Not quite Mourinho, but Benitez shows his animated side

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The Independent Online

So Jose Mourinho has vowed to stop blowing his blue top in the red tops, although it would take one brave man to bet Abramovich's bottom rouble that it will not happen again sometime in the next 72 hours. And throughout this phoney, baloney war, Rafael Benitez will shake his head in bemusement and get on with his own quaint perception of how a manager should manage.

So Jose Mourinho has vowed to stop blowing his blue top in the red tops, although it would take one brave man to bet Abramovich's bottom rouble that it will not happen again sometime in the next 72 hours. If his immediate past in the tabloids is anything to go by then the Portuguese Man of Jaw simply won't be able to resist it, won't find it possible to keep his own counsel as Wednesday's Champions' League semi-final jet-fires itself thrillingly into the sights.

There might be thinly veiled digs at his opponents, fatly veiled digs at Uefa, "blasts" at other managers, "pleas" to referees, "threats" to his own employers... whatever boils the pot-hunter over, headlines will be well and truly grabbed, the limelight well and truly hogged.

And throughout this phoney, baloney war, Rafael Benitez will shake his head in bemusement and get on with his own quaint perception of how a manager should manage. "I don't need people talking about me," he said, quite pointedly, on Friday. "I always say it, but the most important thing is to be focused on the game. Sure, we all like to hear people talking about us. But the crucial thing in all that is the team, and if the team win trophies then the people will talk about you - because you are the manager."

Exact opposites, then? Mourinho The Mouth versus Benitez The Brain? Well, not really, and not simply because of their standing as English football's two brightest first-season managers, who happen to hold the Champions' League and the Uefa Cup between them. "I have a good relationship with Jose," confirmed Benitez. "I have no problem with him."

Indeed, the Stamford Bridge lights will cast anything but contrasting shadows in thetechnical areas. Of late, Benitez's supposedly serene countenance has become distinctly Mourinhoesque as Liverpool's baffling inconsistency - world-beaters on Wednesday, losers by Saturday - has revealed his dramatic side. This was highlighted in the edgy win at Portsmouth, where the Spaniard's sideline theatrics could be described as "all-singing, all-dancing", if not the "all-whingeing, all-prancing" routine of his Chelsea counterpart. "Sometimes you have to be aggressive to get the message across," he said.

Still, the similarity-spotting should perhaps end there, as you could never imagine Benitez gesturing to the Chelsea supporters as Mourinho did to the Liverpool fans at the Carling Cup final. "As a player you know that you cannot change the people, and as a manager it's the same," Benitez said. "You need to have respect for the supporters. Sometimes you are very disappointed and angry, but you need to be calm."

Of course, some managers find it easier than others to separate off-field from on-field. For instance, Benitez has learnt the words to "You'll Never Walk Alone", but is as yet unable even to hum along as his mind blanks out all but the 90 minutes ahead. "Sometimes, someone will tell me that the stadium was full. I will reply, 'Was it?' I see the crowd, of course I do, but I don't see it, if you know what I mean."

His family knows what he means. "One day I was walking along the touchline at half-time to go to the dressing room and there on the side of the pitch was my father, my mother and my sister. I walked straight through the middle of them without even seeing them as they said hello. Afterwards, my father said, 'Rafa, how dare you? I am your father.' I said, 'What can I say, father? I was thinking about the game.' We were losing 1-0." So where was this, Rafa: at Valencia during a Spanish League decider maybe? "Er, no. I was coach of the Real Madrid youth team."

It is such obsession that has taken him a long way, helping fulfil a destiny that the 45-year-old believes is denied many of his peers. "There are a lot of good managers at small clubs, and I always used to say that if you gave me the chance to manage a big club, I could win trophies. Fortunately, I had that at Valencia, and now here at an even bigger club. It's a challenge. I want to win each game. And only then do you win trophies."

If that sounds as if Benitez suspects this semi-final has come too soon, he doesn't, even though he declares: "I am not a dreamer." It's just that when you have taken on and defeated the might of Real Madrid and Barcelona, not once but twice, with a side such as Valencia, you start to appreciate what is or isn't beyond reason. "Listen, it's football, not basketball," he said. "In that sport, if you have plenty of money and good players you know if you score 100 points you will win. But in football you need just one goal, which could come from a corner, a free-kick, whatever. Look at us against Juventus. Sure, they had good players, but we worked hard and got through. Why? Because it's football."

It also happened to be the best football Liverpool have played in this, or many a season; two legs, in fact, that Benitez asserts will have his boys striding forward into a trophy-laden future. "We showed that we could win, as in the first leg, playing well with the best players. But we showed in the second leg that without Steven Gerrard we could come through when working hard with the best ideas. This has given us the confidence to believe we can do two different things and that we can beat Chelsea."

It is a confidence brewing not only at Anfield (most vocally with the first-team coach, Paco Herrera, who has been telling his friend: "Rafa, we will lose four times against Chelsea this season. But we will win the fifth time and will be in that final") but also at his Wirral home. "My wife has a lot of confidence in me. At Val-encia she told me, 'You will win the Spanish League and you will buy me a watch'. We do it, she gets her watch. She then says, 'You will win the Uefa Cup and you will give me another watch'. We win - another watch. So now she tells me, 'You will win the Champions' League and you will get me another watch, but more expensive this time'." He laughs. "She has a lot of confidence." Not to mention watches.

However, some are never happy with the riches they have, and despite Benitez's desire to have the semi-final as the sole focus, the Gerrard-Chelsea subplot will be played out again. His eyes glaze over, although he does have a warning for his captain. "I have talked to Stevie and told him that to change from being the star at a club like this, to being just one more star in a huge squad of them... well, I'm not sure of the value in such a move."

His accountants may tell him it would be somewhere in the region of £35m, although the only currency Benitez truly understands is football. It is a conversion rate Chelsea might care to remember.

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