Benitez ready to ensure Spanish revolution retains Anfield spirit

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The Independent Football

When asked what he would be thinking as he prepared to lead Liverpool out at Anfield for the first time this afternoon, Rafael Benitez smiled that he would have to remember to wave.

When asked what he would be thinking as he prepared to lead Liverpool out at Anfield for the first time this afternoon, Rafael Benitez smiled that he would have to remember to wave.

They have been waving rather a lot at Liverpool this summer. Goodbye to Emile Heskey, Michael Owen and Danny Murphy, replaced by four Spaniards, who must appear from the back ranks of the Kop or the Centenary Stand unknown and slightly robotic figures.

Josemi, Antonio Nunez, Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia, whose move from Barcelona for £6m was finalised yesterday, could probably walk to the Pierhead without being stopped for an autograph. Once they begin to play, and if they perform to the potential that so excites Benitez, Merseyside will swallow them up and embrace them.

However, against Manchester City, managed by Kevin Keegan, a man bred on the words of Bill Shankly, Liverpool could start with only two Englishmen - Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard. It would be hard to imagine Valencia fielding two Spaniards and even in the land of the galactico, Real Madrid have always maintained a Spanish core.

"There would not be a problem if Valencia played two Spaniards and won," Benitez said. "I saw Arsenal against Everton the other day. They had one English player and won 4-1. The supporters were all very happy. I want people with a Liverpool spirit. If you see Josemi go into a tackle, you know he is a Liverpool player."

Like his predecessor, Gérard Houllier, Benitez is big on character. Symbolically perhaps, the New Derby pub opposite Liverpool's training ground at Melwood, where Neil Ruddock used to go drinking after a coaching session, burned down this summer.

Houllier largely ripped out the drinking culture at Anfield, although El-Hadji Diouf proved notably resistant to his efforts. Intriguingly, on the day Diouf moved to Bolton on a season-long loan, Benitez remarked: "The players I have signed are all the same.

"I don't want a player who is always in the discos, who is always thinking about parties. I want players who are always talking about football."

Although Anfield is not the international draw it once was, the Liverpool manager denied he had to personally persuade Garcia to leave the Nou Camp. Alonso, who cost £10m from Real Sociedad, was two and Garcia six when Liverpool won the last of their four European Cups in 1984.

"He knows the team, he knows the manager and he knows that Barcelona is a very, very big club, but it was difficult for him to play a lot of matches," Benitez said of Garcia. "As for Alonso, I am sure that right now he is talking about Liverpool, finding out everything he can about the club because he is that sort of person."

Benitez is good at beginnings. He famously won titles with his last three clubs and his first match in the Mestalla as manager of Valencia brought a 1-0 victory over Real Madrid.

He has had lengthy discussions on the differences between La Liga and the Premiership with Bolton's Ivan Campo and Pedro Matias, who spent last season at Walsall. "They both said the supporters, the spirit, the journalists are different. In Spain sometimes you win and the supporters are not happy. Here, you can give your all for your club and not win and people will accept that."

When he managed Barcelona, Bobby Robson once led them to a 6-0 victory over Rayo Vallecano and woke up to the headline "No proper football". Benitez will discover that scoring six times in the Premiership guarantees an ovation.

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