"What do you mean you've hurt 'your' knee, it's Liverpool's knee" - Bill Shankly.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rafa Interview by Balague


Rafa Benitez on Signings, Silva and Scouse 

As part of an interview broadcast on Revista de la Liga, I had an excellent opportunity to chat, at length, with the Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez. As well as talking about Liverpool`s title challenge this season and the progress being made by his squad, we also talked about Liverpool`s transfer plans for the summer and beyond. Looking at our readers comments, it is clear that the questions being asked more than any other by the fans is – who will Liverpool be signing and who is on the list of targets?

But, as Rafa reveals, the business of scouting and identifying players is far too complex to start making predictions and, as he admits was the case with David Silva, potential deals can collapse for any number of reasons.

In the interview, which can be viewed in full here, we also discussed Liverpool`s tactics in European and domestic football, the differences between managing in England and in Spain – and why, as Juande Ramos found out – it helps if you can speak the language. Rafa also talks openly his current squad of players and the futures of Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso.  As well as speaking about the challenge of raising Scouse-Spanish kids, the Liverpool coach also explains why life is easier now that his contract situation has been resolved…


Rafa Benitez:    We were just trying to concentrate on football before. And, after signing the contract it was easier for us: easier for everyone around the club; we knew what was going on and we knew the future. It is easier.

Guillem:     Your agent has spoken about different offers that you received - from England, Italy and also from Spain; how did you deal with that?

Benitez:    That`s my agent`s job. I was just trying to be focused on the football; while he has to do his job, I have to concentrate on football.

Guillem:     What is the next step? You have a new contract; new contracts are being given to players...

Benitez:     Keep going. Doing this. Trying to talk with all the players and decide about the future of each one. Also watching new players: if its necessary. We are working hard here at Melwood on a lot of things within the club.

Guillem:   The club is progressing every year, and this year you are challenging for the title. Is that something we can expect over the next few years as well?

Benitez:  Hopefully yes. Today I had some news about the improvement of the club off the pitch; so the value of the club has increased since 2004, there`s a big, big difference now, which is very positive. The team is doing well on the pitch. So for me, you can see this squad is better than before - and hopefully will be better next season...

Guillem:      One of things that has settled down, I suppose, is that there were lots of rumours about Spanish players being unsettled: if you were going to leave, they were thinking of going as well. Have you had a word with them?

Benitez:     People are OK. I am more worried about the number we are signing: we have a list of 95 players - more or less: players that we could sign this year. Anyway, it is important to know that this is a top side; that players want to stay.

Guillem:    One of the players on that list that you have spoken about openly...

Benitez:     (Laughing) One of the 95...

Guillem:    Just one...David Silva: a player who you have spoken about. What was the story there?

Benitez:      We were in Valencia - our chief scout, Eduardo, was in Valencia, he is from Valencia, and he was talking with different people from the club - and someone was talking too much. So, at this moment, Silva is not a target. He is a good player, but not our target. So, we are, at this moment, just concentrating on the players that we have. And if we are going to look for someone we will not announce it to the press; we will try to do it properly and secretly.

Guillem:     I suppose Valencia were trying to up the value...

Benitez:     No it was not the club, it was one person at the club who was talking too much.

Guillem:     But it is a club that needs money so I am wondering if...

Benitez:     No, no, we have a very good relationship with Valencia: with the board, with the people in charge. It was just one person who was talking too much. Things have to be done in the right way and now you know we are not thinking about Silva.

Guillem:     Let`s talk about the Spanish players at Liverpool and their progression this season: starting with Reina. A year ago you said that Pepe Reina is probably the best goalkeeper in Spain, if not, the world. Now it looks as if that is a general view of him; would you put him ahead of Casillas?

Benitez:     Pepe Reina is our keeper, so I have to talk really well about him! Casillas is a great keeper, so are Cech and Buffon...but Reina is clearly one of the best. He is improving and he will get better, but now, at this moment in time, he is one of the best.

Guillem:    What has he got that makes him special?

Benitez:     He can do almost everything well. He can make mistakes, like any keeper; but he`s good in the air, his distribution is good, he is always talking and organising the defence. He`s quick. I think he is the complete keeper.

Guillem:     Arbeloa has made good progress as well. Are you happy with how he is learning his new role?

Benitez:      We were thinking about Arbeloa as a right full-back.  We knew he had played there in Spain, even though he played as a centre back. But we analysed a lot of videos, and we knew that for England he had to be a right full-back. He is doing well; he is improving. In attack, he knows when to go and provides good assists; in defence he is improving also. He is someone that has improved a lot.

Guillem:    How about Fernando Torres; maybe his injuries have hampered him, and some people might be saying that he is not as good as last year...

Benitez:      I think he is better than last year. I think he is improving. But as you say, the problem with injuries means it has been difficult for him: it means he can`t keep his form. But I think he is improving: he is learning and getting more experience. Also, he is someone who is keen to learn. He will get better.

Guillem:     There is an interesting situation surrounding Xabi Alonso - who probably thought at one point that he would be leaving Liverpool and, instead, he has risen to the challenge of trying to prove to everyone that he was good enough to be at Liverpool. And he is having probably his best season at...

Benitez:     The first year was really good and this year he is also playing really well. You know that we had an offer from Juventus: we were asking for a big price because he is a big player. They couldn`t give us the price that we wanted so that`s it. In the end, Xabi has been having a very good season; he has been playing well in a lot of games and is a key player for us.

Guillem:     You are counting on him for the near future?

Benitez:     Yes, we have a lot of confidence in him because he is playing really well and he is a player we want to keep because he has the quality, and the game, that we need.

Guillem:     Why don`t we see, more often, the same attitude amongst the players that we saw in the game against Real Madridat Anfield?

Benitez:      I think we can do that in a lot of games. The difference in that game was the continental style, because teams in Europe are not used to playing against sides that play the way we play here: physical, with a very high tempo. It`s different. You can try it sometimes against teams here, as we did against Chelsea the other day when we scored an early goal. But if you keep pushing them, they can manage. They have more experience of this and they know how to play against physical teams.

Guillem:     Around the time that Real Madrid and Liverpool met, there were rumours that Real Madrid wanted you; was there anything in that?

Benitez:     No, I can guarantee to you that I was just concentrating on the game. People were talking, but you cannot control other people talking: especially before an important game like this.

Guillem;      How are Liverpool shaping up for the last few weeks of the season. Physically they look as if they might be even stronger than Manchester United...

Benitez:     Yeah, I think that we are strong enough. Some players may be a little bit tired because this week we are playing three games in a few days; but still, we have fresh legs, still we have people who can play every single game and they can play at their level. So I think that we are fit enough.

Guillem    What is needed to maintain this challenge in the future?

Benitez:   It`s one game at a time; keep winning and put Manchester United under pressure.

Guillem:    But I was thinking about the longer term future: what is needed to keep Liverpool at the top?

Benitez:    I think that we have the squad, but we have to keep improving: every single year we have to sign players; if we can sign the right players and these players settle here, we will improve. Hopefully we will be in the title race again.

Guillem:    One of the clichés is that there are two Liverpools: the one in Europe and the domestic. Do you think you are better suited to one competition more than the other?

Benitez:     No, both competitions are different. The Premier League is more physical so you can see a different style: if you have a good squad, you have to play in both competitions, trying to win and at the maximum level. Maybe, this year, because our position in the Premier League is better, people will stop talking about this. The difference in styles between Europe and in England are clear, and you can see the same thing when Arsenal or Chelsea play in the league or in the Champions League.

To hear more from Rafa on managing in England, life at Liverpool plus his views on La Liga - watch the interview on Revista, in full here.

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Quote of the moment

Defying belief however, is a market Benitez has cornered quite well. The moment you think Benitez is clueless, he defies it by pulling off a result of majesty, like the one achieved in Madrid. The moment he is hailed a genius, he masterminds toothless surrender to a team going nowhere. In the ongoing Anfield power struggle, just when he was cornered by the firing squad, the Spaniard's demise at Liverpool looking practically assured with the ominous suspension of betting by the bookmakers, he squeezes out through a narrow trapdoor and eliminates Rick Parry. Rafa Benitez is Keyzer Soze.
- Just Football blog: The Curious Beast that is Football 28 Feb 2009