Rafael Benitez is the manager of Liverpool in the English Premier League. He has slowly moulded the team in his image – a hard-working side with a never-say-die attitude. Benitez had instant success at Liverpool after arriving from Valencia, winning the UEFA Champions League in his first season at the club. He is currently building a team capable of challenging for the title.
Rafael Benitez was born on 16th April 1960 in Madrid. He was the son of a hotelier, and enjoyed a middle-class upbringing. He was a talented footballer, scouted by Real Madrid and playing in their youth teams. He looked after his future by studying at the same time (and represented his country for the Spanish Universities team). He had a bright future but never made it to the very top because of injury problems, causing him to retire from football early.
Benitez’s coaching career began at the age of just 26, when he returned to Real Madrid to help coach the youth teams. He led the U-19s to success over Barcelona in the league and cup competitions, which prompted a promotion to working as Assistant Manager to Vincent Del Bosque. This taste of top-level management left Rafa wanting more control, so he left to become a first-team manager in the summer of 1995.
Stints at Valladolid and Osasuna didn’t go as planned, and it was only when Benitez was in his third job, with Extremadura in the second division, that Rafa began to show his potential as a coach. He led the team to promotion, though suffered the disappointment of relegation from the Primera Liga the season after.
He spent a year visiting various clubs across Italy, England and Spain to pick up new coaching techniques before taking on a role at Tenerife – again in the second division, and again winning promotion. Valencia gambled on Benitez, and made him their manager in June 2001.
Rafa Benitez became the most successful coach in Valencia’s history in the three seasons he was there – winning the Primera Liga twice, playing brilliant, attacking football, and leading the club to success in Europe with the UEFA Cup. His successes were not rewarded by the club, who wanted to take transfer-policy away from Rafa. Benitez resigned, and left the club for pastures new.
Rafael Benitez arrived at Anfield in July 2004, replacing Frenchman Gerard Houllier at the club, and taking over a team of underperforming players, including Steven Gerrard and Didi Hamann. Michael Owen was sold to Real Madrid within weeks of Benitez’s arrival, causing Rafa to strengthen with Milan Baros and Fernando Morientes.
In spite of his managerial qualities, Benitez failed to get the team to challenge for the title, finishing fifth, but performed beyond expectations in the cups. Liverpool were unlucky losers in the Carling Cup, but somehow managed to come back from 3-0 down at half-time against AC Milan to level the match and win the Champions League Final on penalties!
2005/06 saw Benitez lead the team to third in the Premier League, one point off second spot, and capped off a good campaign with an FA Cup victory over West Ham. AC Milan got revenge for their 2005 Champions League loss when the two clubs met again in the 2007 Champions League Final. There were no mistakes from the Italians this time, as they ran out 2-1 winners.
There were board-room battles to be fought over the next few years, with the club changing hands to American owners. With transfer-policy again being slowly taken from Rafa Benitez he refused to sign a new contract until he had assurances, despite Liverpool topping the table and looking like genuine title contenders.
Rafael Benitez represented Spain as a player for the Spanish Universities team, playing in the Universities World Cup, but has yet to have any involvement with the Spanish full national side, apart from letting them use his Spanish contingent of players at Liverpool. He harbours a desire to manage Spain at some point, but enjoys the rigours of club coaching too much at the moment to consider an international post.