Rafa The Red

21 May

Rafa The Red

 

Rafael Benitez is fondly remembered by Liverpool supporters for his time at Anfield, the highlight obviously being that remarkable night in Istanbul in 2005.  But he also won Liverpool the FA Cup in 2006 in the “Gerrard Final” and steered the Reds to another Champions League Final in 2007.

 

Benitez is a top manager and his career has proved that.  Rafa’s playing career was blighted by injury and he joined Real Madrid’s coaching staff in 1986 and he was appointed coach of Castilla B. His team won two league titles in 1987 and 1989. He then won a third title with Real Madrid Youth B in 1990.

 

Rafa then took over Madrid’s under 19s where he won the Spanish Cup in 1991 and 1993, beating Barcelona in both finals. His team completed the double in 1993 as they also won the under 19 league. Rafa’s success with the youth side saw him promoted to work as del Bosque’s assistant manager in 1994.

 

Benitez didn’t exactly hit the ground running in his first attempt at senior management at Real Valladolid. In fact he was sacked after winning only two matches in 23 games. Rafa didn’t fare any better at his next job at second division Osasuna, where he was sacked after winning only one game out of nine.

 

Rafa’s first success came at another Spanish second division team, Extremadura, where he led them to promotion as they finished second behind Deportivo Alaves. However, Extremadura were relegated the following season after losing a relegation play-off to Villarreal. Benitez quit after being relegated.

 

After taking a year out to study in England and Italy, Benitez returned to coaching, this time to take charge of second division side Tenerife. He guided them to promotion after finishing third behind Seville and Real Betis.

 

In 2001 Benitez was appointed manager of Valencia, a team who had just reached back-to-back Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001, losing only on penalties in 2001 to Bayern Munich. Benitez engineered Valencia into a more attacking style of play and his tactics were rewarded as Valencia won their first La Liga title in 31 years.

 

Disappointment followed the following season as Valencia finished 5th in La Liga and were knocked out in the quarter- final stage of the Champions League. Season 2003-04 was a different story as Valencia regained the La Liga title with three games to go, Valencia also won the UEFA Cup by defeating Marseille 2-0 in the final. Benitez enjoyed great success at Valencia but his difference of opinions regarding new signings saw him resign as coach in June 2004.

 

Benitez joined Liverpool in June 2004 and one of his first tasks was to persuade club Captain Steven Gerrard to stay at Anfield as Chelsea tried to entice him to London. But he couldn’t persuade Michael Owen to stay as he left for Real Madrid. Benitez brought some players from Spain, most notably Luis Garcia and Xabi Alonso, both players became favourites of the Kop.

 

Benitez also made utility player Jamie Carragher into one of Europe’s top centre backs alongside Sami Hyypia. Liverpool finished 5th in Rafa’s first season in charge at Anfield as he suffered injuries to key players, but he reached his first English domestic cup final, losing 3-2 after extra time to Chelsea in the League Cup final.

 

But Rafa’s fortunes were very much different in the Champions League, despite a poor start in the group stages which almost eliminated them until Steven Gerrard scored an 87th minute goal against Olympiakos to ensure qualification to the last 16 of the competition.

 

After defeating Bayer Leverkusen and Juventus they faced Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in the semi-final where a controversial Luis Garcia goal at Anfield proved enough to see Liverpool through to the final to face AC Milan in Istanbul.

 

The final will never be forgotten as Liverpool trailed 3-0 at half-time and all looked lost. But the introduction of Did Hamann for the second half changed the match as Liverpool staged a remarkable comeback to take the match to a penalty shoot-out which they won through heroics from goalkeeper Jerzy Dudeek.

 

Benitez thanked Istanbul hero Dudek by replacing him for the new season with Spaniard Pepe Reina as he continued to improve his team. Benitez managed to take Liverpool to 3rd in the League the following season, but Rafa did manage to win the FA Cup after knocking out Manchester United and Chelsea on the way to the final where Liverpool faced West Ham. Liverpool looked beat after trailing 2-0 and then 3-2 In stoppage time when Steven Gerrard scored a dramatic late equaliser. Pepe Reina was the hero saving three penalties in the penalty shoot-out.

 

Liverpool won the Community Shield after beating Chelsea 2-1 at the start of the 2006-2007 season and Liverpool were expected to challenge for the league after Rafa’s early successes, but poor form away from Anfield saw Liverpool’s challenge fizzle out and losing twice to Arsenal in four days in both domestic competitions was also a big disappointment. The season also saw new owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks take over at Anfield with promises of money for new signings and of a new stadium.

 

Liverpool managed to return to the final of the Champions League in this turbulent season, but this time AC Milan got their revenge as they lifted the trophy with a 2-1 win. Benitez added the likes of Torres, Babel, Benayoun and Lucas to his squad after this defeat, but after a good start to the new season, poor results in the Champions league and a public falling-out with the club’s owners put Rafa’s position under serious threat. Liverpool were shocked by Barnsley in the FA Cup and failed to mount a challenge for the league and this time Chelsea got the better of Rafa’s side in the semi-finals of the Champions League as Liverpool missed out on any silverware.

 

In season 2008-09 Liverpool finished second to Manchester United in the Premiership with a tremendous run of results at the end of the season where they destroyed Real Madrid and Manchester United in the space of a few days.

 

Much was anticipated for season 2009-2010 but Liverpool finished a lowly 7th position and were eliminated in the group stages that season as all was not well at Anfield contributing to Benitez to leave the club on June 3rd 2010 by mutual consent. Rafa made a £96,000 donation to the Hillsborough Family Support Group on his departure from the club.

 

Many people blame the Hicks and Gillett partnership for not backing Rafa and taking Liverpool to the next level and we are left in wonder to what Rafa could have achieved with the backing from his owners.

 

Only a few days after leaving Liverpool Rafa joined Inter Milan as he replaced Jose Mourinho. Benitez won the Italian Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup in his short spell with the club as Inter’s league form was poor after winning the treble the previous season, and he parted with the club in December 2010.

 

Rafa Benitez’s next move came unexpectedly with a move to Liverpool’s old foes Chelsea in November 2012, to the disgust of the Chelsea supporters who vented their feelings towards their new manager. Although disliked by the Chelsea support Benitez has guided Chelsea to the semi-final of the League Cup and the semi-final of the FA Cup, but more importantly he has achieved qualification for next year’s Champions League and last week he defeated Benfica to win the Europa League to add to his European collection of titles.

 

Benitez is a great manager, but it was sad the way he left Liverpool and it would have been interesting to see if he could have won the Premiership if he had the support of his owners. Benitez will always be welcomed back to Anfield as the Kop showed when returned for the first time with Chelsea. It will be very interesting to see if Benitez returns for a second spell in charge at Anfield in the future just as Kenny did. You just never know in football, anything can happen.

 

 

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3 Responses to “Rafa The Red”

  1. Liam Bekker May 21, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Loved Rafa – wish we would’ve given him more time, still a big fan of his even though he’s not with us anymore. Great piece!

  2. ian rouillon.. May 21, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

    i hope so…like many others i think he should of been given the job, before brendon… but if brendon fails next year, i hope are owners see sense…and bring him home..

  3. Sam Wanjere May 21, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    He should pay you for updating his CV 🙂 Good read.

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