Benitez is angry

In Athens, Rafael Benitez's tactics made scant sense. How in the name of logic could he leave out entirely a player with the electric pace of Craig Bellamy, when Milan's Achilles heel surely lay in the age of their defenders?

Having arguably contributed to Liverpool's recent defeat in the European Cup final in Athens, their Spanish manager Rafa Benitez proceeded to throw his toys out of the pram; and threatened to resign if he were now unable as he put it to "spend big". His English remains somewhat halting but he seems familiar enough with some of the cliches of the game.

His chief target appears to be the chief Liverpool executive, Rick Parry, who seemingly denied him the money to buy in the January transfer window, the players he said he wanted. If this seemed a prelude to Parry's departure, the new American owners promptly declared that they wanted him to stay; though the son of one of them, Gillett, is due at Anfield to fill a senior executive role.

Speaking right after the final on television, Kenny Dalglish, a great Liverpool hero both as player and manager, opined that it remained to be seen whether whatever players Benitez bought would fit in and secondly whether he would be able to buy them, at all.

Meanwhile, I remain convinced — never having had much confidence in Benitez as a strategist, whatever his exaggerated fame — that he threw away a final which Liverpool should have won. Just as two years earlier in Istanbul, he all but threw away a final against Milan. Deploying a first half team which allowed Kaka to run wild and free, repairing the 3-0 damage in the second half, when he belatedly put on the German midfielder, Dieter Hamann, to mark Kaka.

In Athens, his tactics made scant sense. How in the name of logic, you wondered, could he leave out entirely a player with the electric pace of Craig Bellamy, when Milan's Achilles heel surely lay in the age of their defenders, central defender Paolo Maldini pushing 39! And how could he give a starting role on the left wing to the Dutchman Bolo Zenden, who, often injured, had played relatively few games for the team during the English season, and much of whose old pace had plainly gone. One recalled, embarrassingly, as readers may be aware, that one of the occasions when he did play was, inexplicably, at Arsenal way out of position in central midfield, while Steven Gerrard, heart and soul of that midfield, was marooned on the wing!

Then, late in the game, still turning his back on Bellamy, Benitez sent on as sub the Australian left winger Harry Kewell who had hardly been fit enough to kick a ball all season and had only just returned to first team action. You wondered whether consciously or otherwise Benitez was trying to make up to Kewell his mistaken decision to start him in the 2005 Final, when he was plainly unfit and broke down early in the game. To be quite unfairly impugned for lacking moral fibre.

As for Gerrard, he was controversially and wastefully deployed much as Kaka, a very different player, was for Milan, as a "three quarterist" in the Italian phrase, just behind the sole, disappointing Dutch striker, Dirk Kuyt. This meant he could not make his familiar bursts out of deeper midfield and often had to receive the ball, the last thing he wanted, with his back to the goal.

One thing that Benitez did do thoroughly right was the choice of the ever unpredictable — not least off the field — Jermaine Pennant for the right wing. Especially in the first half, Jankulovski, his opposing left back, could do nothing with his pace. He showed the classical gifts of the true winger, the pace, the courage to take on opponents, scorning the chance of being fouled, the footwork to beat them on the outside, the skill to get the ball across, on the run.

Recently, he had said he hoped he might play for England and why not? Two other talented young wingers have; Spurs' Aaron Lennon, who shone in the 2006 World Cup when Eriksson had the belated sense to put him on, at the expense of the ludicrously indulged and ineffectual David Beckham, and Shaun Wright Phillips, who may not yet have fulfilled the promise he showed at Manchester City when Chelsea bought him for a colossal fee, then largely kept him on the substitutes bench — but is still young enough to fulfil the promise he showed on a dazzling debut against Ukraine when he scored a spectacular solo goal.

It was bold of Benitez, to say the least, to pay Birmingham City "big money" last summer for Pennant. On his day, as I once heard his Birmingham manager and mentor Steve Bruce say after an explosive display at St. Andrews, he could be "unplayable". I'd seen him play just as well for his first major club, Arsenal, scoring three goals at Highbury against Southampton, and on loan for Watford — the Gunners didn't want him — in a Cup tie against West Bromwich Albion.

But his has been a troubled career, from the moment, as a 15-year-old schoolboy on Notts County's books, he was bought by Arsenal in a messy deal in which an agent and his father claimed rights. And it was Bruce who rehabilitated him when he was gaoled following a car crash when he had been drinking. Bruce and Birmingham were amply rewarded.

So, good for Liverpool, and for Benitez, so far as that right flank was concerned. But the left flank! Was he somehow trying to compensate the Australian for plunging him into the 2005 Final when he was plainly unfit, forced to come off the field early and was most unfairly accused for a lack of heart? To deploy a player with only a handful of very recent appearances behind him after a long lay off, yet to deny a chance to Bellamy made no sense at all. And why at a crucial late stage take off the midfield terrier Mascherano? The defence collapsed on that second Milan goal.