Rafa Benitez is still revered by many a Liverpool fan, and rightly so. He won the Champions League with them in 2005, and came agonisingly close to winning the Premier League with them in 2009.
His final season was a disappointment, but a look at Liverpool's struggles since his departure sums up how lucky fans had it for the majority of his tenure. Like most managers, Benitez liked to take advantage of the transfer market, but he didn't always quite get it right.
As he prepares to spend one of football's biggest chequebooks in January, here is a look at 10 signings he got right.
Fernando Torres enjoyed the best football of his career under Rafa Benitez's management, and it is seen as one of the key reasons why the Spaniard has been appointed at Chelsea. At the Blues, Torres has been a shadow of himself, but at Liverpool he was unstoppable at times. Signed for £26.5 million in 2007, he scored more than 80 goals in three and a half seasons, before leaving for a fee of £50 million.
Alonso is arguably Benitez' best ever signing, but the manager must also take the blame for his departure. Alonso was simply outstanding in midfield alongside Steven Gerrard, forming one of the top partnerships in recent Premier League history. Unfortunately for Rafa, who had signed him for £10.5 million in 2004, he decided to unsettle him in 2009 by making a play to sign Gareth Barry of all people. Sold to Madrid a year later, Liverpool miss him more than they do Torres.
Reina was an excellent signing by Benitez, snapped up for just £6 million, he has been the Reds' number one stopper since his arrival in 2005, seeing off Champions League winner Jerzy Dudek. Reina has remained loyal to the club despite seeing his compatriots move on, and despite a dip in form this season, he remains highly regarded.
Danish centre-back Agger was signed for just £5.8 million by Benitez in 2006, which is put in context by the £25 million fee Manchester City were rumoured to be willing to pay for his services this summer before he penned a new contract. Agger has had his issues with injury, but as a first choice central defender, he remains part of Benitez' legacy at the club.
Liverpool didn't necessarily get what they thought they had paid for when the signed Dirk Kuyt, but they received a player who more than repaid them back. It was his prolific Eredivisie record of 71 in 101 games which made Liverpool think they had signed the next top striker, and Kuyt didn't turn out to be that, but he was every bit as invaluable. His work ethic, versatility and knack for scoring goals at crucial times made him a fan favourite.
Argentine Mascherano may have cost a big fee, but he certainly justified it with his performances, showing why he is one of the very best defensive midfielders in the world. He too became a cult hero with supporters, and his faith in Benitez was illustrated by the fact that when he left, the Argentine requested to go too, and was snapped up by Barcelona.
Benayoun was a bargain £5 million signing by Benitez, and he proved to be an important missing link between midfield and attack. He was a key part of the 2008-09 title challenging team scoring in a number of games as the race went to the wire, and netted a memorable winner of Real Madrid in the Champions League at the Bernabeu. He is still on Chelsea's books, on loan at West Ham, so it will be interesting to see whether Benitez wishes to recall him and make use of him.
Like Daniel Agger, Skrtel was a centre-back signed for a very reasonable price, who is worth more than triple that now. Skrtel cost £6.5 million, and may not have convinced everybody at first, but he is now a rock at the back for the club. He may have the odd off day, but he is undoubtedly a Benitez signing success story.
As with Skrtel, Brazilian midfielder Lucas had trouble convincing fans at the start he was the player the club needed him to be. There is no doubt of that now; Lucas is pretty irreplaceable in the Reds' midfield, even though his injury problems have meant they have had to try to manage without him for the best part of the last year. Fitness aside, the fee of just £6 million looks a bargain.
Benitez snapped up Fabio Aurelio on a free transfer in 2006, a player he knew from his management days at Valencia. The left-back became a crucial part of the Reds defence, and is best remembered for spectacular free-kicks away to Chelsea in the Champions League, and against Manchester United in a 4-1 win. Injury curtailed his Liverpool career, and he left to sign with Brazilian club Gremio this summer.
Who was the best? Who have we missed?
image: © Nigel Wilson