El Centrocampista

La Liga beckons as Liverpool legend weighs up his future


Istanbul, 25 May 2005.  Liverpool’s Steven Gerard rises majestically to power Jon Arne Riise’s cross past a floundering Dida in the Milan goal, sparking the greatest come-back in European club football history. Three up by half-time, the Italian side were already planning victory celebrations, leaving 30,000 fans from Merseyside to contemplate a long trip home. 45 minutes later however, and the game was about to go into extra-time after a remarkable second-half performance from Rafa Benitez’s side. The rest, as they say, is history – most definitely Anfield history.

Seven years later and Benitez is sat on the BBC’s Football Focus coach being probed with questions about the job as Chelsea manager.  A Champions League winner, two time La Liga winner, a UEFA Cup, FA Cup and Club World Cup winner. A fall from grace for Benitez since the nights of European giant killing made worse by the banners on display at Stamford Bridge just a few nights before.

The BBC’s Dan Walker, sat opposite him and didn’t take long to get to the point: “What can you tell us, Rafa? Were you approached about the job? Are you thinking about possibly going back for the job in the summer?” Benitez smiled politely and was less than dismissive with his replies but insisted: “I didn’t have a proper offer on the table” contact looks to have been made, but what Benitez means by “proper” could define where his future lies; was the contact no more than a phone conversation, or did the terms of agreement not coincide with his ambitions?

The Spaniard explained: “I would like to find a top side that can match my desire to win trophies… I want a good project” It’s difficult to judge if Chelsea can be a team capable of winning trophies with the upcoming Financial Fair Play rules likely to in the short term limit any big signings, and in the long term hamper the rebuilding of an ageing squad. It’s also unlikely the London club will be able to fore fill Benitez’s desire of a “good project” considering there have been nine managers in the eight years of Roman Abramovich’s ownership.

However, Chelsea are no doubt a big club, and tick the box of being an English team, where he ideally wants to remain, but aside from those simpler categories, Benitez would be wise to avoid Abramovich’s advances. The protests by Chelsea supporters seemed unjustified to some but many take a similar view, including Mark Lawrenson who was sat next to him during the BBC interview, the ex-Liverpool player was one of his harshest critics as his time at Liverpool came to an end.

The majorities view on Benitez that was shared by those at Stamford Bridge, is one that is rarely heard in the cities of Liverpool and Valencia, with both sets of fans widely knowledgeable of the circumstances behind his departure on each occasion, Liverpool fans now know the responsibility the club was in laid directly at the owners doors, as they later left the club with a distinct possibility of extinction and Los Che supporters understood that Benitez’s relationship with the clubs directors had become untenable. The same also applies to his short tenure at Inter Milan, with no financial backing and public criticism from Massimo Moratti the two trophies he collected along with the sackings of Leonardo and Gasperini that followed show he was once again far from the only person to blame for leaving.

It’s now been fifteen months since Rafael Benitez was last employed in that time he has turned down big money offers from clubs such as Anzhi Makhachkala among others in Dubai and Asia in order to hold out for a job he deems suitable, and that could mean a surprising return to Spain.
Valencia President Manuel Llorente has left and returned to the club in recent times and there is now a chance Benitez could do the same after returning to the club to watch their home game against Barcelona in September last year; the love the fans have for their ex-manager was clear for all to see.

It was even more evident during his trip from the stadium to the hotel where Benitez was surrounded by Valencia fans showing their appreciation for what he had done for the club, amazing scenes considering Los Che fans reputation as the most demanding set of supporter’s in Spain. The manager’s relationship with Manuel Llorente had clearly improved since both departed in 2004 with the President awarding Benitez with a golden badge of the teams crest for services to the club before watching the 2-2 draw against Barcelona.

With Unai Emery’s situation beginning to look in jeopardy given the loosening of Valencia’s grip on third place and many fans frustrations combined with Llorente’s refusal to award him with any more than rolling one year contracts, the manager-club combination that provided La Liga with its only non- Barcelona or Madrid winner in the last decade may be on its way back this summer.

One Comment

  1. Chris Clements

    20 March, 2012 at 11:27

    Good read Conner. I’m no longer convinced by Benitez. His work a decade or so ago with Valencia, Tenerife & Extremadura was impressive, as was his start at Liverpool. But you have to say that the final few years at Liverpool & and the short spell at Inter were wasteful. Maybe he works better without the big money to spend, so Valencia could be a good match-up.

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