September 18th, 2012
10:54 AM ET

Whatever happened to Rafa Benitez?

Rafael Benitez has been out of work since being sacked by Inter Milan in December 2010.
Rafael Benitez has been out of work since being sacked by Inter Milan in December 2010.

This December Spanish coach Rafael Benitez will have been out of work for two years. He has his website, plus plenty of media commitments to keep him busy, but for a coach that has been working as a manager since 1986 that must be like a living purgatory.

Like the majority of managers, Benitez gives the impression that he thinks and breathes football every minute, every hour, every day of his life.

In his new book “Champions League Dreams ”  with Times journalist Rory Smith, the Spaniard, who was Liverpool’s manager for six years between 2004 and 2010, provides a glimpse into the quest for perfection by describing the layout of his Melwood office at the club’s training ground.

It was here he would plot his team’s tactics and how best to overcome the opposition – with a little help from a resource of DVDs so comprehensive it sounds like a sub-section of the British Library.

“Stretching several metres across the wall on the right-hand side of my Melwood office stood shelves and shelves of DVDs,” says Benitez.

“Hundreds upon hundreds of hours of footage, all neatly categorized, organized and numbered so that, after consulting a database on my computer, I could find any film I needed quickly and easily.

“Aside from my coaching staff, this was my most valuable resource as I attempted to prepare Liverpool’s players during the season: not just a record of all the games I had managed and training sessions I had overseen in my career, but an extensive library of football around the world.”

Benitez’s attention to detail was not just based on an extensive back catalogue of DVDs – it stretched to gastronomy as well. Before joining Liverpool he guided Valencia to two La Liga titles and the UEFA Cup and his attention to detail ran to Benitez taking ice-cream off the players' menu.

Benitez is very much a "love him or loathe him" coach – you either love him or hate him. And that is no better demonstrated than during his time at Liverpool.

Compared to where Liverpool find themselves now – fourth from bottom of the English Premier League with two points from four games with a squad chronically depleted in the striking department – Benitez’s time at Anfield is rapidly starting to acquire a golden age feel. The club won the Champions League in 2005, reached another final in 2007, as well as securing the FA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup under his stewardship.

Perhaps the 2005 Champions League triumph is the most remarkable given it was heavily reliant on players like Antonio Nunez, Djimi Traore and Igor Biscan during the campaign, with Xabi Alonso and Djibril Cisse missing key matches due to injury.

A lover of chess, Benitez’s strategy for the quarterfinal second-leg tie against Juventus, when Liverpool secured a 0-0 draw to reach the semifinals 2-1 on aggregate, shows the Madrid native's tactical cunning at its very best.

“Instead of instructing the team to line up in our specially-designed formation, I told them to play for the first two minutes in the 4-2-3-1 that Fabio Capello and the rest of Juventus’s coaching staff would probably have been expecting,” writes Benitez.

“Only after the game was underway would we move, organically, into the 3-5-1-1. It is a little trick that, sometimes, managers use. If you change after a few minutes, it can look more natural. Sometimes, your rivals will not alter a thing.”

But the Premier League title remained tantalisingly out of grasp, with Liverpool coming close during the 2008/2009 season when Benitez’s team finished second.

Benitez’s transfer record at Liverpool is the stick which is most commonly used to beat the Spaniard. Some argue too many poor players were bought at inflated prices, though the counter-argument to that is his rrecruitment of the likes of Xabi Alonso, Pepe Reina, Fernando Torres and Lucas Leiva.

Huge profits were made after Alonso and Torres were sold, while Reina and Lucas are seen as integral to new manager Brendan Rodgers's plans to revive the club.

Soon after Benitez joined Liverpool, I interviewed Spanish television producer Paco Lloret, who had written a biography about Benitez. Lloret told me: “Perhaps Rafa is not so good at buying players.

"I was speaking with Rafa's agent before a Liverpool game and he told me that Rafa is the best coach, but sometimes he is so intent on watching the game, that he doesn't watch the players.”

"The agent said that his eyes were better at spotting players than Rafa's eyes.”

Benitez also has a track record of falling out with people. Is it coincidence that Liverpool reached two Champions League finals when he was working with assistant coach Pako Ayesteran, who left Anfield at the start of the 2007/2008 season?

Ayesteran was also at Benitez's side when Valencia did so well before the two coaches came to Liverpool.

However, whatever you think of Benitez – warts and all – surely it is a terrible waste that a man of his talents is effectively twiddling his thumbs, waiting for the phone to ring?

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. jaznh

    The answer to your particular question is that he has been smeared by associations with Liverpool FC as a man who would stand up to Sir Alex Ferguson to his very face.

    Add to that the generally right-wing London media delighting in the transparently North-West bias, & you have there a perfect thunderstorm to shaft the most successful manager of Britain's most successful Club for 20 years – but I'm sure you probably knew that, didn't you?

    Rafa Benitez, Leyenda, Nunca Caminarás Solo...

    September 18, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  2. jumpingpolarbear

    Looks like Liverpoold didn't appreciate what they had until it was to late :).

    September 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  3. MBM

    The reason #Benitez is out of work? Politics. He fought with the board at Valencia, Liverpool & Inter. Chairman don't want the headache. The way Benitez turned Liverpool fans against H&G, pleading poverty when they did nothing but back him in the transfer market (in which his record is shoddy) was a masterclass in subterfuge.

    September 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  4. George

    MBM is bang on, if Rafa had spent less time on internal politics and more time concentraing on the team he would probably still be at Liverpool.

    Inter couldn't put up with his antics and got rid after 6 months.

    He and Pablo were great together but as is often the case not so good on their own.


    September 18, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Reply
  5. John

    Rafa was honestly useless @ liverpool taking his weaknesses to the fans covered by the owners ! Literally he was and is useless !!

    September 18, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  6. Tgreer

    George – I couldn't disagree more, it was Benitez who flagged up the epic swindle that hicks and Gillette were trying to hide. He was the whistle blower who brought the chronic state of liverpools finances to light and if the money had been in place would have been able to build on the second place we secured in 2009. Instead the gradual decline that now has us around the relegation zone picked up pace the moment he left and there is no doubt that he was the best Liverpool manager of the premier league era.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Reply
  7. Zubemo(india)

    Looks like Rafa will be out of job for quite a few years but his work with the spanish national team is to be remembered.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Reply
  8. KHAN

    Is he running out of money? I thought he earned that will be sufficient for the rest of his life? Maybe still earning as Pundit ?

    September 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Reply
  9. kenshinobu

    (mbm and )george, are you real?

    this is the classiest man in football. the man who fought for us against the incompetence of moores and parry and the shadiness of purslow and you two would rather he kept out? add to that his work with hillsborough and the families.

    what janzh said. the only man who manage to scare fergie and everyone in the jingoistic ingerlund media ganged up on him (why is it zonal rafa? (he owned a sky reporter); why are you a flop in transfers? (well, try to have owners who managed to even do worse than moores and YET, YET, managed to earn more than he spent- but hey he was a flop at transfers). cause you know, he's arrogant and he doesn't play along with the press and isn't chummy like Harry Redknapp.

    i said it once, i'll say it again. he never had to fight for us. he could have had closed his eyes and said give me whatever players screw lfc and its future. he didn't have to get involved not only with lfc, not only with hillsborough but the whole city as well. but he didn't.

    the classiest man in football. period.

    so george, don't you use ynwa. there's a bandwagon in the other half of manchester, in cska fulham, and in paris. go there. you do not deserve liverpool fc. please go support another club.

    any fan who speaks ill of this man isn't a real liverpool supporter. the shanks of our time. he fought for us.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:59 am | Reply
  10. lfc the religion

    kenshinobu, well said. i cannot believe that some of our fans turned against him when the going got tough. I guess they rather we play man marking, non rotational squad, manager who sucks up to the players and the media and of course, no champions league football.

    Rafa, you are one of us. Thank you for the good memories.

    September 21, 2012 at 11:00 am | Reply
  11. Sat

    Toatally agree with Kenshinobu
    I dont understand why so called Liverpool suporters dont like him. They have no stats to back their stupid arguments, because there are none, and probably are the ones who listen to the press, buy the sun, and just dont like the man. Is it because he is spanish?
    Looks at the facts look at what we achieved and the love he has for the club. They talk about his spending which was a net spend of £70m during his period which is about £15m /year but we also had some had world class players. Which previous managers has or will be able to do that?
    He was desperate to win the title and if he had got the players he wanted he would have won the title. No other Liverpool manager in the last 18 years has managed to get a team to that position. Also regular champions league QF and beyond

    The season after coming 2nd was bad but that was almost expected as it is always hard to raised your game when you have lost it afterng so close to winning the title. Thats assuming all his critics have ever played football.

    Now we are a bottom half team, usually one of the last matches on Match of the Day and CH5 Europa cup football. LOL

    September 21, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  12. alehandro

    There's no doubt that Rafa was and is a thoughtful, meticulous and dedicated coach with a better than average track record, but he's not a people person, and that's why he's still out of a job. As far as I can gather he's fallen out with people at every club he's been to, and he seems to have a morose air about him win or lose. Throughout his tenure at Liverpool he looked like he was sucking a lemon, and he's so convinced of his own infallibility that he bristles at any other opinion, however well meaning, even when it comes from his employers, who obviously have the right to comment as it's their money he's playing with. Even so, I'd imagine any club with a vacancy has Rafa on the shortlist, but then they look at his history of creating aggro wherever he goes and decide life's too short.

    September 21, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Reply
  13. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Experienced Rafa will come back. He has plenty of footballing techniques and strategies to pass on. Wishing him all the best.

    September 30, 2012 at 7:50 am | Reply
  14. avtar

    Benitez will always be special to liverpool supporters no matter where he goes and what he does. He fought against the american owners and stood up against what he felt was a betrayal of the values of the club.

    He built a great team but it was a pity he missed out on the league close yet so far.

    October 8, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  15. RafaRocks

    Brits are Brits.. Everything the Brit does is good, because this is their soil and if foreign coaches don't kiss up their rear end, they will smear them... People who turns against Benitez are not Liverpool Supporters... Also people are kind of silly to keep saying Rafa brought all the wrong players, perhaps they should look at King Kenny and Roy, see who they bought, Liverpool can't even handle Northampton, good luck on Southampton... Under those Brits, Liverpool has to labour the full 90 min with the help of penalty just to beat Cardiff, with their first 11, and King Kenny smiles like he won the Champions League.. Embarrassing.. The whole Cardiff side, costs less than Andy Carrol alone. Benitez under minimal piggy-bank owners got guys like Alonso, Morientes, Mash, Lucas, Crouch, Fowler, Garcia, Skrtel, Agger, Torres.. And look at these Brits, Adams costs more than Lucas, Henderson, Downing, costing more than 10 Mill... Carrol costs almost double of Torres, and Suarez... What a bloody disgrace... No wonder they got nowhere, and now look at guys Rafa brought in for the youth, like Sterlings, he did brilliantly. The Brits are saying Benitez sxxks, they sxxk big time...Under Rafa limited funds, his squad can handle Chelsea, and Man U, and even top Real Madrid..Back then, the funds he got was so limited, Liverpool was Champions League contender... Now, look at those silly Brits... They simply cannot admit that foreign coaches who stood up against Ferguson is also just as good, they have to smear him... What a loss to Liverpool.. Supporters should raise another Rafalution.. Liverpool needs him, if Rodgers fails. Lets hope he won't fail..

    October 21, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  16. RafaRocks

    Its funny... Rafa may be gone, but Liverpool still relies on his leftovers, the Brits even have to borrow the youth squad which was put in place by Rafa. The way that people don't give Benitez those credits are truly disgraceful... Put it this way, the only reason Liverpool still floats in Premier League is due to those guys who Rafa acquires.... We all miss them.. No more Alonso, Mash, Kuyt... But luckily, we still have Lucas, Agger, and Skrtel.. Look at BR.... he's good, but if Benitez was managing right now, and gets BR's kind of results, Rafa will be deader than dead.. Rodgers is lucky because he is a Brit... he gets the support.. Face it, the guys that want Benitez out saying he is a troublemaker, now gets their own kind of karma... More than 100 mill gone with no rewards, and still has to deal with future write-downs because of Andy Carrol.. They agree to destroy the fine squad Rafa built, and brought in their so called Liverpool calibre players like Konchesky, Adams, Christian Paulson, Carroll, Henderson, and Downings.. These are English coaches vision.... No wonder...So as long as the owners of Liverpool willing to accept non-competitive football, we will most likely stuck in the mid-pack of the table at best. Forget Champions League and even Europa League..they should only aim at Carling Cup, because that will be their only realistic target.

    October 21, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  17. tracylake2002

    Rafael Benitez is a well re known manager.He have well experience to manage team.He have well history to manage a club since he was in Liverpool for 6 years.He is now the team manager of Chelsea.Chelsea team is now in fired situation already three coaches have been changed.I hope Benitez will be able to change the condition of the team chelsea.Best wishes for him.

    December 13, 2012 at 6:14 am | Reply

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