in their hands”, “They know what I want,” and “I’m not asking for crazy stuff” — but nothing damaging.
For starters, Graham Potter really should be in contention for a big job soon.
But there was a little bit about Manchester City and Liverpool that highlights just how difficult it is to play against them these days, but also how our ideas of what pressing is can be confused sometimes.
“The most noteworthy thing on the defence-against side is how incredibly hard it is to press Manchester City and Liverpool — or more likely how rare it is for opponents to even try,” our man John Muller wrote.
The graphic below shows what Premier League teams do in defensive situations, and what their opponents do against them. Basically, teams that score highest on a given stat go to the right of the white dotted line and the lowest to the left.
When looking at what teams do against City and Liverpool, you’ll usually see their crests to the far left of the line, which means teams generally don’t or can’t do a certain thing against them.
The pressing data comes from Statsbomb, published on FBref, and basically describes high pressing: how often a defender closes down the ball-carrier outside their defensive third. The formula is pressures and tackles per 100 attempted passes against (and that denominator is important because more pass attempts against means more opportunity to close down).
The first real test since their elite attacking duo flew off to the Africa Cup of Nations was the epitome of frustration as Jurgen Klopp’s side fired blanks at Anfield for the first time in nine months. Klopp struck a defiant tone as he spoke about it only being half-time in the tie.
“It’s 0-0 and, even though Arsenal probably feel in a better position, we don’t feel this tie is over for us so we will give it another proper try,” he said. “We know we can play better and we know we have to play better.”
Triumph at the Emirates Stadium next Thursday and the memories of this drab first leg will immediately pale into insignificance.
The manner in which Liverpool failed to capitalise on having an extra man for over an hour on home turf, following the dismissal of Granit Xhaka, won’t be damaging if they book themselves a Wembley date with Chelsea.
But if they fall short of the showpiece final then fingers will be pointed at an error-strewn performance largely devoid of quality and littered with dreadful decision making.
Here was a reminder that Liverpool haven’t only lost goals with Salah, Mane and Naby Keita away on international duty this month.
You are not quite ready to start traipsing around places yet, so you start your search online and you quickly find something that looks right up your street and is just about within budget.
Hold on, what’s this? The same place on a different website for 15 per cent more? Oh no, it’s on this other website for 70 per cent more? Woah, here is something saying the owner will only listen to offers of twice as much as the first price! How much does this place cost? Can I choose the price I like?
Now imagine you are a Gulf state, hedge-fund boss or oligarch and you want to buy Tottenham Hotspur. Well, the club’s price tag follows the same path as your dream home.
In its most recent club valuation report, published last January, global financial services firm KPMG used its “proprietary algorithm” to give Tottenham a value of just under £1.5 billion, making them the ninth most valuable in world football.
But three months later, US business magazine Forbes released its annual list of the 20 most valuable football clubs. It had Spurs in 10th place but for a price closer to £1.7 billion. Pretty close.
However, a year before, using numbers not skewed by COVID-19, the University of Liverpool’s football finance expert Kieran Maguire applied a bespoke valuation method to all 20 teams in the Premier League. This equation spat out a valuation of almost £2.
“We have been trying to sign him since last summer, it has not been easy, other clubs were interested,” Bartomeu continued as Coutinho smiled shyly next to him on the podium. “The important thing is he wanted to come here, and has made a big effort to come here. One of the best players in the world is joining our club, and we are very happy.”
That welcome has not aged well.
Flush with the money from selling Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record €222 million the previous summer, Barcelona could have targeted any player they wanted.
They fixed their gaze on Coutinho, and would not let go until Liverpool had haggled the fee up to €120 million, plus another €40 million in add-ons. For all that money, Barcelona have so far got 106 games, 25 goals, and 14 assists. Coutinho helped them win five trophies, and scored in a Copa del Rey final, and in a 5-1 La Liga Clasico victory over Real Madrid.
But the move has actually been a disaster, for the club and the player.
Coutinho is generally seen as the biggest transfer mistake in Barcelona’s entire 122-year history — a symbol of the worst presidency the club have ever had, and personally associated in different ways with two of the team’s most painful nights of all time.
At different times he was billed as a replacement for Neymar, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. But in no moment did he ever really step up and become a decisive or important player for the team.
The urgent need for defensive reinforcements in the wake of an injury crisis led to the surprise arrival of Steven Caulker on loan from Championship club Queens Park Rangers.
Marko Grujic had been bought for £5.1 million from Red Star Belgrade but under the terms of the deal the young Serbian midfielder would stay put until the summer.
Having had time to assess the squad he inherited from Brendan Rodgers, Klopp also wanted an injection of firepower.
Strikers Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Danny Ings all had fitness problems, while Christian Benteke was out of favour having struggled to adapt to the new manager’s style of play.
Following discussions between Klopp and the club’s recruitment staff, it was agreed Liverpool would pursue Shakhtar Donetsk’s Alex Teixeira. He had been scouted extensively and the German was a big admirer.
The hope was that the prolific Brazilian attacker, who had scored 26 goals in 25 games in all competitions that season, would become the first major signing of the Klopp era. News of Liverpool’s interest created a buzz among supporters who were craving a show of ambition in the transfer market.
Just over a week before deadline day, chief executive Ian Ayre flew to Shakhtar’s warm-weather training camp in Florida to conduct negotiations. An offer of £24.6 million was tabled.
Teixeira was a childhood friend of Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho. They had previously played together in the youth ranks at Vasco da Gama. He was desperate for them to be reunited at Anfield.
He had also attracted interest from
Nobody would have guessed it going off the 17-year-old’s energetic performance, particularly in the first half of Liverpool’s 4-1 win.
The academy winger, who had recently recovered from COVID-19, was making his second appearance for the club following his debut away to Norwich City in the League Cup in September.
Signed a year ago in February, the former Derby County player hogged the touchline on the right side of the attack, giving Nathanael Ogbeta and George Nurse plenty to contend with.
Gordon raced up and down his flank, making the £1.1 million fee (potentially rising to £3.4 million) Liverpool paid for him look like a steal.
Make no mistake, Gordon is a winger, but his natural inclination is to drift infield and for his first professional goal, which cancelled out Daniel Udoh’s opener, he did exactly that.
Gordon collected Conor Bradley’s low cross on his left foot before sending Josh Vela hurtling past him with a second touch, this time on his right. Then, it was back onto his left to finish beyond Marko Marosi and become the club’s second-youngest goalscorer (behind Ben Woodburn).
On the pitch, he was surrounded by his team-mates. In a box in the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand, going crazy, was Kaide’s mum Joanne, his older brothers Keldon and Kellan and their uncle James. Seated across the way in the Main Stand was their grandma Mary, accompanied by her husband Dave.
“When he scored we went mental. All of us were going crazy,” Kellan Gordon, the 24-year-old Mansfield Town defender, tells The Athletic. “Me and Keldon were going mad, jumping up and down with our arms around each other.
“We really want to be a proper goalkeeping school in world football,” said the manager. “We want to build our own philosophy in goalkeeping because we all agree it’s its own game.”
Many wondered what it would mean for Liverpool’s long-serving goalkeeping coach John Achterberg. The answer was a new contract until 2024 and reassurance from Klopp that he would remain in charge of a department that also includes first-team assistant goalkeeping coach Jack Robinson.
Six weeks on, The Athletic sat down with Achterberg to discuss Taffarel’s impact, what’s changed, the development of the club’s keepers and the detail behind Klopp’s stated mission to create “a proper goalkeeping school”.
“Taffa is a bubbly guy and he’s settled in well. I’ve known him for a while,” says Achterberg.
“I first met him when I went to watch the Brazilian national team train at Tottenham’s training ground not long after Ali joined us in 2018. We welcomed him from the first day here. He brings a lot of energy to the team, which is good.”
Six goalkeepers train with Liverpool’s first-team squad on a permanent basis.
At Oldham Athletic, Lee Croft was one of his team-mates and Croft — once of Manchester City — loved the craic as much as McLaughlin. When McLaughlin joined Rochdale in 2019, Croft fired off a text message to Rochdale’s senior striker Ian Henderson telling him that the club’s new signing only answered to people who call him “Becks”.
McLaughlin walked into an unfamiliar dressing room and from the first day, “everyone was calling me ‘Becks’.” That was aside from the old-school manager, Keith Hill, who referred to him by his first name. Hill was under pressure at the time and when he was quickly sacked, Brian Barry-Murphy was appointed as his replacement. He had been the first-team coach. “By then, he’d been calling me ‘Becks’ for a month or so, so he had to stick with it. There was no way back.”
In a League One match, in October 2020, McLaughlin would face his older brother Conor, who was at Sunderland. “After the game, Conor told me that the Sunderland players were talking in the dressing room about ‘Becks’. They didn’t know who the Rochdale players were shouting at. Conor told them it was me and they were like, ‘What? He looks nothing like him!’”
It has, at least, given him an ironic identity on Call of Duty — which he sometimes plays with
Arsenal — Kanu (Nigeria)
Arsenal have been blessed with a number of excellent African players over the years. Arsene Wenger was a champion of African talent, and brought the likes of Lauren, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to the club. Patrick Vieira would come into consideration, had he chosen to represent Senegal, the country of his birth, rather than France. However, the crown of Arsenal’s African icon can only be bestowed on one man: King Kanu.
There was a time it was feared Kanu would have to stop playing before he even joined Arsenal. Tests shortly after joining Inter Milan in 1996 revealed he had an overloaded left ventricle caused by a deformed aortic valve.
Signing him for Arsenal, then, was a gamble — one reflected in a low transfer fee of just £4.15 million. Curiously enough, the player Wenger compared Kanu to at his unveiling was Alan Smith — a goalscorer but also a target man, someone capable of making other players shine.
In truth, comparing Kanu to anyone was perhaps a fool’s errand: he was astonishingly unique. Tall, lanky, but with great upper body strength, and gifted with extraordinary footwork, he was a challenge Premier League central defenders had never quite faced before. Although he was not often a first-choice player, his contributions were always memorable.
Barcelona were touting around the Brazilian, desperately hoping to get his £15 million-a-year salary off their books so they could stay under La Liga’s salary cap and register his eight-years-younger £55 million replacement Ferran Torres following his move from Manchester City.
Other Premier League clubs were willing to discuss terms but Villa have pushed hard and aggressively to get a deal over the line.
As the finer details were being ironed out, Coutinho reached out to former team-mates and fellow Brazilians already in the Premier League to discuss the history of Villa and the city of Birmingham.
Then, early on Friday morning, once negotiations were completed, the 29-year-old began his journey back to England — the country where he dazzled in a Liverpool shirt from January 2013 until his move to Barcelona five years later — to start a new chapter in his career.
Coutinho is with Villa until the end of this season when his longer-term future will be discussed.
They have an option to buy him in the summer for £33 million, but it is not an obligation. Villa have also taken on a sizeable chunk of his wages — believed to be around £240,000-a-week — and were convinced to take on that huge outlay after hearing Coutinho’s desire to make a difference again after what has been a third straight largely lost season for him with Barcelona.
“My dad was in there so I thought I was in trouble,” the Cambridge United defender tells The Athletic. “I thought, ‘Oh no, here we go’. Then he just said, ‘Liverpool want to sign you’.”
From there, it all happened fast for Jones, who was 15 at the time.
He travelled to Merseyside and spent three days completing his move to the club. He explains how his boyhood side Plymouth Argyle were going through a rough time financially and had sold the teenager, who had been training with Peter Reid’s first-team, for £150,000.
It has failed to slow down since for the now-26-year-old who was plucked from his Year 10 classroom over a decade ago.
While trying to climb the ladder at Liverpool, Jones was loaned out on four occasions to Cheltenham Town, Accrington Stanley, Blackpool and Swindon Town and there have been issues with the law too off the pitch.
Today he should have been lining up for Cambridge for their visit to Newcastle United in the FA Cup but a groin injury — that required minor surgery — means he misses out, not for the first time in his career.
It was at Blackpool where he suffered a double injury in the closing stages of a 2-0 win at home to Chesterfield in September 2015. This derailed the progress he had been making at Bloomfield Road — in a struggling Blackpool team, he had stood out.
“I went up for a header in the last minute and it was a complete car crash,” he recalls. “I did my knee and ankle at the same time, which is quite rare. I landed funny in literally the last 10 seconds of the game and had to have two operations on my knee and one on my ankle.
Hi David. Regarding Manchester City, is there a list of names that they’re looking at in the striker position? Rehan S
City do not intend to recruit anybody in January, Rehan, but come the summer we should certainly expect business to be conducted. They are likely to sign a left-back and central midfielder but the most significant outlay will most probably be directed towards a striker.
My understanding is that City’s first-choice target is Erling Haaland and while the competition for his signature is sure to be fierce, the reigning Premier League champions will push hard to secure the prolific Borussia Dortmund forward.
City are planning to hold meetings with Haaland’s representatives over the weeks and months ahead, yet whether or not the 21-year-old Norwegian opts for a move to the Etihad Stadium is a different matter.
There is a feeling that Real Madrid pose the biggest threat to City, but if the Spaniards manage to acquire Kylian Mbappe, it could dissuade Haaland from following suit. Multiple sources dismiss Barcelona’s ability to mount a serious challenge and although Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain are potential destinations, City may be confident of providing a more enticing proposition.
That is the view of Gotham FC head coach Scott Parkinson on new Liverpool Women striker Katie Stengel, who becomes the club’s first signing of the January transfer window.
“She can play on the shoulder and run it in behind,” he continues. “She’s also a player that if you can just get the ball into her, whether that is from a pass or cross, she will turn and finish pretty quickly. She’s a great finisher.”
Parkinson, who is originally from Liverpool himself, knows what a gifted striker Stengel is. He coached the Florida-born striker during his time with now-dissolved National Women’s Soccer League outfit Utah Royals. Stengel had joined Utah in the dispersal draft from the Boston Breakers, which are also now defunct and where she had played under current Liverpool boss Matt Beard.
The 29-year-old is being backed by Parkinson to tear it up in the Championship, with Liverpool looking strongly placed to make their return to the Women’s Super League at the second time of asking.
“She is really, really strong. If she can keep her body in between the defender and the ball then they have very little chance of winning the ball off her or nipping around her to win it,” Parkinson says. “She’s very good technically. She can pass, hold it up, she has got a little drop of the shoulder and a couple of moves in her. She’s an unorthodox, strong, technical footballer with an eye for goal.
“For her height and physical capability, she is very smooth on the ball,” Parkinson explains when asked what he means by unorthodox.