Ranking the 44 first-team signings Rafa Benitez made at Liverpool
Rafa Benitez will always be fondly remembered at Liverpool, having helped build one of their greatest sides of the Premier League era and writing his name in folklore thanks to the Champions League triumph of 2005.
And ‘Rafa the Gaffer’ made a significant number of transfers during his six years at Anfield – although not all of them can be considered successful.
We’ve ranked the 44 players he signed for Liverpool, excluding players who were signed to play in the Reds’ academy. We can only apologise to Krisztian Nemeth and Andras Simon.
44. Charles Itandje
Seven appearances in cup competitions as a backup goalkeeper is actually better than some others on this list, but acting like a prick during the memorial service for the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster means Itandje is well-deserving of his place at the bottom of the pile.
43. Antonio Barragan
Barragan made just one appearance for Liverpool, which made him the youngest ever foreigner to play for the Reds. That’s quite nice, innit?
42. Sebastian Leto
Despite making two appearances in both the League Cup and Champions League, work permit problems prevented Leto from playing in the Premier League, yet Liverpool still managed to make a profit on the forward, because that’s what they do.
41. Philipp Degen
Degen played just two senior games in his first season at Anfield. In the first, a League Cup clash with Crewe, he broke two ribs and punctured his lung. In the second, he suffered a broken metatarsal and was quoted as saying: “I keep asking myself if I did something wrong in a past life.”
We actually feel quite sorry for him.
40. Gabriel Paletta
We really like Paletta if only because he has the name of a very classy defender (see also: Insua, Emiliano).
Sadly, Paletta was never very much of a classy defender in his eight appearances for Liverpool, although he later played for Milan, which only adds to our suspicions.
39. Mauricio Pellegrino
It says everything you need to know about Liverpool’s signing of Pellegrino that the defender struggled to break into a relegated Alaves team the following season after leaving Anfield.
It wasn’t his fault he was old and Rafa Benitez’s mate.
38. Jan Kromkamp
37. Antonio Nunez
Nunez is the only player in Liverpool’s history to score his one goal for the club in a major cup final, but even then they lost to Chelsea in the League Cup decider.
We have an awful lot of time for Josemi getting to the front of Liverpool’s trophy celebrations after winning the Champions League final against AC Milan, despite the fact he didn’t actually play in the competition at any point in the knockout stages.
35. Diego Cavalieri
Better at Liverpool than he was at Crystal Palace, in that the Reds actually let him onto the pitch from time to time.
34. Damien Plessis
Just 19 when he joined Liverpool, Plessis worked his way into the first team under Benitez and made his debut in a 1-1 draw at Arsenal. Despite a handful of appearances, the writing was on the wall for the midfielder when his shirt No.28 was taken by Christian Poulsen. He left just over two weeks later.
33. Andriy Voronin
We can’t quite believe Voronin scored six goals for Liverpool, which is quite impressive considering he was useless.
32. Scott Carson
Carson was one of England’s most promising goalkeepers when he joined from Leeds in 2005, and he was swiftly thrown into the deep end as an injury to Jerzy Dudek saw the teenager start against Juventus in the Champions League quarter-finals.
But Pepe Reina’s arrival – more on him later – meant the stopper had to look elsewhere to establish himself, and he played his best football in his three years at Anfield while on loan at Charlton and Aston Villa.
31. Mark Gonzalez
Pretty useful on Football Manager, less so in real life.
30. Nabil El Zhar
The winger showed flashes of promise at Liverpool and became known as a lucky charm after a series of cameos from the bench in late wins.
But he never truly established himself on Merseyside, although this goal on his full debut was rather lovely.
— Liverpool Goals (@GoalsLiverpool) August 13, 2015
29. David N’Gog
We can’t quite believe N’Gog scored 19 goals for Liverpool, which is quite impressive considering he was useless.
28. Emiliano Insua
See Paletta, Gabriel, except with one fairly decent season in which he played 44 games.
27. Alberto Aquilani
Spare a thought for whoever made this…
26. Andrea Dossena
For four days, Dossena was Liverpool’s biggest hero, and for that he has our eternal respect.
25. Robbie Keane
A move which at the time appeared to make plenty of sense; Keane was an excellent option to offer Fernando Torres some goalscoring support after joining one of the 17 clubs he supported as a boy.
But the striker’s face didn’t quite fit under Benitez, and he was sold back to Tottenham at a loss just six months and seven goals after initially joining.
He later recalled himself: “With a different manager there, possibly it could have worked.”
24. Sotirios Kyrgiakos
We asked a few Liverpool fans for some feedback on this ranking and they forced us to bump up Kyrgiakos. We’re still not entirely sure whether they were taking the piss, but this tweet perhaps explains why some Reds have a soft spot for the Greek defender.
Loved Soto. Far too slow for the Premier League but he always looked like he gave a shit when there were far better players phoning it in
— Mike (@da5705) May 26, 2018
23. Fernando Morientes
Peak-Morientes playing for Liverpool under Benitez would have been incredibly sexy. It didn’t quite work out like that.
22. Ryan Babel
It’s strange to think the 32-year-old Babel that was relegated with Fulham in 2019 would arguably have been more useful to Liverpool than the 20-year-old Babel they signed from Ajax in 2007.
21. Robbie Fowler
Yes, it was a sentimental signing, and that’s exactly why it was beautiful. We’re still annoyed the linesman disallowed that overhead kick against Birmingham on Fowler’s comeback appearance.
20. Mo Sissoko
Sissoko described Benitez, who gave the midfielder his senior debut at Valenica before signing him for Liverpool, as his “second dad” in an interview with RMC Sport earlier this year.
His career was almost ended at the age of 21 after suffering a serious eye injury in a Champions League clash with Benfica in February 2006, but he recovered to play the full 120 minutes as Liverpool beat West Ham in the FA Cup final at the end of the season.
19. Bolo Zenden
One of the more underrated players of the Premier League era, Zenden won the UEFA Super Cup with the Reds after joining on a free transfer from Middlesbrough, but injuries decimated his first season at the club.
But the Dutchman showed his class in his second campaign, helping the side reach the Champions League final, scoring in the semi-final shootout victory over his former club Chelsea.
18. Albert Riera
After establishing himself in a promising debut campaign at Liverpool in which they pushed Manchester United mightily close for the title, Riera fell out of favour in his second and left the club under a cloud amid reports of a fallout with Benitez.
“At Liverpool I learnt a lot from one of the best coaches I have had, Rafael Benitez, and the relationship didn’t break down, he simply couldn’t find space for me in the team anymore,” he told The Independent in 2017.
“At the end of the 2009-10 season I missed out of the squad for the World Cup with Spain and I felt it was his fault but I was wrong.”
17. Jermaine Pennant
While his subsequent career and recent appearance on The Jeremy Kyle Show hardly screams ‘roaring success’, Pennant was a decent £6.7million signing from Birmingham for Benitez.
The winger became the only uncapped Englishman to appear in a Champions League final in 2007, when he was arguably Liverpool’s best player in defeat to Milan.
— Premier League (@premierleague) April 14, 2019
16. Glen Johnson
We have a friend – who just so happens to support Manchester United – that inexplicably hates Johnson more than any other footballer in history.
It’s quite confusing, and we’ll never really understand it, but it’s nice to know he’ll be seething the right-back is this high up the ranking.
15. Maxi Rodriguez
Despite a slow start to life in England in which Rodriguez scored just four times in his first 14 months at Anfield, two hat-tricks in the space of three games cemented the Argentine’s status as a cult hero among Reds.
“The more his team needs him, the more he offers,” Fernando Torres told Goal when describing his team-mate in 2010, which is a pretty good accolade.
14. Craig Bellamy
We were tempted to put him in first for that celebration in the Camp Nou alone. But this is a serious football publication…
13. Peter Crouch
“The best period of my career came at Liverpool under Rafa Benitez,” Crouch told us in 2018. “I was scoring goals regularly in a side that was challenging in the Champions League and we had real chances to be crowned as European champions in the 2007 final against AC Milan.”
After a slow start at Liverpool in which he had to wait 19 games before scoring his first goal, Crouch became a popular presence with the Reds.
A winner to knock Manchester United out of the FA Cup and a perfect hat-trick against Arsenal probably helped.
12. Fabio Aurelio
We consulted Football365 deputy editor and all-around lovely human Matt Stead for this ranking, and the only detailed feedback he offered us was the following: “I fucking loved Fabio Aurelio and play that free-kick in the 4-4 with Chelsea every night before bed.”
There’s a YouTube video of that goal titled, ‘Fabio Aurelio A Marvelous goal in the gate of Chelsea’, and that makes us want to put him first quite frankly.
This one’s for you, Steady.
11. Martin Skrtel
Very hard. Very good.
10. Daniel Agger
See above, but with a lovely left foot, too.
9. Luis Garcia
To quote Tom Victor: “If you’ve ever been watching football with a Liverpool fan and seen Luis Garcia appear on screen as a pundit, you’ll be familiar with the usual reaction.
“It’s the sort of wide-eyed gawking you’ve expected from those who come face-to-face with an A-list movie star for the first time, near inertia, as if they are rendered helpless by the presence of such genius.
“There’s nothing in Garcia’s game to make you think he should have such an impact more than, say, Fernando Torres or Luis Suarez. However, to reach this conclusion is to fundamentally misunderstand the impact the Spaniard had on supporters of the Merseyside club.”
You can’t quantify emotion in football, and that’s why Garcia means so much to Liverpool fans.
8. Alvaro Arbeloa
There are plenty of bad right-backs on this list, which makes the signing of Arbeloa all the more notable.
The Spaniard arrived at Liverpool for just £2.6million and immediately proved his class by starting at left-back in the Camp Nou and being tasked with shackling Lionel Messi as the Reds secured a famous victory.
7. Lucas Leiva
Ten years, almost 350 games and a special recognition award upon his departure for Lazio in 2017.
There are lots of players on this list with more talent than Lucas, but few who quite got it as much as the Brazilian.
#OnThisDay in 2007, @LucasLeiva87 signed for @LFC. After a tricky start, Lucas would develop into a fan favourite, be given Liverpool’s Player of The Year award for 2011, and become the breakout star of the best lighthearted in-house club video ever.
— MUNDIAL (@MundialMag) May 11, 2021
6. Javier Mascherano
It’s hard to believe now that Mascherano initially struggled so badly to adapt to English football after joining West Ham.
Yet the Hammers’ loss was Liverpool’s gain, and the midfielder was imperious at Anfield before going on to win it all at Barcelona.
In the words of Benitez himself: “He’s a monster of a player.”
5. Yossi Benayoun
Just a joy to watch, and inspiration to skinny lads around the world.
4. Dirk Kuyt
Perhaps the complete opposite in terms of aesthetics to Benayoun, Kuyt understood his limitations and made sure he got the very best out of himself for Liverpool.
While he may never have been the 20+ goals a season man the Reds required, the Dutchman had a handy knack of scoring in the big games: five against Everton, four against Arsenal, four against Manchester United, three against Chelsea, the winning penalty in a Champions League semi-final and even a goal in the final defeat to Milan.
3. Pepe Reina
Following Jerzy Dudek’s heroics in Istanbul, it was a brave call for Benitez to immediately replace the goalkeeper with Reina.
But the Spaniard immediately made himself a favourite at Liverpool, breaking a number of records before saving three out of four penalties in the FA Cup final victory over West Ham.
Admittedly he wasn’t quite as effective as a midfielder…
2. Fernando Torres
It has been heart-warming to see the change in Torres’ status as a punchline/hate figure among Liverpool fans in recent years so that we can all now recognise the fact that, for a period, the striker was one of the most lethal goalscorers in world football.
And he’s spent his retirement getting incredibly hench. We dare not rank him any lower.
1. Xabi Alonso
“When you left it broke my heart.” As far as praise goes for a Liverpool midfielder, those words from Steven Gerrard are about as good as it gets.