It is sometimes suggested there are few clubs who deify managers more than Liverpool.
When you look at the charismatic characters who have inhabited the Anfield hot-seat and what they achieved both on and off the pitch, it is perhaps no surprise.
Bill Shankly,Kenny Dalglish,Gerard Houllier and latterly of course Jurgen Klopp all won the hearts and minds of Liverpool supporters and turned them into devoted followers for a variety of reasons.
But none of them ever provoked Kopites to take to the streets around Anfield with flags, banners and a framed photograph in support of their idol to make clear their vehement opposition to the club’s owners, as was the case with Rafa Benitez fourteen years ago this week.
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Remarkably it came less than six months after that same manager had led them to a second Champions League final in three years (one of which had been won in the most miraculous manner imaginable) and while the Reds were still in realistic contention for that season’s top prizes.
Such was the state of LFC as a cold winter of discontent took hold back in 2007 that would turn into a damaging civil war which would lead the club to the brink of bankruptcy.
Benitez had enjoyed the most spectacular debut season as Liverpool manager since Kenny Dalglish in 2005 by winning the Champions League against all the odds after his side recovered from a three-goal half-time deficit against Italian giants AC Milan in Istanbul and had followed that up in his second campaign by securing the Reds’ seventh and most recent FA Cup triumph against West Ham in Cardiff.
The hope of a serious tilt at ending the club’s league title drought - now stretching past the quarter of a century mark - did not materialise the following season but Benitez’s side again showed their continental pedigree by knocking out the current Champions League holders Barcelona and English champions Chelsea en route to a reunion with Milan in Athens which saw the Italians ultimately exact revenge for two years earlier.
But with Champions League qualification having been easily secured through league position and significant squad strengthening that summer bringing the likes of Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel to Anfield, there was very real expectation that the Benitez era was set to hit new heights.
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Key to that wish was the belief that the club was finally now in a position to compete financially with their peers at home and abroad due to the takeover of Tom Hicks and George Gillett earlier that year.
The American pair had arrived in February 2007 to bring an end to the Moores family’s long association with football on Merseyside and give Reds fans hope their club would no longer be bringing a knife to a gunfight in the new financial footballing landscape taking hold following Roman Abramovic’s arrival at Chelsea earlier in the decade.
It did not take long however for the honeymoon period to wear off and the web of lies at the heart of the Hicks and Gillett ownership to unravel.
The alarm bells started ringing barely three months later in the aftermath of the Champions League final defeat to AC Milan when Benitez spent much of the night after the game pacing the streets of Athens concerned already that promises made to him about investment in the squad would not be kept.
The next day he let rip into his new bosses, who had been feted by Reds fans in the streets of Liverpool before the semi-final against Chelsea and around the pitch before the match in the Greek capital, saying: “I feel tired and disappointed – we are in the same situation as two years ago.
“We must quickly sign our number one targets and spend big and spend now.
"We can’t be looking for players in August because then you end up with the second or third choice on your list.”
Close to £50m was splashed that summer to bring the likes of Torres, Benayoun and Babel to improve the squad with another £23m being spent on the arrivals of Martin Skrtel and Javier Mascherano early the following year.
But it was not Hicks and Gillett's money to spend, their ownership of Liverpool having being built on leveraged debt despite assurances at the time this would not be the case, and before 2007 was even out, the first signs of serious conflict between the manager and the ownership were beginning to reveal themselves.
In late November with Liverpool, with the manager seeking reassurance he would be able to bring in the January signings he wanted - Mascherano and Skrtel - he was told by Hicks to just concentrate on coaching the players he already had, leading to a surreal press conference before Liverpool's trip to Newcastle United when he repeated the phrase "I am focused on training and coaching my team" 15 times .
When it emerged in the coming days the owners had made contact with German legend Jurgen Klinsmann - who was then coaching in the United States - to potentially replace Benitez, with whispers already emerging that Hicks and Gillet may not have the financial muscle to carry through their promise to have a 'spade in the ground' on the club's proposed new stadium on Stanley Park within 60 days (a deadline which had long since passed), battle lines were drawn ahead of the crunch Champions League group game with FC Porto at Anfield.
A 3-0 win at St James Park had ensured Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the Premier League season continued (although they had drawn almost half - six - of the 13 matches played so far) but qualification hopes for the Champions League knockout stages were hanging by a thread after a poor start to their Group A campaign.
An opening 1-1 draw in Porto had been followed by a shock defeats at home to Marseilles and away at Besiktas and, while an 8-0 trouncing of the Turks at Anfield on matchday four had put Benitez’s side back in contention for a place in the last 16, three points against the Portuguese champions were vital to keep the Reds' fate in their own hands ahead of the final group game at the Stade Vélodrome.
Despite that and the potential distraction to the matter in hand protests may cause, Liverpool fans increasingly angry and concerned at how the manager they idolised was being treated felt they had no option but to nail their colours to the mast ahead of the crucial midweek fixture at Anfield.
Thousands took to the streets around the old ground to show their solidarity and marched from the Sandon pub to the Kop amid chants of 'Rafa is a Scouser' and 'Rafa’s going nowhere', armed with professionally-made banners and rudimentary homemade signs illustrated the strong sense of feeling towards the Spaniard.
'Rafa is God’s gift 2 Liverpool' read one while another likened a portrait of Benitez to Che Guevara, with the 'Rafatollah' – a large framed picture of Benitez which supporters treated with reverence akin to religious fundamentalists in the Middle East – also featuring prominently.
Organiser John Mackin said : “We did this to display to Rafa, and to anyone else, that getting rid of him would be disastrous.
“The man is held in such high esteem by supporters.
“We were hoping for a couple of thousand people to turn up; obviously, if it had been a Saturday afternoon, we could have expected much more.”
The large crowds on Walton Breck Road outside the Kop stand were united in their admiration and support for Benitez.
Holding a giant banner declaring 'humility makes a great man twice honoured', Norwegian supporter Howard Andresson said: “We made the banner because Benitez is Mr Humility and we don’t want him to go anywhere, we need him.”
Paul Smart, of Fairfield, said: “Rafa’s got an unbelievable record and we just want to let the Americans know he can’t be sacked.” His friend Mike Morris, from Woolton, added: “Benitez deserves our support for what he’s done.
“For Gillett and Hicks to get involved in Liverpool is great, but I think this should bring them to realise football in Liverpool has a whole different attitude to what they’re used to, and it’s not just about them negotiating with Rafa, but also about negotiating with us.”
A banner unfurled inside the stadium at half-time said it all in pointed fashion, given the terminology used by both Hicks and Benitez in the preceding days, reading simply, 'as always, we are focusing on supporting our manager'.
Any thoughts the protests would be a diverting sideshow to events on the pitch proved unfounded when the action got underway with those in attendance creating a raucous atmosphere which eventually helped Liverpool gain the victory they needed to go into the final group game at Marseilles still with a chance of qualification.
Fernando Torres scored his first European goal for the Reds when heading home Steven Gerrard’s corner on 19 minutes but the visitors levelled 12 minutes before the break when Alvaro Arbeloa was unable to cut out Przemyslaw Kazmierczak’s cross from the left and Lisandro Lopez nodded past Pepe Reina.
The Portuguese held out obdurately under increasing pressure as the Reds laid siege to the Kop goal in the second half but it was not until 12 minutes from the time the breakthrough came when Torres added his second with another glimpse of the world class talent already hinted at into which he would truly develop the following year.
Receiving a Harry Kewell pass just outside the box with his back to goal, the Spaniard spun his marker and with another Porto defender trying to haul him down and goalkeeper Helton rushing out to narrow the angle, showed balance and great poise to cooly plant an unerring finish beyond another desperate defender on the line and into the net to send Anfield wild with delight and no little relief.
A Steven Gerrard penalty and a Peter Crouch header from a corner added further gloss to the scoreline and a healthy boost to the goal difference which could have become crucial in the final analysis, although Liverpool would ultimately win the final group match in Marseilles 4-0 to qualify with ease.
But after the game all the talk was of the protests, Benitez, and his future, with the manager making a point of shaking the hand of every one of his players on the pitch and thanking the supporters who had shown their heartfelt backing for him.
“I knew what was going on, but I was focused on my team and the game," Benitez said.
“I promise you, I was only thinking of the game and my responsibilities. But thank you supporters, you were fantastic.''
Benitez then dropped his guard on the situation with the owners that had seen him remain silent since the weekend, adding: ''I do not have any personal problem with the owners, I was just talking about the club's future.
“People have said it was all because of my ego, but that is not the case. I was just surprised a little bit with what has happened.
“I was only trying to improve my club. We will have to wait but it is a strange situation. But I repeat, I have no problems with the owners.''
An uneasy truce had settled but it would not be long before the growing rift between owners and manager would rear its ugly head again as the realisation began to dawn on Liverpudlians they were now locked in to a battle for the very soul of their club.