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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower