Martinez: Rafa can revive Reds

Wigan manager points to countryman's tactical nous ahead of tonight's trip to Anfield

Given that Bill Shankly was always profoundly suspicious of the Spaniards – his xenophobic streak had much to do with the Spanish referee Jose Maria Ortiz de Mendibil being allegedly nobbled by Internazionale ahead of the 1965 European Cup semi-final in which Liverpool felt they were cheated – it is easy to imagine what he would make of opposing managers from that country contesting the Anfield match during which Shankly's own contribution to the club will be commemorated tonight.

But those innate suspicions aside, the Scot, whose family will be welcomed on to the pitch at half-time against Wigan this evening, would probably have acknowledged that Rafael Benitez and Roberto Martinez are Spaniards apart. For such a gifted football nation, it has exported extraordinarily few successful managers. Juande Ramos lasted barely a season at White Hart Lane, Ernesto Valverde did not stay in Greece for long after winning a double at Olympiakos and is now at Villarreal and Javier Clemente failed as Serbia's manager before quitting the Iran job because he did not want to live in Tehran. Benitez, for all the trials of a season in which a run of three wins from 15 games make tonight's match so important, has comfortably surpassed them all.

He and Martinez are not especially close. Their paths first crossed in the early 1990s, when Benitez was managing Real Madrid's under-19s and Martinez was playing for Real Zaragoza's equivalent (the Aragonese won 3-1) and they only re-established personal contact when Martinez took Liverpool's Paul Anderson on loan at Swansea City two years ago. But the Wigan manager knew all about the the weight of expectation under which Benitez prospered at Valencia, before taking the route to England Martinez pursued, first as a player, in 1995. "Valencia always had huge expectations but no one was able to fulfil them until Rafa arrived. What he did in the domestic competition and then in Europe is difficult to describe," Martinez said.

These are not platitudes. Though Martinez denied comments attributed to him that he considers Benitez a victim of an English managers' "mafia" led by Sir Alex Ferguson, he did convey them in an off-the-record conversation with a Spanish journalist which, to his embarrassment, was subsequently published. The overriding quality Martinez sees in Benitez is his power of adaptation. "He wins games with what's he got," he added. "He's such a clever, clever tactician. He could have different styles depending on the squads he's got. If you look at [the way] Tenerife were playing when they got promoted [in 2001], it was completely different to the way Valencia were playing when they won the league [the following year] which was different to the way Valencia were when they went far in Europe [2004]. Even with Liverpool he just adapts to his squad to try to be competitive."

But Benitez is currently in such alien territory that you wonder whether his methods have simply stopped working. "Not really," Martinez said, "because that's why you have the squad. Many years ago you had top players and that was it, and the famous phrase was 'they had to perform for the manager.' Nowadays they have to perform for themselves. It's their career. You have squads of 25 or 26 players. If something doesn't work you can change it quite easily. Then you've got the [transfer] windows."

Benitez may allow himself a rueful smile at that one. Money is tight at an Anfield and never has the manager been so dependent on his two prime players, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. Neither can Liverpool afford their place among the elite to dip: it is their sell to the new investors from whom they are seeking £100m. It is not the kind of burden Shankly faced, Martinez acknowledges. "It's easier to blame one man – the manager – rather than 25, put it that way," he said. "The industry we're in, you're not talking a few million you're talking about massive money, big assets, big marketing images. It's easier to change one man than 10 or 11 players."

Martinez does not buy the idea of Liverpool being displaced from the top four. "There are so many points left," he said. "There is nothing better than having the experience of knowing how to finish in the top four in the Premier League, believe me. In that respect, they've got that." The most articulate defence of Benitez for months. He could probably use a glass of rioja and a conversation with his compatriot when battle is done tonight.

Alan A'Court passes away at the age of 75

Alan A'Court, who scored Liverpool's first competitive goal under Bill Shankly, has died at the age of 75. A'Court made 381 Liverpool appearances and scored 63 goals in an 11-year spell at Anfield after signing in 1952. His strong and direct performances on the left flank earned him a place in the England squad at the 1958 World Cup despite Liverpool being in the Second Division at the time.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices