RAFAEL Benitez and Jürgen Klopp are cut from the same cloth. Both are football obsessives; passion at their managerial core, but pragmatism at the root of their approach.
As Liverpool embark on a new era under the open, charismatic extrovert Klopp, the more guarded Benitez is in the throes of a Newcastle relegation battle that sees him return to Anfield on Saturday.
Amid the euphoria of the German’s embryonic management, symbolised by last week’s Europa League victory over the might of Borussia Dortmund, it would be easy to forget the level to which Liverpool aspired under their former tutor.
When Rafa parted company with Liverpool in the summer of 2010, the esteemed writer Dion Fanning commented that within six months the Benitez era would look like a Golden Age. Roy Hodgson gave immediate credence to his claim, but six years on, and before Klopp has the opportunity to work his magic on a higher plane, Benitez’s Anfield term deserves due recognition.
His first return in 2013, in the implausible guise of Chelsea interim manager, went largely unrecognised by the Kop. It wasn’t solely his association with a bitter, modern-day Reds’ rival that muted his reception then. Benitez always divided opinion and had critics throughout his management of Liverpool.
Now though, with the passage of a further three years, and Liverpool craving a return to the European elite under Klopp, it is important to remember that such aspiration is defined in the modern era by Rafa’s record in the Champions League.
Sadly, throughout his time at Anfield, and staining his reputation among some of our own fans, Rafa was judged by the high standards he set in Europe and ultimately defined by his failure to win the English League Championship. This is nonsense of course. Fancy winning the European Cup and becoming perennial challengers for a repeat success, yet hearing Liverpool supporters moan: “Yeah but he’ll never win a league.”
He worked against a backdrop of the Hicks and Gillett chaos and was labelled divisive for having the temerity to challenge the wrongdoing of such poisonous ownership. An insane, obsessive media relentlessly targeted his personality and methods with the remarkable consequence of turning some Liverpudlians into Evertonians. Well, they sounded like Evertonians; constantly sticking the knife into a Liverpool manager who wore the Liver Bird with more pride than anyone in living memory.
The more you look back at that period of 2007-2010, the above-mentioned American bandits a conduit to an Anfield civil war, the more crackers it is. Everyone should have been behind the man jousting with the jarg custodians; exposing them for their grand larceny, and yet thousands pulled in the opposite direction. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Wisdom was in short supply and foolishness ultimately derailed what could have become a dynasty.
Of course, the majority of us loved Rafa and still do. It is an interesting comparison with the unconditional acclaim afforded to the demonstrative Klopp. The German’s gymnastic touchline antics couldn’t be in starker contrast to the studied, note-taking conservatism of Benitez.
Klopp too has more of a sledgehammer approach in the media and his obvious comedy value leaves little to the imagination, whereas Benitez was the master of the veiled quip and half-smile.
Sometimes, those of us who analysed and became experts in Rafa’s demeanour felt we were in on a ruse or party to a special secret, and how we lapped it up.
I refused to admit it at the time, but when Rafa veered from his witty, ambiguous little digs at opponents for whom we shared a loathing, and belched out his prepared list of “Facts” against Manchester United and Alex Ferguson, I winced a little. Though I agreed 100% with everything he said, he misjudged two things – the venom of a media that loathed him and an ungenerous, lemon-sucking faction of Liverpool’s support intent on self-harm.
That Benitez’s class of 2009 were never crowned champions is a tragedy in itself; that it was mired in the media storm which had “Rafa’s Rant” at its eye only adding to the pain. To have beaten United home and away and still miss out with 86 points was heartbreaking. It was the supreme irony, that up against title rivals boasting an attacking arsenal of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez, it should be Federico Macheda who struck a dagger to our hearts.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
This is sounding too much like a lament. Let’s redress the balance.
The reality is that 2009 was the culmination of Rafa Benitez’s sterling, albeit vain effort to advance Liverpool domestically and win a League Championship. That the focus; the desire of the fans to end that long drought shifted so quickly from immediate success in Europe tells its own story.
The European itch; 21 years between a fourth and fifth European Cup, was quickly scratched. It is so easy to dismiss, but Rafa Benitez crowned Liverpool FC Champions of Europe in his first season. Defeating the best Juventus, Chelsea and AC Milan sides in generation was a miracle bigger than Istanbul itself. As I say, easy to dismiss.
Paradoxically, that was start for Rafa but also the beginning of the end. An exalted standard had been hoisted, but his detractors were also set fair. A myth that Benitez favoured and prioritised European success was propagated by more continental success. For the fans though, one European adventure merged with another over several seasons.
We never did “win it six times” but there was belief in the fans bravado to “bring on your Internazionale” and when we asked “Barcelona, Real Madrid who yer tryin’ to kid” it was a genuine question. All were vanquished as the “famous European nights” at Anfield were brought to a new generation.
The results are in the record books. But it’s the nights we remember. Dion Fanning was probably referring to this and the echelon of competition when referring to a Benitez Golden Age. Two trophies, with an FA Cup on the heels of a Champions League, don’t really justice to the Rafa era. We need to picture him sat Buddha-like on the touchline against Chelsea in 2007. We must conjure him, contrary in his tracksuit, at Newcastle, “focused on training and coaching my team.”
Remember the sheer spite of the man picking an unchanged team when he was due to rotate for a hundredth game in a row. Revel in his feuds with the assorted gobshites of the League Managers Association. Recall his mastery of David Moyes and José Mourinho, his contempt for Alex Ferguson and his hatred of Sam Allardyce. And then wonder why some of our own thought this was a bad thing?
I’m still not sure where it all went wrong. The words rotation and zonal marking still give me the creeps. I remember being pinned in corners and against walls and fireplaces by people foaming at the mouth telling me why Benitez “has got to go”. Liverpool fans they were, or so they thought. It was idiocy of the highest order. How else do you explain the Plaza Mayor in Madrid buzzing with the rumour that Rafael Benitez had been sacked – hours before his team slayed Real Madrid on its own Bernabeu turf?
Rafa Benitez was a Liverpool manager who most of us got but some of us didn’t. In some ways, given the turbulence of the times, he was the only man capable of steering the club through a unique period. Always driven by passion, he remained on the one hand sanguine and on the other committed, when so many times it would have been easy to walk away.
Rafa set the bar high for the modern Liverpool. It was his ultimate undoing but it’s a standard we now aspire to under a new hero.
On Saturday, the old guy breezes back in. It would be nice to take him by surprise with a welcome that brings a tear to his eye.
Fantastic piece Mike, 2005 was beyond our wildest dreams the sides we beat to get there are forgotten in the glory that was Istanbul. Benitez masterminded those victories without a doubt. His passion for Merseyside and LFC is what really sets him apart for me he loves the place and everything to do with our club.
Kloppo is the first manager since Rafa went who really gets us and has the capability to put us back where Rafa tried to put us. He is truly fit to wear Rafas shoes.
If I was able to get to Anfield this Saturday I would be cheering Rafa to the hilt, he fought those two American tossers full on and delivered the greatest night of my life. For those things alone he will always be one of my heroes.
Despite all that and the fact the Geordies are top lads, hope we stuff them and put another 3points on the board come on you mighty reds!
I hope Rafa gets the hero’s welcome that he deserves. A Golden Age indeed.
And then we stick 3 past them in the first half hour.
Weirdos indeed. Never understood the Benitez haters.
And I always wondered how we’d have gone had he hung on for the ownership change and had access to the kind of money spent under Kenny & BR. We’ll never know, but either way the man deserves our respect for the fact he had us punching well above our weight.
I respected him. I got him. I could see what we was doing, why he was doing it and who he was doing it to – on and off the pitch.
I just never warmed to him as a personality. I know that’s probably wrong as I never met him so it’s based on the image he portrayed. It’s just what it was.
Fanning was right though. Fucking hell, Hodgson saw to that inside a week!!
No it was based on the image portrayed of him by the utterly shite British media. That’s what you based it on and you should be ashamed .
No mate. I’d like to think I’m above that.
‘King’ Kenny had the worst half-season in history. 18 points from 19 games in 2011-12, and under the stable and relatively decent ownership of FSG.
Worse than Hodgson who got 25 points in 20 games in 2010-11 when the club was divided and toxic under H&G
A bit of balance would be good
‘King’ Kenny inherited Joe Fagan’s team first time round and never could rebuild a team properly, either at Liverpool in late 80s, nor Blackburn, and he was an outright failure at Newcastle — ask their fans
The childish hero-worship some grown men have for Rafa is bizarre
Fat man wobbling along the touchline, with a terrible goatee and some very boring defensive football
Too emotional by far – and not won a league in years – FACT!
The most childish comment I ever read here.
Yeah Jimbob. And the Ev had fucking Gollum on the sideline.
When Rafa decided to take him out of his pocket. !!!
Why are you here? You comment on every article, yet you outed yourself as a bluenose. Why bother? Go out. Have a pint. No one’s arsed.
Who let the Bluenose in?
I’ll leave you lads to it – genuinely
I do honestly support both clubs and really want Europa League for the Reds and the FA Cup for the Blues, but hand on heart I’m a bluenose first
Door shut on my way out of here
really?? no one would have ever guessed. That’s the thing with Bluenoses your house is burning down around you and you are talking about how you never really liked the neighbours curtains a few years ago.
Don’t let said door hit you on the arse on the way out jimbob, you weird little troll. Show yourself the way to go home; you should know the way by now.
Fair play for owning up Jimbob,
Personally I’d have preferred it if you hadn’t gone ‘all in’ first of all. Should have thrown us a bit of toffee first.
I don’t say this word often but you are a cunt.
Rafa, the myth, the man, the legend. If you couldn’t see that the heart of our problems were to two moronic cowboys during that era, you are dense as a hardtack.
It was a shame when he went, the way he did. That’s life though, and ultimately his departure brought us Klopp, the myth, the man, the legend.
The man deserves as rapturous a reception as Anfield can muster. He provided this club with several moments that will live forever.
He was unpopular with the British media because he treated many of them with the contempt they deserved. His speech against Ferguson may have been ‘out of character’ but I still loved it.
He fought tooth and nail on several fronts for this club against Hicks & Gillett, Ferguson and several other club detractors. He wouldn’t have lamely accepted Ferguson’s criticism of Torres for instance…
A proper Liverpool manager.
I can’t improve on that. Looking forward to welcoming the great man back to where he really belongs.
After all these years an article about Rafa provokes the same facile, juvenile bollocks as ever i some quarters.
Towards the end of his tenure it was advisable only express admiration for the man in hushed tones, with others you knew felt the same, otherwise friendships ended, taxi drivers threw you out of cabs, neighbours stopped speaking to you. Of course many of those who wanted Benitez out wanted that classless twat Mourinho in, which says it all.
Am glad he’s at a Club with fans who appreciate him at last, even if he doesn’t keep them up. Oh and did anyone doubt that Klopp would like him? Two very intelligent and decent human beings who love and get this Club.
Nice comment Sarah..
Nailed it there Sarah. Absolutely nailed it.
Great article. Rafa = top manager and top man. We are still working to get back to the level that we took for granted when he was here.
I think the root of Rafa’s unpopularity lies in his supposed ‘detachment.’ However, at Liverpool especially, he was far from detached. He got what it meant to be Liverpool manager. There are so many myths concerning his time with us it would take hours to dispel them all but I am confident he holds his rightful place within the fabric of this club.
Dumping Rafa and appointing Hodgson must rank as one of the worst footballing decisions this club has ever made. It would really take something to outdo the astounding ineptitude those making that call displayed.
The last of those people who made that managerial change happen is still in a position of power at Liverpool 6 years on. Another 13 months till that wally is chased.
Don’t know how many times I’ve defended Rafa over the years. It took up quite a lot of time and energy, but I don’t regret it for a second. Not enough people stood up for him when he needed it the most. When unfair and inaccurate criticism was levelled at him, and his accomplishments were being ignored.
I personally think those of us who supported Rafa to the hilt – admittedly to the point of sometimes being blinded by this strong sense of loyalty to a man who “got it” – did so even more fervently because the main stream failed to acknowledge the great things Rafa did for Liverpool under very difficult circumstances. At the same time it is hard to deny that Rafa’s philosophy and method simply doesn’t suit all players and staff. He is a man who divides opinion.
‘At the same time it is hard to deny that Rafa’s philosophy and method simply doesn’t suit all players and staff. He is a man who divides opinion.’
Whilst that is true, I do think it’s also indicative of some modern players’ need to be mollycoddled and showered with praise. Gerrard for instance stating that Rafa never called him ‘Stevie’ was utterly ridiculous (and he did anyway).
I really hated reading what Gerrard said about him in his autobiography because it reinforced the image of Rafa as his cold, dictator like figure devoid of all emotion, which just is not true.
I asked for a table and they got me a lamp
I truly hope that Rafa is given the rapturous welcome that he deserves on Saturday. His love for the club went further and became a passion for the city. He ‘got it’. His support for the HJC, protecting our club against Hicks & Gilette; he was one of us.
I was gutted when he left. I always felt he never got the chance to finish what he’d started.
Time has moved on & I’m sure we’ll never now go back. Klopp is cut from the same cloth – different personality but the same heart for the club & city. It’s exciting times.
I will welcome Rafa back tomorrow with a loud & proud singing of his song & I hope others do too. What he did for us was very special.
Love it, Mike. I loved Rafa then, I still love him now and just reading his quotes in recent days I know I always will. The stuff in Dudek’s biog just raises the affection levels further: the sheer obsessiveness of the man, the bloodymindedness, the Iberian sang-froid. No, you’re not going to Koln til we get cash upfront/a new keeper. Why didn’t you dive the way we told you to? All of it is brilliant.
He made a handful of mistakes in his time – falling out with Xabi being one of the main ones – but he got so much right. He *was* right, the right fit. It was an extremely competitive era; three or four years before or after we’d have done the league under him and frankly it still baffles me how we didn’t do it in 09.
One more thing: Carra’s obvious admiration for Rafa makes me love him that little bit more, and sad to say, Stevie’s less enthusiastic view makes me love him that little bit less, though I still worship the ground he walks on. Rafa was the leader. Let’s show him the love.
I completely agree with you NB. Well said. The way SG choose to portray Rafa in his book while lamenting never playing for mourino was a cheap shot. SG never would have had been such focal point of our attack or any other clubs attack without Rafa’s tactical thinking. SG owes Rafa. And so do all real lfc fans.
About a year ago, there was a significant faction of people who had seen quite enough of Rodgers. I was not one of them and never backed down from the cyber-thugs gathering steam. Generally, they are a lot that don’t see many shades of gray. So, if I thought Rodgers was better than results suggested, than surely I must hate Rafa. Such was the binary thought process of cyber-thugs.
Very much the opposite, I loved Rafa. I defended him from very similar thuggery when things began to sour. I don’t see the need to compare 13/14 to Istanbul. It seems a pointless and fairly stupid exercise. As a football fan, of course I enjoy analyzing the performances, but I never understood the either/or mentality.
I celebrate Rafa just as I celebrate Torres. For the simple reason that they brought joy into my life. Yes, endings are bitter, but glory is eternal. Trophies are symbols of glory, but to me glory, true glory, is about moments. And, more than trophies, Rafa brought such exquisite moments.
Cyber-thugs — nailed it.
I don’t know how anybody could hate Rafa Benitez. No time in my life for thinking about such people, and I refuse to give them even another minute of my life talking about them.
I think this applies to the Michael Owen business at the moment.
Yes he went over to the dark side, yes he’s a mercenary little twat but the goals he got for us gave me great joy & while I don’t expect a lot of fans to ever forgive him, personally I’ll hold no grudge against him.
When Rafa Benitez takes his place in the dugout tomorrow I hope our supporters remember the man who delivered us 2 of the greatest Anfield nights against Juventus and Chelsea in 2005 on the road to Istanbul, and give him the applause he deserves. We’d almost forgotten the fervour of those occasions and the Dortmund game was a apposite reminder of how much Rafa gave to this club.
He was targeted continuously by the “Manc-loving” media because they recognised he may actually be a threat to the anti-Christ Ferguson. He was far from the cold, unapproachable person they portayed, this was the same man who donated £96,000 to the Hillsborough families and who continues to live here among us on Merseyside. The least he deserves is my appreciation.
‘And, more than trophies, Rafa brought such exquisite moments.’
That, to me, is the essence of being a football fan. We all live in hope of trophies, domestic and European dominance, but it’s the moments along the way that you really remember. Rafa provided countless of them and Klopp has already given us plenty in just a few months.
Absolute fucking class Mr Nevin, bravo.
Apologies that I’ve told this story before but I was away skiing and got a text from some mates saying ‘wait till you see Rafa’s interview. It’s fuckin brilliant, he’s just give it Fergie big time’ (or words to that effect). I didn’t have internet on my phone in those days and much as I love skiing I was looking forward to it ending so I could get home and see the interview. The suspense was killing me. When I got home and watched it, I’ll be honest, I found it sadder than ‘The Champ’. It completely knocked the stuffin out of me. I couldn’t understand what my mates were celebrating. I really felt for him, the man, rather than the manager.
I’m also repeating myself here with a recommendation I suggest anytime Rafa is mentioned but I feel it’s relevant. Not all the readers on here will know the full story of those years. I live 20 miles from Liverpool and went to most of Rafa’s home games in charge and I certainly didn’t know it. I took part in some of the demonstrations against H&G but again, I wasn’t privy to the extent of the problems behind the scene. Anyway, my point, anyone who doesn’t love Rafa, I can’t recommend enough they read Brian Reade’s An Epic Swindle: 44 months with a pair of cowboys. It’s a fascinating insight into how much Rafa loved the club and what he was up against. I feel it explains a lot of Rafa’s slightly odd moments towards the end and fully vindicates them.
That book says it all . Rafa Rafa Benitez
Yeah, Mike, supremely well written piece. Would l love to think I could’ve penned something like this, but alas, you’ve shown me the way there. Kudos.
I think the thing that really strikes home about your words is how fresh many of the insanities you refer to still feel, 6 years on. I have friends, good friends, who plain refused to recognise that there was seemingly only one person at the club with the balls and the energy to take on Hicks, Gillet and the cronies around them (Purslow et. al.). The main was the finger in the dyke between us and annihilation, and yet ‘he had to go’. Madness. Utter madness. I never really think about it anymore, and yet there it is – your piece takes me straight back to thoese ‘best of times, and particularly worst of times’.
Gonna be great to see him back this weekend. I hope he stays at Newcastle, ownership aside it’s a great fit for him I think. Still hope we stuff ’em!
I would like to think the Liverpool fans who hated Rafa would also vote for Donald Trump now
Quality insight there. The logic is unquestionable………
The British press love hating non British managers. That was a big part of the hostility Rafa faced and they will turn on Klopp to sell papers. I gave only ever heard good things about Rafa from those who use to drive him around or have met him. Lovely guy and liked by everyone who still meets him on the Wirral where he still lives.
Golden days and nights, indeed. How the mighty have fallen.
Given the resources available to him, and the type of relentless football played in the Premiership, is it any surprise that he was more successful in Europe? He could manage his squad far more effectively over a lesser number of games spread across the season. A lot of people seem to think Rafa should have done better with players such as Mascherano, Xabi, Gerrard and Torres without considering how long they played together and who they played alongside.
As for the media, I can confirm you’re right. I was living in London throughout most of Rafa’s reign. They hated him and never picked up on the Hicks and Gillette drama until it was far too late. You just didn’t get the whole story outside Liverpool.
That picture of the guy with the banner us my step dad. He ousted away in 2014. It makes us all happy to see his picture. He loved Rafa.
Sorry my ability to type on a mobile is terrible. He passed away in 2014.
Great piece spot on about Rafa I’m still fighting his case to this day . It makes me ashamed to be a Liverpool fan nearly getting into fights with fellow so called fans
And your right time seems to have changed some of them . He gave me the greatest nite of my life and il fight for that man for rest of my life .Thanks for writing the piece .
Top 4 most seasons, A CL cup, An FA Cup, A CL Final…that’s Benitez legacy.
Oh, and he lives here.
Just the facts….
Thanks for that article. I just finished Neil’s piece as well. I just feel happy to have had the times we had with him, also happy for him that he has a shot now, for the first time since he was booted out of his job here, at a place that has a lot in common with Liverpool. I love Rafa and I love the fact we won’t forget the man. Feck the begrudgers. It’s their loss.
After Chelsea’s antics around the Semi-Final switch in 2012, and the supporters disregard for the minutes silence, Rafa unfortunately went down in my estimation the day he became their Manager.