Rafael Benitez spent six seasons at Liverpool and made plenty of history as the club’s manager. His time started red-hot thanks to Champions League and FA Cup wins in his first two seasons at the helm. However, things cooled overtime despite having quality players under his management throughout his tenure.
Benitez signed a total of 64 players via transfers and free agency during his managerial reign. Many of the players to join Liverpool were hit or miss, and some signings left supporters scratching their heads.
Benitez was always looking for a bargain and being hamstrung by ownership in terms of finances, it forced him to look for players that were under the radar.
He averaged over 10 transfers per season and it is safe to say, quantity over quality is what Liverpool got during that time. It is crazy to read all of the names of players Benitez signed and to remember most of their little to no impact at the club. Many seemed to be signed and discarded after just a few matches.
Here, we weigh up Benitez’s 5 worst transfer signings, which may not be as easy to assess as first thought.
5 Worst transfer signings by Rafael Benitez at Liverpool
5. Andriy Voronin – 6 goals, 40 appearances
Andriy Voronin started life well at Anfield scoring in his first two appearances for the club. After finding the back of the net against Aston Villa in the Premier League in early August 2007, he scored a sensational long-range goal against Toulouse in Champions League qualifying.
However, that was as good as it got for the Ukrainian. Signed on a free transfer from Bayer Leverkusen, Voronin was used as a third- or fourth-choice striker. Voronin spent one season at Anfield before being sent out on loan to Hertha Berlin. He returned for the 2009-10 season but played just eight games before being sold to Dynamo Moscow for £4 million.
In truth, it wasn’t bad business as he signed for free and made the club £4m in transfer money. That first season saw Voronin score five times in 19 games for the Reds in the league. He also added five assists in all competitions. Perhaps looking back, Voronin’s time at Anfield isn’t as bad as it seemed a decade ago.
4. Milan Jovanovic – 2 goals, 18 appearances
Milan Jovanovic was another attempt at signing a veteran player for free that had been overlooked by other clubs. Benitez attempted to use Moneyball long before the Reds adopted the concept.
Jovanovic signed from Belgium’s Standard Liege, where he scored 69 goals in 153 career appearances. Benitez’s replacement, Roy Hodgson didn’t think much of Jovanovic once he arrived at Anfield. Benitez had been dismissed after agreeing on the deal to bring Jovanovic to the club.
Jovanovic played just 18 times in all competitions with his two goals coming in the League Cup and FA Cup tournaments. The Serbian was sold for less than £1m to Anderlecht.
3. Andrea Dossena – 2 goals, 31 appearances
Andrea Dossena’s transfer from Udinese in 2008 came out of nowhere. The Reds spent £7m on the left-back, which doesn’t sound like much, but remember this was over 10 years ago today when transfer spending hadn’t got out of hand.
The defender was a replacement for fan-favourite John Arne Riise, who had been sold to Roma that summer. From the start, Dossena was poor in defence and couldn’t step up to the pace of the Premier League. Despite being underwhelming, Fabio Aurelio’s continued injuries gave Dossena more opportunities to play.
The highlight of Dossena’s time at Anfield came in the Champions League round of 16 against Real Madrid. He scored his first of two goals for the Reds tucking away a Javier Mascherano cross. Dossena was sold to Napoli the next January. Liverpool received around £4m for the defender.
2. Alberto Aquilani – 2 goals, 28 appearances
Benitez sold fan favourite and Liverpool great Xabi Alonso in the summer of 2009. After trying to replace the Spaniard with Gareth Barry for around 12 months, he finally settled on Italian Alberto Aquilani as Alonso’s replacement.
Liverpool paid Roma £17m for Aquilani. However, there was one problem, Benitez signed Aquilani despite him being on the shelf with a serious ankle injury. Ankle injuries and fitness would limit Aquilani’s playing time over the next few seasons. Between March and October 2009, Aquilani missed 22 games for Roma and Liverpool combined.
He eventually made his debut for the Reds in the League Cup against Arsenal. There were some good performances and Liverpool fans wanted to take to the midfielder. However, consistency was lacking especially for the fee the Reds paid. The following season, new manager Hodgson got rid of Aquilani despite his two goals and six assists in 28 appearances for the Reds. Loans to Juventus and AC Milan would follow with a permanent move to Fiorentina occurring in 2012.
In the summer of 2011, I wrote about Aquilani’s time at Liverpool for Forza Italian Football and a possible return to Anfield, which never happened.
1. Philipp Degen – 0 goals, 13 appearances
Another free transfer by Benitez and player that should have never been signed by Liverpool, Philipp Degen was a defensive accident waiting to happen. He was perhaps the worst player signed during Benitez’s tenure at the club.
Degen was so bad and injured for most of his time at Anfield, that he played just two matches in the 2008-09 season. Those appearances came in the League Cup, which showed Benitez didn’t even rate the right-back.
Degen missed 36 games in all competitions due to injury in his first season at the club. The following season, he missed three more Premier League matches due to a suspension. Hodgson’s arrival in 2010 meant Degen was no longer needed or wanted at Anfield.