Blogs & Opinion

Rafa a true Red

Benitez's link to Liverpool runs deeper than football, says Johnny

Johnny Phillips - @skyjohnnyp Posted 19th September 2012 view comments

On the first night of this season's Champions League tournament one of the managers who was part of the competition's most memorable final was far away from the demands of elite football in Europe.

Rafa Benitez was entertaining an audience of Liverpool supporters at London's Institute of Education in Russell Square with tales of the 2005 final and others during his six years in charge at Anfield.

Benitez: the architect of Liverpool's 2005 Champions League triumph

Benitez: the architect of Liverpool's 2005 Champions League triumph

The Spaniard is rightly held in incredibly high regard by Reds fans and the audience lapped up his tales from the famous night in Istanbul and that now legendary half-time team talk. Fifteen minutes that changed everything. But if these were stories that have been told many times since, there were others that are perhaps more relevant at this moment.

We were supporting the families each year, attending the memorial. It was always emotional. We were waiting for this time and we are so pleased.

Rafa Benitez
Quotes of the week

2pm, Sat, Sky Sports News HD

The arrival of the first batch of American owners, Hicks and Gillett, the gradual decline after the 2008/09 season when they lost just two league games all season and finished second with 86 points, and the ultimate decision from the owners to end his tenure.

If the Champions League is Benitez's crowning moment from his successful stay on Merseyside, coming within a whisker of the title four years later is the one that got away.

"We had a very good season," recalls the Spaniard. "People were talking about the draws but of the last 11 games we won 10. It was almost perfect that season but in the end United did well and we couldn't get past them."

The club hasn't come as close since. Maybe partly because of that Benitez's era is looked upon so favourably by supporters, but there was a bonding during his stay at Liverpool that went deeper than just football. His family love the city and his wife set up the Montse Benitez Foundation which does some important work on Merseyside. This also helps explain why he has such a central place in the hearts of fans.

"The connection with the fans and the relationship with the city is quite important," he says. "We have our foundation and we try to help the local charities. We have a good connection with the city. Fans know that. But if you talk about the football team and talk about the games then Istanbul is the main one, but there were others against Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Chelsea that gave such good memories."

That was the thinking behind Champions League Dreams, Benitez's new book which focuses on the six Champions League campaigns. It wasn't only on the pitch that the manager produced some amazing nights. Before beating Bayer Leverkusen in the 2005 quarter-final he took his coaching staff out to an Irish pub in Cologne to watch Chelsea's tie against Barcelona on the television, resulting in one of the most memorable evening's drinking for the fans already in the bar.

During our interview Benitez spoke not only about those happy nights but also the current Liverpool team and the patience fans must have with the new regime, all of which you can see on Soccer Saturday this weekend.


But before we finished I asked him about the most important matter of all - Hillsborough. Although it was a tragedy that happened 15 years before he arrived on Liverpool, the fight for justice was one he became heavily involved in. On leaving the club one of his last acts was to donate £96,000 to the Hillsborough Families Support Group. Their vindication in that fight was something Benitez and his family always hoped for.

"Talking with people in the city you could understand what was happening straight away," he says. "We were supporting the families each year, attending the memorial. It was always emotional. We were waiting for this time and we are so pleased.

"When the truth came through I thought that was massive for everyone involved. The most important thing is that they can now fight for justice in another way."

back to top

Other Football Experts:

Latest Posts in Football:

Jeff Stelling

Battle for survival

Jeff Stelling hopes Sunderland can scrape to survival like his beloved Hartlepool did this week....

Jamie Redknapp

Double delight?

A year on from 'bite-ban', Luis Suarez should clinch the title and PFA Award, says Jamie Redknapp....

Peter Beagrie

Transfer target

Beags says top sides are after Ross McCormack and picks his Championship boss of the season....

Latest News RSS feeds

Proud Butt expects reaction

Nicky Butt says he is immensely proud to be assisting Manchester United's temporary manager Ryan Giggs.

Four-match ban for Ramires

Chelsea midfielder Ramires will serve a four-match suspension after a charge of violent conduct went uncontested.

Martinez: Moyes will be back

David Moyes will make a successful return to management soon, according to the man who replaced him at Everton.

Sturridge eyes Chelsea return

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge has confirmed that he is hoping to feature against Chelsea this weekend.

United face no probe

Manchester United acted within stock market rules over the departure of David Moyes, Sky Sports News has learned.


World Cup countdown

World Cup countdown

With 49 days to go to the World Cup kick-off, can Neymar fulfil Brazil's sky-high expectations?

World Cup: Eight of England's starting XI should come from Everton and Liverpool

World Cup: Eight of England's starting XI should come from Everton and Liverpool

When Roy Hodgson selects England's starting XI for the World Cup D opener with Italy, there should be eight players from Liverpool and Everton on the team sheet.

Squad selector

Squad selector

Pick your 23 to go to the World Cup with England. How does your squad compare to our experts?