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Nice little article from .tv


The Liverpool manager is fluent in the language of the beautiful game, as Champions magazine recently discovered...
Not for the first time, Rafael Benítez picks up his authorised biography, towards which he is politely ambivalent, and scours its pages. "The other day I was surprised. I saw an old photo and I said to my wife..." His voice trails off as he flicks backwards and forwards through the relevant chapter. "Is the photo here? Yes, this one."

It's a shot of Real Madrid's Under-18 side from season 1986/87. He traces his finger from left to right across the players in the back row then their crouching team-mates at the front, and starts to recite. "I said to her: 1.82, 1.84, 1.82, 1.79, 1.87, 1.76, 1.88, 1.84, 1.86, 1.79, 1.68, 1.72, 1.74, 1.69, 1.78, 1.73, 1.68."

These are the individual heights, in metres, of a group of teenagers that he coached almost 20 years ago. He closes the book, fingers strumming the table top, and grins, tickled not so much by the accuracy of his memory as its absurdity. "I live for football, no?" :howler: :eekani:

He said as much in his first interview with Champions at the start of 2005 (issue 9), conceding that he thought "too much about football" while promising that he would "fight to win the Champions League, if the future allows me to do that, because I want to win the greatest title there is."

Obsession clearly has its rewards, however short-lived. Since that unreal night in Istanbul, the manager of the reigning European champions has permitted himself two holidays with his wife Montse, consisting of weekends in Edinburgh and the Lake District. When the couple married in 1998, the story goes that they spent their honeymoon in Italy just so Benítez could visit AC Milan’s famous sports complex. Fitting, then, that he was destined to manage a club whose legendary boss Bill Shankly once took his own bride Nessie to watch Huddersfield Town reserves. :thumbsup:

Liverpool have granted only a few minutes with Benítez, but the interview lasts the best part of an hour. The players are on international duty and the training ground is quiet. For Rafa, this is as good an excuse as any to talk shop.

Rafael Benítez's half-time team talk in Istanbul. By the man himself...

"It was difficult, really difficult. We had a plan. We started the game, conceded the first goal and Harry Kewell was injured. OK, we needed to change the plan. Then we conceded the second goal and I was thinking about half-time, how to change the game. Right away we conceded the third. And now, I was thinking I needed to change my notes!

"I walked to the changing room, hearing all the fans, and I said to the players, 'We need to work hard for these people. If we score a goal, maybe things will change.' Then I decided to change the system. I said, :howler: . And Didi [Hamann], get ready. We will play 3-4-2-1. This is the idea, OK? Come on, boys [claps]. Let's start working.'

"Then I turned and Steve Finnan was on the treatment table. And [physio] Dave Galley said we'd have to change Finnan in the second half. I thought, we've made one change, Smicer for Kewell in the first half. Now, Hamann for Traore and we need to change Finnan maybe in 20 minutes. So I said, 'Traore, you're back on. Finnan, get to the shower.' Finnan was disappointed, but Traore was ready.

"I went to the blackboard and I was thinking, OK, I've got Smicer as a right winger, but he's not the best getting back to defend and we've lost Finnan. So I said, 'We will use Cissé in attack, on the left.' But they said, 'Hang on, boss, we've got 12 players on the pitch.' Forget Cissé! I already had Luis García as a second striker, so I switched Gerrard to right-back.

“Then the physio said, 'We've got one minute to change things.' So we changed the players, but the system was the same: 3-4-2-1. We had good luck because we scored early. If we scored again soon, they would go down. We did and then we scored again. Shevchenko had that chance and we had a bit of good luck...but we had worked to get it. I always knew winning the Champions League would be difficult. But my idea is to think about games, not trophies."

He recalls the grown-ups who'd scold him for playing for two hours after school every day; his trial as a youngster for Real Madrid when he starred in a mini-tournament for a team called Grosso in honour of the prolific goalscorer who succeeded Alfrédo Di Stefano in the mid 1960s; the repartee with the chairman at the first club he managed, and the player who got him fired. All related in that soft, familiar timbre with touches of humour that transcend his nagging informality with the English language and its still more peculiar football vernacular.

"At Valladolid we played really good football and the chairman said to me, 'We've got such confidence in you.' Three times he said that to me and he offers me a new contract over lunch. The next week, over lunch again, he says, 'Talk with your agent, we want to renew the deal because we're so happy.' I say, 'And what if we lose to Celta Vigo next week?' 'No problem,' he says, 'I'll still renew it.'"

Benítez is fluent in body language, particularly when he wants his point to be crystal clear. The rest of this anecdote can't be told sitting down, so in his red tracksuit he stands up to re-enact a long-ago set-piece. "OK, we are winning 1-0 against Celta Vigo. And we have one player [Croatian midfielder Alojsa Asanovic] who never came back to defend corners. He was the most expensive player we bought, but he never arrived. There was a corner and for once he comes back to defend it. He pushes their striker [simulates a clumsy challenge], gives away a penalty and they score. The next game we lose to Valencia and I'm sacked." :eekani:

He returns to his seat and smiles again. "This is football. But the most important thing is to learn. In Spain we say that if you are not sacked, you are not a manager."

Benítez has another favourite Spanish proverb: luck is in love with hard work. Fortune as a residue of design, or a dividend of sweat. "I think always that you need a little bit of good luck," shrugs Benítez. "But if you don't work hard, you cannot go to a cup final and win just with good luck. There must be something behind it."

The something behind Liverpool's miraculous comeback against Milan last May has its roots in a passion for defying the odds that has defined Rafa's career so far. Resources have been finite to varying degrees at every club he has managed, but he's sought not only to adapt to adversity but overcome it through a combination of relentless industry, meticulous analysis and outright ingenuity, driven by absolute belief in his methods. A severed lateral knee ligament prevented him from realising his full potential as a footballer.

In the mid 1990s, as a youth and reserve-team coach at Real Madrid, he seemed to have a clear path to the top job until Jorge Valdano was appointed as manager and duly changed the regime. Real Valladolid and Osasuna both dismissed Benítez abruptly. His luck changed with tiny Extramadura, who enjoyed a short but sweet season in the top flight, then at Tenerife, the team he led back to the First Division. No sooner had he joined Valencia, a club traumatised by two successive Champions League final defeats, than their star Gaizka Mendieta was sold to Lazio. Benítez refused to blink, and no doubt he would have accepted Steven Gerrard’s vaunted move from Liverpool to Chelsea last summer with the same cool fatalism. Within 12 months, Valencia would win their first league title for more than 30 years.

"I arrived there as a young manager without a big CV. People were saying, 'He's too young, he has no experience.' We won the league, amazing. And then [the board] say, 'You have good team, good manager.' Good enough to do nothing. So they didn't change anything, they didn't sign any new players and the next season we finished fifth. We were focused on the Champions League, but lost to Milan.

"The next year, we changed three or four players and we said, 'OK, we need to do the same thing we did two years ago, to work really hard.' Real Madrid and Barcelona spent a lot of money, but we had confidence in our plan."

That season Valencia reclaimed the title and added the UEFA Cup. Benítez's biography identifies two epic comebacks, both at Espanyol, that epitomised his work ethic and his ability to "squeeze 100 per cent productivity from each and every one of his players." The objective, claims the author Paco Lloret, is an 'intensity of play' that overwhelms the opposition. The benchmark was set by Milan under Arrigo Saachi then Fabio Capello. "They changed everything because they didn’t allow their opponents to play," says Benítez. "It was almost perfect – not perfect because that’s impossible – but close.

"They worked hard, really hard. I watched them many times and I still have a good relationship with Saachi. One time they played Real Madrid and the day before, I went to the training session and saw them working for a long, long time tactically. It was unbelievable."

Tellingly, before last season's final, Benítez described Milan as "an unstoppable machine if we let them play, players of such quality that they can make decisions for themselves."

The phrase 'intensity of play' appears more than once in the Benítez biography. At lowly Extramadura, his players "began to acquire responses that became instinctive and natural." When they won their second Spanish title, Valencia were "an implacable steamroller, they were like boxers who pinned their opponents to the rope and wouldn't stop until they had annihilated them." Their style earned them the nickname 'the Crushing Machine'.

The apogee of Istanbul aside, Liverpool have yet to scale the same heights in the Premiership on a consistent basis, or rediscover the pass-and-move philosophy of their own great forebears which, combined with the kind of Milanese improvisation that Benítez so admires, would finally make them a domestic force to be reckoned with.

How basketball and chess influenced the football man...

Benítez had a passion for sport as a youth, excelling in swimming and judo, a discipline in which his older brother Francisco became a black belt. And he's never been afraid to introduce ideas from other sports into football. He has a thorough knowledge of physical fitness, too, gleaned from his spell as director of the Abasota gym in Madrid, where he met his wife.

Following Spain's silver medal at the 1984 Olympics, Benítez caught the basketball bug and explored the sport's exhaustive tactical rehearsals and methods of communication between coach and players. Biographer Paco Lloret writes: "Basketball was based on study and analysis – two elements which he believed were paramount in sport and which almost no one applied in the football world." Benítez also has a lifetime passion for chess. Linares, the Aragonese town where he played upon leaving Real Madrid, was home to an unofficial world championship. When he returned to the Bernabéu as a youth coach, he was seconded to a pre-season tour of Italy by the first team, primarily to joust over the black-and-white board with manager and fellow player Radomir Antic.
There are many fans at Anfield who would gladly trade another Champions League triumph for a first English title in 15 years; for Benítez to usurp the hegemony of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United just as he challenged the sovereignty of Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. He understands their impatience.

"I don't think about this or that trophy, I only think about winning the next game. But I know that the Premiership is the target. If we improve, we can be closer to the top three teams. I don't think about them, either. We have so much to do here that I don't waste my time speaking about them. Our idea is to improve in every department."

The purchase of Peter Crouch, tall and long-limbed like John Carew at Valencia, was the most notable addition to the squad last summer. It has enabled Benítez to revisit a tactical policy – nominally one upfront with five across midfield – that he employed with great success at Valencia.

The 4-5-1 formation has been an issue dans le vent in this season's Premiership, drawing criticism for its perceived negative connotations, criticism that Benítez finds simplistic. Formations, he argues, are merely filters through which tactics can be refined during the course of each match, with full-backs pushing up and midfielders supporting the lone forward when the team's 'intensity of play' permits.

"I always say the same thing. What is the difference between 4-3-3 and 4-5-1? Only whether you play the wingers deep or high. Then if you press the other team they will play deep, 4-5-1. And if you cannot press them because they are stronger than you, they'll play 4-3-3. People talk about systems, but maybe they don't know a lot about systems.

"At Valencia we played 4-2-3-1. And here, when we play our best football, we play 4-2-3-1. When we control the game, when we score goals, we play 4-2-3-1. What's the difference? It depends on the second striker. If he goes back to defend, it's 4-2-3-1. If he stays up, it's 4-4-2. It's the same. The system is only designed around numbers. The most important thing is what the players do."

In the first half of this season, Crouch's uninspiring start to his Anfield career seemed at odds with the decision to keep crowd favourite Djibril Cissé on the bench. Famously, Benítez brazened out a similar clamour to play cult hero Pablo Aimar at Valencia.

"It's simple," he explains. "When you talk about players, you talk about personalities. And then it is the difference between you and me. You go to, I don't know, a theatre, and you see some things and they see other things because you are different. It's the same with players. Some understand the style of football, the culture, the language. Others don't. It's important to know all the things that you can before you sign a player. I always say that you can have a good player for winning one game, but you need a squad for winning trophies. You need good professionals because at the end you'll be with them for one, two, three, four years, not just one game. And then sometimes he's a hero to the supporters. They see him and think, 'Why isn't he playing?' But maybe he can have one good game but not the next four. OK, you can use players who can amuse the supporters, but if you want to win trophies you need workers, for 90 minutes, every week, every training session. Workers with enough quality for winning."

To borrow a local expression, Benítez did not arrive in Liverpool with his head sticking out of a crate. By winning the title with Valencia he succeeded where Luis Aragonés, Guus Hiddink, Carlos Alberto Parreira, Claudio Ranieri and Héctor Cúper all failed. Now he has the cachet of being only the second coach to lead a foreign team to the European Cup in his first season in charge, after – and the precedent isn't particularly encouraging – Jupp Heynckes with Real Madrid in 1998. But his own assimilation to his adopted country remains a work in progress.

"Watching the games on the TV, we knew it would be more physical. The thing is, you must be on the pitch to see the difference, to feel the difference. For me, the challenge with Valencia was to break Real and Barcelona. It's similar here with one big difference. In Spain you know the culture and language, but here you need to learn all these things.

"When you start working you think that, OK, it will be easy to learn English in six months and speak to everyone. But you run into problems with the language. I have a little story. If it's windy you say to the players, be careful with the wind [rhyming with 'tinned']. But if you say, be careful with the wind [rhyming with 'kind'], there's a big difference, no? People say that football is the same, but you still need to explain your ideas, you need to improve each day.

"The other big thing is that I am delighted with the supporters. The final in Istanbul, the atmosphere in the stadium, the faces of the fans. You can lose, play bad and they always support you. It's fantastic."

Note that down for the next biography. In one of his books, Latin American novelist Gabriel García Márquez touchingly re-lives the moment when François Mitterrand conferred upon him the Legion d'onneur in Paris. "He said something which moved me almost to tears and I'm sure it must have affected him as much as it did me. He said, 'Vous appartenez au monde que j'aime.' You belong to the world I love. When Rafael Benítez stares at the portraits of Bill Shankly along Anfield's corridors of power, remembers conversations with Arrigo Sacchi in Madrid and Milan and glances at the Kop chanting his name in full voice, it's a fair bet that the sentiments are the same.

cracking article ,rafa is such a geek but he's our geek :heart:

1,833 Posts
I love this article...learn a little bit more about the mysterious senor Benitez. Love the fact he uses aspects of other sports like basketball and chess and that his blueprint for football is Saachi's and Capello's Milan sides...in my lifetime they are the best club side I've ever seen.

Think this is the most telling quote...it's something you can imagine Shanks or Paisley saying. :)

OK, you can use players who can amuse the supporters, but if you want to win trophies you need workers, for 90 minutes, every week, every training session. Workers with enough quality for winning.

1,943 Posts
I always preferred him to other managers because he seemed very down-to-earth and like brothers to his players...

268 Posts
yeah this article is in the latest champions league mag, so funny when he mentions his honeymooon

747 Posts
Deo said:
OK. We need to make a movie about him.!

(we just need to win the premiership first :D )
"Goal 2: The Benitez"
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