Raheem Sterling transfer news: Midfielder 'known very well' to Rafa Benitez, but Real Madrid manager refuses to be drawn on links

The Spaniard was today confirmed as Carlo Ancelotti's successor at the Bernabeu after agreeing a three-year deal

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The Independent Football

Real Madrid’s new manager Rafael Benitez admitted today that he is very familiar with Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling but refused to contribute to Anfield’s struggle to keep him out of the Spaniards’ clutches by insisting the 20-year-old was his old club’s player.

Benitez was asked at his inaugural press conference at the Bernabeu whether Sterling was too young to make the move to the Spanish club which has been mooted. But he refused to create a transfer market controversy during his emotional introduction as Real manager, stating that he would not discuss Sterling, who was scouted and signed by Liverpool during Benitez’s period at the Anfield club.

“We know Raheem very well, no secret, but he is not our player. So I will not talk about him today,” he said. “It is not the day for that.” He did not dismiss the suggestion that his new club may sign Manchester United’s David de Gea but said that was not a subject for today, either. “I like the way you have tried to sneak that question under radar but I repeat we will evaluate everything in time and not name names today.”

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Benitez said that the challenge he faces as he returns to this club is even bigger than the one he encountered when joining Liverpool from Valencia in 2004. “At Liverpool I had three years to get the team competing and we won the Champions League in the first year,” he said. “But here we have to be at a very high level right from the start and try to be always at the top and that the supporters are happy. From the first moment you have to compete The expectations are different from when we were at Liverpool.”

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Benitez’s appointment has been marketed by Real as the homecoming of the hombre de la casa – the man of the house - and there was certainly high emotion when he appeared to speak on a stage in front of the pitch. Benitez was emotional and in tears at the end of a short speech, made in response to Real president Florentino Perez’s formal welcome. “It’s emotional to come home. This is always the hardest part when you don't know what to say. I want to make sure we win things and the team plays well,” he said.

Rafa Benitez during his Real unveiling


That genuine emotion will have be appreciated by his new club, with sentiment something Real will use to counter scepticism in some quarters here about Perez’s decision to remove Carlo Ancelotti – arguably the most successful coach in the club’s history. Benitez’s appointment is not one that has been universally well received in the Spanish capital with some suggestions that Benitez is a defensive manager – a supposition which his former Liverpool player Jamie Carragher dismissed two weeks ago.

There was a hint that Benitez is affronted by that suggestion when he was asked about the role Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale might have in his formation for next season. “People say I’m defensive but Napoli scored more goals than ever in their history for two consecutive seasons can’t be that defensive,” he said.

The size of the task he faces in keeping his new job for a lengthy period were laid bare in yesterday’s AS newspaper, whose cover story depicted him as El Decimo de Florentino – Perez’s the tenth manager “Ten is a good number in Spain,” Benitez joked. “La Decima was celebrated! And if they give me a 10 as a mark I will be happy….! It’s modern football,” he concluded. His wife Montse and the couple’s daughters will remain on Merseyside as he takes up his role.

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Asked what Perez’s demands had been, Benitez said: “Being first is all that matters, second is nowhere. We have to try to win everything possible. Napoli competed in three competitions with a squad that was not as good as this one so we have to do the same here.

“You have said that this is perhaps the squad with most quality that I have ever coach. It’s not a case of ‘perhaps’ without doubt this is the squad with the most quality I have ever had at my disposal. The players have so much quality. But our method of working – things like working with the ball in 80 per cent of training – that will not change.”