Redemption is at the core of almost all aspects of faith based practice, including sports.The idea is that no matter what you do, you can be saved. Those who have lost their way can be found. Being found is just the first step. The guilty party still has to prove themselves to be worthy of reentry into the collective. Any one can be saved and any one can redeem themselves if they overcome the demons before them.
In football, the supporters are judge and jury. If supporters turn on you, management at a club can’t stand by you for too long without receiving the scorn of the fans as well. Three footballing figures have received the scorn of supporters and journalists over the last 12 months; Aaron Ramsey, Wayne Rooney and Rafa Benitez. I’m not sure that these three men would expect to be grouped together in any context but they currently find themselves walking down the road to redemption.
What a career Rafa Benitez was having before his departure from Liverpool in 2010. He led Valencia to two La Liga titles in 2002 and 2004 breaking the Real Madrid-Barcelona duopoly. After he proved himself in Europe by winning the UEFA Cup, Rafa was the most sought after name in management. He decided to join Liverpool for the club’s history as the idea of bringing them back to former glories appealed to him. In Benitez’s first season, despite a lacklustre 5th position in the Premier League, he proved that he did have the midas touch. His unfancied Liverpool side went all the way to the Champions league final where they came back from a 3-0 half-time deficit to tie AC Milan 3-3 and win the trophy on penalties. Liverpool were well and definitely on the footballing map again. An FA Cup trophy, Runners up finish in the premier league in 2009 and a second final vs AC Milan in the Champions League proved that Benitez was definitely no flash in the pan.
Unfortunately it all came crashing down for Rafa. In the 2009-2010 season despite a runner up position in the league the season before, Liverpool’s new ownership with whom Benitez had clashed with for two years, began to meddle in team affairs. The team could not find any sort of form or unity and Liverpool ended the season disastrously in 7th place. That was it for Rafa and he was sacked as manager of Liverpool.
Inter Milan believed Benitez’s could continue the success left behind by Madrid bound Jose Mourinho. It proved to be a poisoned chalice and after just 6 months due to poor form he was ousted as manager of Inter Milan. Rafa wouldn’t work for almost two years until he was asked to take over at Chelsea on an interim basis. Many thought that Roberto Di Matteo was treated unfairly making this awkward for Rafa. Due to statements he made about Chelsea while at Liverpool, fans did not take very well to the new Rafa regime. Despite the abuse from home fans, despite being given the job on an interim basis, and despite media criticism, Rafa steadied the ship and he was able to take Chelsea to another European trophy beating Benfica in the Europa League final 2-1. Rafa Benitez was definitely back.
Now he’s become manager of Napoli and many thought that Benitez would struggle in Italy again. I had a good feeling about this appointment and so far so good. Napoli are 3 for 3 in Serie A and beat Borussia Dortmund in Matchday 1 of the Uefa Champions League. His signings for Napoli have been perfect with Higuain, Albiol, Reina and Callejon the high profile arrivals in Naples. Without a shadow of a doubt Rafa is a wonderful manager who lost his way a little bit but saved himself from falling into the footballing wilderness. A strong push for the Scudetto and getting out of arguably the hardest champions league group will be the prize at the end of the redemption road for Rafa Benitez.
The 2011-2012 was by far the most entertaining season in premier league history. For Manchester United it was a season known for throwing away what looked a certain league victory. For Wayne Rooney it was one that showed his importance and class in English and European football. Rooney lead the line for United scoring 34 goals in all competitions. He was voted 5th on the Ballon D’or list and played with a dominance and composure that had United fans dreaming that he could become the greatest player in the club’s history.
Then came Robin Van Persie. Arsenal’s star player and captain fell into United’s lap and Sir Alex couldn’t say no to such a player. He brought in RVP and decided he would be the one to lead the line. Many thought that the two would strike a partnership akin to the Yorke and Cole connection. However, the modern game is about possession and solidity so two strikers is seldom seen. Rooney was shunted to the left and asked to play a deeper midfield role at times to accommodate United’s new star man. We can’t turn around and say that it wasn’t justified as United cruised to the title in RVP’s first season. It was clear that Rooney wasn’t feeling the love. It was clear on the pitch and many speculated that Rooney was finished. Then Sir Alex dropped a bomb on the world, telling fans and media that Rooney had asked to leave. Rooney denied this claim but the damage was done. United fans turned on him viciously especially since this was the second time he had apparently done so. It seems Fergie was forcing him out of the door for his past indiscretions. Rooney didn’t exactly help matters as Chelsea were courting him without him saying a word to quell the rumour mill. But can we really blame Wayne after the way he was treated by the United hierarchy?
This season will define Wayne Rooney’s career. Either he gets one step closer to being a United legend or he’s cast as a failure for club and country. So far this season Wayne Rooney has easily been United’s best player. He had a great cameo against Swansea setting up two goals, was man of the match against Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Bayer Leverkusen in the champions league and against City he was the only player in a United shirt to walk away with any shred of dignity. In short Wayne Rooney has proved almost all of his detractors wrong and has been the club’s best player so far despite injuries and a lack of a preseason. If he continues at this pace Wayne Rooney will be amongst the continents great names once again.
This is a different redemption story to those of Wayne Rooney and Rafa Benitez. The previous two were greats who had fallen astray. In Ramsey’s case he had the potential to be great but never got to the promised land until now. The world was at Ramsey’s feet until February 27th, 2010. Ramsey got injured in a tackle with Ryan Shawcross where he experienced a horrible double fracture to his leg. The physical rehabilitation would prove to be a lot quicker than the mental. After this injury many said that Ramsey wasn’t the same. That he defined Arsenal’s lack of mental strength. Parallels were drawn to other players who had suffered horrific injuries and come back stronger like Antonio Valencia at Manchester United. People forgot that Ramsey was only 20 at the time, of course his mental state would be fragile. Wenger continued to trust him saying that his potential would soon blossom into class. As Arsenal continued to struggle and fans lost patience with management, they also lost patience with certain players and Aaron Ramsey was one of those most often singled out.
This season Aaron Ramsey has shocked the footballing world. We should all be talking about Mesut Ozil but he’s been overshadowed by the little welshman. In many ways he’s also overshadowed his compatriot Gareth Bale. Ramsey is tied for second top scorer in the premier league and he has looked calm and composed in the centre of the Arsenal midfield. He plays with an authority well beyond his years, he is getting stuck into tackles again and it’s a joy to watch. Aaron Ramsey has redeemed himself to the Arsenal faithful, to those of us who thought he wasn’t any good and most importantly to himself.
Let this be a lesson to us fans, get behind your players and your clubs and your managers. All some people need is a little patience and a little support and the heights they can reach after hitting rock bottom may just astound you.
Categories: Football Funnies