Let's give peace a chance, Benitez urges Mourinho

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Make love, not war, was the message from Rafael Benitez to Jose Mourinho last night as the Liverpool manager appealed to his Chelsea counterpart to bury their personal enmity when they meet again at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Just 24 hours after railing against the conspirators he believes are behind Frank Lampard's loss of confidence and Chelsea's disciplinary record in Europe, the Portuguese coach received an olive branch from a most unlikely source when Benitez, with whom he has turned from friend to foe in recent seasons, made an unexpected plea for a public reconciliation ahead of their next Premiership encounter. Whether he is currently in the mood for cordiality remains to be seen.

The Liverpool manager has become increasingly irritated at how the personal rather than professional nature of his rivalry with Mourinho now overshadows the club's frequent meetings - this weekend will witness their 12th contest in just 23 months - and, in a rare and deliberate move, has attempted to diffuse any further deterioration in their relationship. Their last two unions, last season's FA Cup semi-final and the Community Shield in August, saw both managers dispense with the traditional post-match handshake, while Benitez is known to have been angered at Mourinho's comments on the eve of the new season, in which he dismissed both Liverpool's style of play and title credentials.

Yesterday, however, Benitez insisted: "We'll go down there and be his guests on Sunday. At the end of the game, I will wait and see if he offers his hand. If he does, then I'll shake it. Not a problem.

"Normally, when a manager comes to Anfield and comes to see me, I'll welcome him and offer him all the best for the season, " Benitez said. "The problem has been that, in the build-up to these games, people are always talking about things that have nothing to do with football and, because we talk about this all the time ahead of these games, I think it's now time to stop speaking about it.

"If he wants to shake hands, I don't have any problems with that. I will shake his hand. I prefer to talk about football than these small things. I'll give to him the opportunity to shake hands if he wants."

The Liverpool manager admitted his relationship with Mourinho has soured, but only since the Champions' League group game at Anfield last September and not, as is generally perceived, since the controversial Champions' League semi-final second leg on the same ground six months earlier when the Chelsea manager refused to accept Luis Garcia's winner had crossed the line.

"I think that, originally, we were fine," revealed Benitez. "After the Champions' League game when we drew here, we started having some problems. I've never spoken about his team, about how they play, so for me it's time to finish with this situation. People should be talking about football. We should be talking about things on the pitch, not matters off it."

Among the controversies that contrasting managerial styles, traditions and over-familiarity have generated between Chelsea and Liverpool in recent years, the spat between Jose Reina and Arjen Robben in the corresponding fixture last season warrants only a footnote. In normal circumstances, it would represent an intriguing sub-plot.

The Liverpool goalkeeper was shown a red card in the Premiership defeat at Stamford Bridge in February for sending the Dutch winger tumbling to the floor with a wave of his glove. It was an over-reaction from the Chelsea player that allegedly provoked outrage amongst Robben's own team-mates when they studied the incident on television and prompted a sarcastic Benitez to cut his post-match press conference short in order to "visit their player in the hospital".

After a turbulent week in the Premiership for Liverpool, if not in the Champions' League draw with PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday, however, the Spanish stopper is more preoccupied with preventing an already ominous gap extending between the Merseyside side and the League leaders than settling any personal scores.

"There is no revenge in my mind," said Reina yesterday. "It is just one game but we know we need to do better in the big matches. When you get points against the big teams you know it can make a big difference at the end of the season because it is not only three points for you, but three less for them. It is important at both ends.

"We will have to defend as well as did against PSV and see if we can score one goal," he added. "Small details are the difference. Whoever makes the least mistakes wins at the end and it is vital we make no more mistakes."

The goalless draw in Eindhoven was the first clean sheet Reina has kept this season, a far cry from the 29 he enjoyed last term and which demonstrates the difficulties that culminated in his error-strewn display against Everton last weekend.

"As a goalkeeper I know I always have to walk a fine line between the saves and the mistakes," added the £6m signing from Villarreal. "I made a mistake on Saturday, but I have to turn the page, forget it and learn from it.

"It was harder to do that because it was a derby game and so people remind you about what happened. I have the spirit because believe it or not I have made mistakes in the past. That is normal with keepers. It is just one mistake. My confidence is fine."

Steve Finnan also believes the criticism levelled at Liverpool following the defeat at Goodison Park was unfair. "It has been a difficult week - we lost a derby," he said. "And as always when it's Liverpool the criticism is intense and a bit over the top. If we had won 3-0 people wouldn't be slamming Everton, they'd be saying good things about us. But if we lose, we get it."

Comments