Benitez aspires to place among Anfield legends

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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez hopes Liverpool's appearance in the Champions' League final after a hiatus of 20 years will prove a pivotal moment in helping to restore the club to their former pre-eminence at home and abroad - with a place for himself in the pantheon of managers alongside Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly as a pleasing by-product.

Rafael Benitez hopes Liverpool's appearance in the Champions' League final after a hiatus of 20 years will prove a pivotal moment in helping to restore the club to their former pre-eminence at home and abroad - with a place for himself in the pantheon of managers alongside Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly as a pleasing by-product.

Benitez has never appeared as concerned as his predecessor, Gérard Houllier, about seeing his name enshrined in Liverpool's folklore. But with the European Cup at stake against Milan in Istanbul next Wednesday, and silverware and souvenirs from their Continental adventures around him as he spoke, the Spaniard acknowledged yesterday that the past exerts a powerful presence at Anfield.

"It would be fantastic to get this club back to the top in European competition like the old Liverpool teams," Benitez said. "For me to be talked about in the same way as Paisley and Shankly would also be great because they built marvellous teams here, and it would mean that me, my staff and players had created something comparable. I'll try to do the same as those great managers. It will be difficult, but if you have confidence you can succeed.

"It will be a big challenge, but I'm confident it will be done. I want to reward the supporters. You finish fifth in the League, yet they give you such strong backing.

"People say Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are too dominant, but it was the same in Spain when I was coach to Valencia and we took on and beat Real Madrid and Barcelona. I'm very proud of the position we're in. People are believing in us more."

"Rafa the Gaffer" is certain to be coveted by clubs in Spain and Italy if Liverpool belie their underdog status against Milan and he lifts that trophy which eluded Shankly. However, he explained that his loyalty to them went beyond the fact that he has four years left on his contract. "I had problems with some people at Valencia," he said, alluding to his feud with the president. "Here it's different. Everyone believes in me."

While Benitez has found his job at Liverpool harder than any of his Spanish posts, he prefers the autonomy he has in England.

"In Spain you are the coach. Here you're the manager," he explained. "There's a lot more responsibility. But in Spain, the general manager can decide on new players. I prefer the responsibility myself. Sometimes you can be sacked for somebody else's decision. I'd rather make my own mistakes."

About 30,000 supporters will back Liverpool in Turkey, their biggest overseas following since the Uefa Cup final of 2001 in Dortmund. Benitez claimed that the noise levels in the home games against Juventus and Chelsea were worth an extra man to his side. "The fans have been very important," he said. "It will be great to see them in Istanbul. We need to show we can support our team with respect for others."

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