Aspiring economists are taught in microeconomic theory lectures that it is unwise to judge an agent on a noisy metric, or one not fully under their control. Of course, in soccer management, the only metric a coach is judged by is results, something over which he has only marginal influence.
If we travel back in time to last March and April, Rafael Benitez was coach of a team that hammered the mighty Manchester United 4-1 in their own back yard, Real Madrid 4-0 at home, and Aston Villa 5-0 at home. Liverpool came mightily close to honours both home and abroad, and their near miss seemed to set the club up for another assault this year on the major prizes in English and European soccer.
Defeats to Lyon and Fiorentina dumped Liverpool out of the Champions League prematurely, and last night new depths were sunk to when they limply lost 2-1 at home to Reading in the FA Cup (the only domestic honour still available to them), who themselves are in deep relegation trouble at the bottom of the Championship, the division below the Premiership.
How fine are the margins though? All the goals that humbled Liverpool in the Champions League came in the dying seconds of matches, and Liverpool were 1-0 against Reading into injury time last night. Furthermore, to what extent can a manager be held responsible for the folly of his players? Yossi Benayoun foolishly clattered into a Reading player to give away a penalty kick that Reading scored to level matters and take the game into extra time, and multiple Liverpool players conspired to miss easy opportunities to put Liverpool back in control in the match.
Nonetheless, the feeling today is that Benitez in living on borrowed time. Only so many freak events can happen under the stewardship of a coaches it seems. The implication is, of course, to what extent is a good coach a lucky one?