An ode to Benayoun at Liverpool & his odd knack of scoring headers
Liverpool’s signings in 2007-08 turned out to be a real mixture of heroes and villains – yet there is one player who seems to have fallen through the cracks of many people’s memories but really deserves more recognition.
As well as the wonderful Fernando Torres, Liverpool also signed a future cult hero in the shape of Lucas Leiva in the summer of 2007 before adding Martin Skrtel in the January, another player who would enjoy a long stay at Anfield.
Javier Mascherano was signed in that same window and is still fondly remembered as part of a brilliant midfield triumvirate alongside Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard, while Andriy Voronin and £11.5million Ryan Babel are equally well remembered, if for very different reasons.
Ask most people about the other major player signed by Rafa Benitez going into that season, Yossi Benayoun, and they’ll likely recall a bit-part player who impressed in flashes but moved on before too long without making much of an impact.
There’s some truth in that – Benayoun said in 2010 he expected to be dropped for the next game by Benitez even if he’d scored – but you might be surprised to learn the little Israeli made 134 appearances over his three years with the Reds, 81 of them starts.
Benayoun might not have been a fan of Benitez’s cold, hands-off style of management, but only for Maccabi Haifa did he play more games and score more goals. Indeed, Benayoun was the sixth-highest goalscorer of Benitez’s time in charge of Liverpool, with 29.
Admittedly, nine of them came in just three games – an 8-0 win over Besiktas in the Champions League, a 5-2 win over Conference South side Havant & Waterlooville in the FA Cup and a 4-0 win over Burnley in the Premier League – making Benayoun the only player to have scored hat-tricks in all three competitions.
He was anything but a flat-track bully and scored several decisive goals in big games, including – weirdly, for a such a small, skinny man – a couple of brilliant headers.
— LFC Transfer Room (@LFCTransferRoom) February 25, 2017
The one he scored against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu (above) was particularly majestic, but perhaps no goal and no game sums up Benayoun at Liverpool better than the first he scored in that crazy 4-4 draw against Arsenal in 2009.
Everyone remembers it as the game in which Andriy Arshavin scored four, but how many people could tell you Benayoun also scored two that night, including the 93rd-minute equaliser?
His first that night, to put Liverpool ahead for the first and only time, was a diving header at the far post which earned him a kick in the chops from Bacary Sagna. Those are the sort of goals that are meant to be reserved for the likes of hard-nosed goal bastards like Dirk Kuyt, not skinny lads who play on the wing.
But fate (or Benitez) always seemed to be against Benayoun at Liverpool. You score the winner in the Bernabeu then get injured in training and miss the second leg, which Liverpool win 4-0.
You score two against Arsenal, including a stoppage-time equaliser, and somehow people forget all about it. Yossi, that.
Earlier that same month, Benayoun had stepped off the bench to score another dramatic goal in stoppage time, earning Liverpool a 1-0 win at Fulham which put them top of the Premier League with the end of the season in sight.
They would ultimately finish as runners-up, four points behind Manchester United but with 86 points, their best return until Jurgen Klopp came along.
Benayoun was their fourth-highest goalscorer behind Steven Gerrard, Torres and Kuyt, yet he started three fewer games in the league than Albert Riera, who Benitez had paid £8million for in the summer transfer window. There is perhaps no better explanation as to why Benayoun decided to leave for Chelsea in 2010.
But while he may not have ever been fully trusted by Benitez, he’s certainly remembered with love by us.