Monday 10th April 2006


RafaWith the League Manager's Association (10 April 2006).

Liverpool Chairman David Moores describes his first meeting with Rafa Benitez as “Like listening to Bill Shankly with a different accent”. Sir Alex Ferguson admits he’s impressed by Benitez’s unassuming attitude and his qualities as a coach and a person. High accolades indeed and Rafa Benitez has quickly lived up to his billing; delivering Liverpool the Champions League trophy in his first season in charge. Sue McCann caught up with the Liverpool boss to hear his thoughts on life as a Premiership manager.

Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby, Bob Paisley, Brian Clough, Sir Alex Ferguson and now you too join that impressive list of managers to win the European Cup/Champions League with British clubs….do you have to pinch yourself?

“Yes sometimes when you are at home or talking with your staff we know that it was not normal, not in the first year, in another country with another team to win the Champions League. It’s a situation that normally you dream of and in this case it was fantastic for us.”

Sir Alex Ferguson told me recently that he thoroughly enjoyed spending time with you at a recent UEFA coach’s forum; have you had a chance to get to know many of your Premiership colleagues?

“Here in England when you finish a game you talk with the other managers in the boot room or the manager’s room and it is a nice time because you can talk about football, you don’t talk a lot about tactics though. But you get to know them and maybe you can learn something for the next game but it’s not the most important time for preparing for the next game.

Who have you enjoyed pitting your wits against?

“I don’t have any manager that I say ‘well against this one or the other one...’ I like to win every game with my team. In my opinion the most important things are the players not the managers.”

You have now witnessed for two seasons the calibre of managers in the Premiership, why do you think British managers in the Premiership are rarely offered opportunities of management jobs abroad?

“ I think there are two or three countries where there is a lot of money (in football), Spain, England and Italy and it is easier for the managers to stay in the same country that you know and also because you can earn a lot of money. We had the same situation with Spanish managers then when some of us decided to go to another country then maybe other managers can come behind us. In this case I think it is necessary that one or two English managers go to another country and then with success with those managers maybe other managers will follow. But you need at least one going forward and winning trophies then it will be easier for the rest of the managers.

Indeed Terry Venables and Sir Bobby Robson were the last to make an impact…

“That was a long time ago. Terry Venables went to Barcelona and it’s not easy, it’s not easy. The top sides like to sign managers with experience maybe sometimes in another country so it’s always a vicious circle. If you don’t go you will not have experience in another country then it will be more difficult for some clubs to decide to sign an English manager.”

In Spain you probably managed players of many different nationalities. Prior to Owen, Beckham, Woodgate, McManaman not many British players had played abroad in recent years so you wouldn’t have managed any. Are they different to manage and if so how?

“I think the most important or biggest difference is the passion here you know. The players they like football, they enjoy the game and then they play and they train with passion and it is really good, really good.”

Many players who have come to the Premiership through the years have taken time to settle including Thierry Henry. Alonso and Sissoko however have bedded in very quickly and impressively; why is that?

“Maybe it’s the quality of the players and the skills that they have, the mentality; both are really good professionals and the skills that they have in England maybe it is easier for them. Sometimes strikers and centre backs have more problems. I think it is easier for midfielders and also maybe wingers. But in this case both players have an advantage because their mentality is really good and they are also really good professionals.”

You would almost think they came through the English academy system because they are they are very suited to the English game…

“They know the game, they understand quickly the game and if you put these two players into Germany or Italy it would be a similar situation because they are really focused on the game.”

Due to the many different responsibilities that Club managers have in modern football, many managers don’t do as much day to day coaching as in previous years. Your players praise the fact that you are still a ‘hands on coach’; is this something that you will always make a priority as part of your management style?

“I feel that it is true that we (managers) have a lot of thing to do, we are always very busy but I like to go to the training pitch and work with the players on tactics. It is the most important thing that I like and I think it is also important for the players to be with the manager on the pitch. I don’t know if you can go every day for the whole training session but I like to go at least for some of the time (each day) and stay with them and explain to them our ideas.”

As you walk out of the tunnel, see the “This is Anfield” crest, listen to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and hear the fans chant your name; how do you feel, what emotions are invoked in you?

“The first thing is proud… very proud to be here, to hear the people and to see or to feel the atmosphere during a game. It’s totally different to Spain; in Spain you can find this atmosphere in some games but here the most part of the games you can see the supporters always behind you and this is very, very nice and I’m really proud.”

When you went into that pub in Cologne ahead of the Leverkeusen match you formed an indelible bond with the fans. How important is it for a manager in the modern game to let the supporters know that he lives and breathes their dreams too?

“It was very positive and it was a surprise because we were thinking about where to watch the second half of a game (C.League match) and we said ‘ok maybe in this pub.’ It was full of our supporters and we were wearing our tracksuits. We went into the pub and we started watching the TV. It was full of people and one of the supporters looks and goes ‘Rafa’ and I said ‘shut up’ (laughs), ‘Rafa Benitez ‘and then he starts singing ‘Rafa Benitez’. Then it was crazy because we couldn’t see the game for 50 minutes, all of them turning with their cameras out saying ‘I wanna photo’, it was unbelievable and it was nice.

They (supporters) like to know that the manager is a person with the same ideas, with the same passion as them. I think it’s important for them to feel that you want to win, to improve and to win trophies for them. And they need to know that you have the same emotions and that you want to improve as a manager and win trophies for your club and also for them.”

The sign of a good team is being full of International players like Liverpool; but whilst tournament experience makes players even better you must pray your players are going to come through the World Cup for instance unscathed. Are you nervous because these are your top players and you want them back in one piece so it’s a conflict of emotions?

“Yes indeed. During national breaks I always have crossed fingers and wait and the World Cup will be similar. You want to see your players winning trophies. If they can go to the final and win the final maybe there’ll be even more risk because they will play more games. But it is a fantastic or the best moment for them as players and I hope that they can win; maybe a final between Spain and England could be good!”

Do you have an equivalent of the League Managers Association in Spain and how important are such organisations in taking the game forward and representing the manager’s views of perhaps rule changes for example?

“Yes, we have a similar national association in Spain. In Spain you know we talk about coaches not managers but it is the same type of association. It is really important for most of us because they protect the managers or the coaches sometimes against the clubs. There are different rules and it is really important to know; in Spain you cannot be sacked easily because they must pay you your whole contract. You are protected by the association and if you are a trainer at a small club and they decide to go against you as a coach then the association is always behind you and protecting you and it is really important. Also in terms of the rules (of the game) we try to give our ideas and sometimes they say ‘yes its ok, its good’ and sometimes you know they are thinking about other things.”

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