Rafael Benítez (Madrid, 62 years old) says he is convinced that “now I am a better coach than before because of my experience and because I keep updating myself”. A pioneer in the use of technology, he assures “that when you have won 13 titles in three different countries, there is something behind it, despite not having been a famous or elite footballer.” He lives in Liverpool with his family, where his day-to-day life continues to be focused on football. “In the morning I do analysis and talk to my team, in the afternoon I dedicate myself to mine and at night to watch games. I have had offers from China and Mexico, but I think I have earned the right to choose a project in which they support me and I can develop the first team and the youth system if necessary, ”he warns. About his past at Liverpool, with whom he won the Champions League in 2005, and at Real Madrid he speaks without mincing words.
Q. How do you analyze Liverpool’s downturn this season?
R. Everyone expected a higher level. The departure of Mané and the injuries to Firmino and Diego Jota have made it difficult for Salah to associate. Darwin Núñez is more of running into spaces. That is a factor that causes them not to be so precise in attack. Although he has now returned, they also had Van Dijk’s injury, which made them more doubtful at the back. Everything comes together and if you are not in the goal of being in the top four of the Premier, the pressure among the youngsters increases and it is more noticeable. Klopp is a great coach, when they recover all the players will have a good second half of the season. Seeing the intensity with which they beat Everton, of course they can beat Madrid.
Q. Klopp’s method demands a lot physically, are the players squeezed after seven years?
R. I don’t think so, because Robertson and Alexander-Arnold who constantly go up and down continue to do so. The problem is that there are some players who are getting older and new players have to start joining. Just as it has happened to Madrid with Tchouameni and Camavinga, they are players to change little by little those who have been there for many years. It is a question of finding the balance between youth and profession. I don’t know the mentality of these guys, but I am clear that players like Valverde and Ceballos with their work are the ones who give wings to Benzema and Vinicius so that they shine.
Q. After being dismissed, Madrid won four Champions Leagues and three Leagues.
R. When we signed, the first thing was to do an analysis and it told us that there were many quality players, but that balance was needed. The first decision was to get Casemiro back from loan at Porto because we wanted to give Kroos and Modric freedom. We brought in Kovacic, a dynamic footballer to overcome lines, and Lucas Vázquez, a winger who could play in different positions. We lacked a center forward, they told us that it was not necessary. Benzema had injuries and his thing broke out with the Valbuena case. The following year they recovered Morata.
Q. What happened to get kicked out?
Q. Why do you say they didn’t let you win?
R.. Because if they dismiss you in January with the entire second round ahead, and when you are first in the group in the Champions League, it means that they are not giving you the option.
Q. Did the chuflas bother you for telling Modric not to hit the ball with the outside?
R. That’s a lie. I speak as a coach and in a short shot the interior is used. When I was a footballer I used the outside from time to time in medium and long shots. Modric makes it sensational, but in short it is not necessary. The coach’s obligation is to improve his footballers and honestly tell them what he thinks. If you can’t tell a player that you don’t need to use the outside for a three-meter shot, it’s because you don’t paint anything. One of 20 meters, perfect, and I am the first to applaud it.
Q. The players were not with you?
R. Another lie, I’m still in contact with some of them, but when a coach comes out you have to justify it. Some of those who were not happy left Madrid a little later than me and others took a little longer. We weren’t that far off. They play eleven and some accept their role and others do not. From there you need support. If you don’t have it, it’s hard.
Q. Did you feel like you didn’t have it?
R. I already know, but now it doesn’t matter. When one wins, and they won, it seems that he is right in what he said, but it is not. If we’re first in the Champions League and five points behind Barcelona, I’m not saying we would have won too, but why not?
Q. You arrived in the Premier League in 2004, did you sense that you would become the great economic dominator that you are now?
R. It was already a very strong competition, Manchester United and Chelsea spent a lot of money, what happened is that in Europe there were more teams that could compete with them. What they enter from television rights means that now not only those at the top are among those who can spend the most money. This has meant that they have been able to attract more players, even by making mistakes. The sale of the product is very good abroad, especially in Asia and the Middle East. Money calls money.
Q. Did you sense that the Premier could take that dimension?
R. You see it, the first thing that caught my attention was the difference between being a manager and a coach. It is where you realize the growth capacity of each club. Those high incomes allow you to invest in grassroots football, in scouts…
Q. You leave Liverpool because its owners did not want to spend more.
R. When I arrived we had 20 million to invest while Chelsea, Arsenal or United had 100. In theory they were better teams and they told us that the goal is to be able to compete in three years. The first owner, David Moore, treated us great, he knew the limitations there were. We compete, we win four titles and we play three finals. The new ones arrived, Hicks and Gillette, and everything changed because the point was to do business. My last budget, six years later, was 17 million, less than when I arrived, while the other clubs were doubling. Everything was channeled with the idea of generating benefits and had nothing to do with the first idea. In my last year, I had a meeting with the owners and they told me: we give you 50 million and then we go to the draft to sign I had to tell them that there was no draftLook to what extent his ignorance of the Premier was.
Q. The evolution of the Premier has not only been economic, but also football.
R. Tactically there was not much custom to guide the pressure, it was all more than disputes and contact. With the arrival of foreign coaches, new systems are used. Here the 4-4-2 was very classic. The latest changes are due to the rule that allows the goalkeeper to play inside the area at the goal kick and now many teams want to play from behind.
Q. Are you a supporter?
R. People are not very clear why it is done, it seems that it is a fashion. Statistics say that 57% of the time the ball is lost. It is what it is and people copy it. I am in favor of playing well and winning, and that is making an analysis of the squad you have and what your idea is. They don’t hire you to impose an idea of the game and stay in the middle of the table, which is what happens to many. How well they play soccer! But they never win anything and you spend three years in the middle of the table.
Q. In all this time that has passed and without being vain, do you think there is a legacy of yours in English football?
R.. We started using the 4-2-3-1 and it was a total success with Gerrard playing behind Torres and with Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Lucas Leiva providing balance. We played offensive football, with an 8-0 win against Beksitas, which was a Champions League record. In the 4-0 against Madrid we combined physical football, as is played here, with tactical football. The rotations were not in style either and they were questioned, especially by the press. When we won the Champions League they understood it. The marking in the zone in actions from set pieces was also questioned a lot, but we were perfecting it and with Pepe Reina as goalkeeper we were the team that least fit in that way for two consecutive years. Carragher is the most prepared television commentator there is, Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Mascherano and Fernando Torres are now coaches, we will have taught them something.
Q. Did Gerrard anticipate the midfielder who is in demand now?
R. He is the most complete player I have ever coached, due to his physical power, his technique, he goes well with his head, he finishes inside and outside the area and he took free kicks, corners and penalties. In the Istanbul Champions League final that we beat Milan, he ends up playing on the right back. He did almost everything right, the problem with him at the beginning was that he was a box to box and he lacked a little pause to choose, but over time he acquired it.
Q. How do you see Haaland’s impact on City?
R. Something has changed them, it gives them attack to the depth and to the back of the center-backs and passing game. On the contrary, it has taken away their ability to triangulate and team up with the striker around the box.
Q. What do you think of Arteta’s Arsenal?
R. He’s doing very well. He is a clear example of exception, he is a young coach who is supported and who has been supported in difficult times because he has been a player for the club. They have given him money to sign and since he is a good coach he is getting the most out of the squad. The normal thing is that in situations like the ones he has experienced, they cut off your head.
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