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

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Rafa Benitez by Mauro Pederzoli

Here's a translation of this piece by Paolo Brusorio.

"He doesn't count goals when judging a striker". It goes against the logic of pub talk but it is how Rafa Benitez thinks. With Liverpool he's signed a five year contract: he is the Reds' manager in the manner that is habitual in England. He takes care of the team both on and off the pitch, he's given a budget and decides how to spend it. He has his own staff and, since this time at Valencia, has been in synch with Eduardo Macia, the former sporting director of the Spanish side. Yet when he arrived on Merseyside he took on an Italian: Mauro Pederzoli, the former sporting director of Brescia and Cagliari who is now under contract at Liverpool.

Pederzoli met Benitez some fifteen years ago "I lived in Spain where I had worked on the deal which led to (Gigi) Maifredi being made Albacete's manager. Common friends brought us together and he asked me to be his window on Italian football." Since then they never lost touch "one day it would be great to work together" Benitez used to tell him. And then came Liverpool.

Fresh for Pederzoli is the memory of a young Benitez who in the nineties managed to take Extremadura to the Liga. "That Benitez is very similar to the modern day one. He keeps thinking about football twenty four hours on twenty four." Football as a sort of rosary. A hermit of a manager and perhaps a mad one, where the madness comes through work. The name of Arrigo Sacchi comes to mind? Bingo. "The greatest manager of the modern era" is how Benitez calls the former Italy boss. Pederzoli recalls "Rafa used to come a lot to Italy to meet him, to study his methods and to question him. Where do the two meet? The care for each detail of the match, their exasperating work when possession is lost and the method through which players are chosen."

Simple but unbreakable rules that Benitez passes on to his helpers. Benitez doesn't want headline hogging players but discipline, he avoids small players and fancy dans. He looks for "fair and strong" players. Pederzoli says "Put together those players and you get Liverpool. The team that tops the fair play league, no player sent off in the league."

Together they’ve chose players like Agger, Kuyt and Mascherano ("he was strugling with West Ham but we believed in him because we had been following him since his time in South America"). And what of Agger? "The aim was to sign players to replace Carragher and Hyppia. Agger, who played at Broendby, was in the list of players that Benitez told us to follow for a whole year, even during training. We also followed (Daniele) Bonera (then at Parma but now at Milan) but Benitez doesn't like small defenders. We spoke about Cordoba one day and he asked me the height that Inter's defender can reach when jumping. We estimated 2.35 metres. You see, he told me, it only takes Crouch to jump thirty centimeters and Cordoba doesn't even see the ball."

Kuyt instead "has all of Benitez's beliefs, he's the type of strikers he prefers useful when he has the ball, even more when he hasn't" Oh, right, that story of goals and strikers. The strong beliefs of the man who, when criticise for having made Liverpool seem too Spanish started to shuffle the pack. Pederzoli remembers those days clearly. "He never wavered because he has a great self-belief that always gives him strength. He's got fire inside. Benitez in Italy? Here he's very happy and then he wants to win the Premier League."

Benitez keeps thinking about football. It happened also on their honeymoon "He was with his wife Montserrat and I spoke to him about Adriano Bacconi, the first one who applied informatics to football. Benitez asked me to meet him. In the end he spend a whole day with him and his computer whilst his wife waited."

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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