Even as Rafa Benitez’s latest rant dominates British tabloids, curses and words of hope thrown aimlessly at him with the knowledge that the judiciously labelled ‘interim manager’ will not be at the helm of affairs at Chelsea past this summer, he may have just been the latest in a short list of people destined by a most strange footballing curse to fail miserably.
Eerily paranormal as that sounds, if stats are anything to go by, Benitez had little hope of succeeding at Stamford Bridge purely because he once danced around the touchlines and waved a fist or two at Anfield as the Reds’ manager.
“Statistics,” a wise grey-bearded unrecognisable man had once said, “can be made to prove anything; even the truth.”
With that firmly placed in the mind’s “inward eye”, it’s time to reveal the shocking truth of a curse so ‘not out there’ that even Fox Mulder would have trouble fathoming it out, a curse so sinister that ‘Child’s Play’ seems like ‘child’s play’ compared to it, a curse so bizarre that it would stand out as absurd even in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’! This is the curse of the ‘Chelsea-Liverpool Transfer Route’.
The Curse of British Island (not quite)
Running through the rich and lengthy history of Liverpool FC (founded in 1892) and Chelsea FC (founded in 1905) and combing through every transfer they’ve made through the ages, a couple of fascinating facts are revealed.
The first is that Manchester United’s legendary manager Sir Matt Busby played for only two clubs in his playing career - Man United’s now ‘noisy neighbours’ Manchester City, and the Red Devils’ arch-rivals Liverpool! The second is that any transfer between the Anfield outfit and Chelsea has been a massive, statistically significant, failure.
It took over 60 years before the two clubs first did business with the heading-God Tony Hateley switching from London to the Merseyside in the summer of 1967 for what was then a club record fee of GBP 96,900. In his 42 appearances for Bill Shankly’s squad, he scored a not-too-miserable 17 goals, but never really got going and was promptly offloaded to Coventry City the next year. Within 3 years of that he was back at Notts County, where he started his career and became quite the sensation, and was back to his best, scoring 32 goals in 57 games, leaving the Londoners and Merseysiders wondering quite how things hadn’t worked with him.
One failed transfer may well be a coincidence, but it wasn’t until the 1986/87 season that the two traded cash for player again, this time for Nigel Spackman who also travelled from London to Liverpool as GBP 422,400 was wired the other way. The industrious midfielder wasn’t an out-and-out failure at Anfield and was part of a squad that won the 1987-88 league title. But stats are like bikinis, as Aaron Levenstein put it, what they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. Spackman played only two seasons at Liverpool and had 51 games to his name but failed to score a single goal. Even Downing hasn’t managed to be that frugal in front of goal, having scored infinitely more goals – one – from just 3 more games at the Reds.
Once is ‘chance’ and twice is ‘coincidence’, goes a joke. Three, it reveals, is ‘habit’.
The plot thickens...
The two clubs then decided it was time for a swingers’ style player swap in the modern, trashy times of 2010. Blues’ uber-talented Joe Cole, who Steven Gerrard has astonishingly compared to Messi (one can only hope Gerrard was referring to their heights, where Cole would beat Messi by a good 2 inches), switched to Liverpool after seven immensely successful seasons at Stamford Bridge, while Israeli Yossi Benayoun went the other way after three fairly acceptable seasons at Anfield. Oh, and somehow, through the melee, Chelsea also paid Liverpool about 6.16m.
The almost like-for-like swap has stirred up quite the debate as to just which deal was a bigger disaster. The fact that both have finally ended up at West Ham is neither here nor there, but it is troublesome for the Reds to note that Cole is playing intriguingly well at the club where he started it all. Cole’s record at Anfield was a woeful 3 goals from 26 games in 2 years, while Benayoun suffered one miserable year where he slotted one goal in 12 games.
The truth is out there...
In January 2011, Chelsea suffered the worst backlash of the curse the two sides have ever seen. In what can only be described as the worst bit of transfer business, Liverpool were handed a whopping GBP 51.48m of moolah to adorn their coffers as the London outfit took with them a 6 ft wax replica that passed under the guise of the once phenomenal Fernando Torres.
After 65 goals in 102 matches at Anfield, Torres has scored only 14 in his 73 games at Stamford Bridge and become the butt of countless jokes like this random one by @Tilley_96 - “Torres has settled as a barman. He is good at putting shots over the bar.”
And this specific one by one of the numerous random Torres-bashing websites on the internet - “Hey! Have you heard Fernando Torres just broke David Blaine`s record of standing around in a box doing nothing for 40 days?”
If that wasn’t enough, Chelsea threw another GBP 12m towards Liverpool to rid them of the heavily tattooed and heavily Portuguese Raul Meireles. The midfielder was a last-ditch attempt to fill the void left by their inability to capture Luka Modric, who flew to Madrid, unable to resist Real’s flirtatious advances. Meireles did claim a fortuitous Champions’ League medal but failed to make any impact and was promptly sold to Fenerbahce the following season, having played in 34 games and scored 2 goals.
The facts, Mr. Benitez!
While it’s way too early to evaluate whether Daniel Sturridge has become the latest to succumb to this curse, having moved from London to Liverpool for GBP 13.2m as recently as January 2013, Chelsea’s interim manager has been hit by the curse, in spite of having taken the precaution of managing Inter Milan in the middle.
The fact is, as Benitez would put it, that (apart from Sturridge) the two clubs have traded three players both ways and they’ve all flopped. The fact is, he would plod on, that about GBP 70m have been thrown around, smashing club transfer records and all, with very little success for either team. The fact is, the Spaniard would conclude in his un-endearingly imitable style, that Chelsea and Liverpool should never do business because their transactions are bewitched, cursed and ultimately doomed.
It only seems appropriate to end this foreboding piece of warning and mystery with the poignant words of Leonard Courtney - “After all, facts are facts, and although we may quote one to another with a chuckle the words of the Wise Statesman, ‘Lies - damned lies - and statistics,’ still there are some easy figures the simplest must understand, and the astutest cannot wriggle out of.”