Rafael Benitez is not a man given to displays of outward emotion and yesterday the Liverpool manager gave the lie to any notion that he is any more effusive in private. The biggest problem with his many successes, he said, was persuading his wife, Montse, not to "waste" money on expensive bottles of champagne.
In a rare glimpse yesterday into what makes the Liverpool manager tick, Benitez said that he could not abide the taste of champagne – expensive or otherwise – and that if he beats Chelsea at Anfield tonight his idea of a celebration would be nothing more than the chance to go home and watch the match all over again on television. "When the job is done I really enjoy it internally but I don't like to jump around," he said. And there will be no changing the routine even for a third European Cup final.
Benitez's poker-faced public persona is not just an act he rolls out for the television cameras if the insight he afforded into life at Casa Benitez is anything to go by. There they will not be dancing on the tables even if Liverpool triumph in Moscow on 21 May. The Liverpool manager said he does not drink and he regards his team's goal celebrations as a convenient break in the action to reorganise his defence. Both habits must put him very much at odds with the customs of his adopted city.
"I don't drink, that's the first thing," Benitez said. "I don't even drink beer. When I go to see a manager after a match they always say to me, 'Have a glass of wine'. I say, 'I don't drink'. They say, 'But you are from Spain!' And I have to say that, 'Yes, that is right, but I don't drink wine'.
"When we finish an important game I go home with my family. I try to have a good dinner – something simple, nothing special. I like to watch the game again as soon as possible so I can start working. I say to my wife, 'Don't waste money buying expensive bottles [of champagne], I can't drink them'. I drink a little bit and she drinks the rest."
The last line was a Benitez joke, of which there are plenty once he relaxes and stops his usual automaton post-match-speak. He may give the impression that he is absorbed by the detail of winning football matches, but we know enough about Benitez from the machinations of the Liverpool boardroom over the last six months to conclude he is no innocent football purist. He is intensely political too and good at concealing that behind the persona of the football obsessive.
But yesterday he did give away a little of his personal ambition when one reporter passed him a list of the managers who have won the European Cup more than once in their careers – a select group which Benitez will join should he triumph again this season. On it were the likes of Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti and Vicente Del Bosque, the former coach at Real Madrid and a friend of Benitez from his time as a junior coach at the club.
Benitez's relationship with Del Bosque deteriorated when the former challenged Real Madrid's hegemony with Valencia – so was that similar to the breakdown of his relationship with Jose Mourinho when Liverpool started beating Chelsea? "It's different because Del Bosque was and is my friend – Mourinho was another situation," Benitez said. "I was very close to Del Bosque and I am now very close to him – we were rivals but it is OK now.
"They are fantastic managers, all of them. It is really important for everyone to win trophies and if you could win it twice it would be much better. Inside I am always really pleased. You cannot see me celebrating a goal, but to be with these games would be fantastic. For me every game is a motivation. Always to win every game and to win every trophy is a motivation."
So no touchline drama and no drinking when the game is over, but there will doubtless be a glance up at the factions in the directors' box if things go well tonight for Benitez. "When the others are celebrating, I am always trying to prepare for the next thing and be ready," he said. If he achieves a third semi-final victory over Chelsea, then Benitez will be regarded as untouchable amid the chaos at Liverpool, but he promises he will not let the success, or anything else, go to his head.Reuse content