Rafael Benitez: Ups and downs of the new Real Madrid manager

Rafa Benitez
Image: Rafa Benitez: We look at the highs and lows of his career

Rafa Benitez has been named Real Madrid manager - 20 years after he left his role as the club’s B team boss.

In that time, the Spaniard has won 12 trophies, including two La Liga titles with Valencia, and the Champions League with Liverpool.

However, it hasn’t always been plain sailing for the 55-year-old. Here we chart the ups and downs of his managerial career since he left the Bernabeu as a young coach in 1995…

Real Valladolid – 1995-1996

Benitez kicked-off life in management at Real Valladolid – but he didn’t exactly get off to a flying start. After two wins in 23 games, Real Valladolid were bottom of La Liga and Benitez – who had been appointed at the start of the 1995/96 season – was out of a job by the end of January.

Osasuna – 1996

After his first foray into management failed, Benitez returned in Spain’s second division with Osasuna the following summer – and this time lasted just nine games. Just one win in that time was not enough to convince the club’s owners to stand by their man.

Extremadura – 1997-1999

14 Oct 2001:  Portrait of Valencia coach Rafael Benitez during the Spanish Primera Liga match against Barcelona played at the Nou Camp
Image: Rafael Benitez pictured during his time with Valencia

At the third attempt, Benitez finally struck success, leading Extremadura to a second-place finish in the Segunda Divison and promotion to La Liga. The club’s stay in Spain’s top flight was short-lived, though. They were relegated the following season after finishing 17th and losing a play-off with Villarreal. Benitez resigned and opted to take a year off to study in England and Italy and consider his next move.

Tenerife – 2000-2001

Benitez returned to football in 2000, with Segunda Division side Tenerife and steered them to promotion, behind Sevilla and Real Betis. A young Luis Garcia was in his team that season; the midfielder would later help Benitez’s Liverpool win the Champions League. 

Valencia – 2001-2004

VALENCIA, SPAIN:  Valencia's players David Albelda (R) and coach Rafa Benitez celebrate Valencia's Spanish league title win in Valencia, 10 May 2004.
Image: Benitez led Valencia to two La Liga titles, with David Albelda (R) key

Despite his good work with Tenerife, Benitez was somewhat of a surprise appointment for Valencia in 2001. Los Che had reached back-to-back Champions League finals, while Benitez had just one La Liga season under his belt as a manager. Remarkably, he led Valencia to the title, finishing seven points ahead of Deportivo. A less successful second season followed but Valencia and Benitez bounced back in 2003/04, winning La Liga once again and clinching the UEFA Cup with a 2-0 win over Marseille.

However, Benitez left the club after falling out with the owners over transfers. “I was hoping for a sofa and they bought me a lamp,” he said, when a midfielder arrived instead of his desired defender.

Liverpool – 2004-2010

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez of Spain lift the European Cup
Image: Steven Gerrard and Benitez lift the Champions League trophy

Benitez’s next stop was the Premier League and a six-year spell with Liverpool. Defeat to Chelsea in the League Cup final and a fifth-placed finish in the league was of little consequence to most Liverpool fans come the end of the season, when Benitez’s men won the most remarkable Champions League final of all time against AC Milan.

“All credit to Benítez, he wouldn't let us put our heads down. He told us the game wasn't over and we knew if we got an early goal, we were back in it,” said captain Steven Gerrard after their stunning fightback from 3-0 down at half-time to win on penalties. 

The following season brought more cup final heroics, as Liverpool denied West Ham in the FA Cup final with the help of a Gerrard wonderstrike, while a third-place finish in the league – one point off second – highlighted the team's development.

Another Champions League final followed in 2006/07 – although this time AC Milan got their revenge – before semi-final heartbreak at the hands of Chelsea saw Liverpool miss out on a third final 12 months later.

A runners-up spot in the Premier Legaue and big wins over Manchester United and Real Madrid came in 2008/09, and Benitez – who had earlier in the season launched a tirade against rival Sir Alex Ferguson with his ‘facts' – signed a five-year contract. However, a poor run, early Champions League exit and seventh-place finish the following season saw Benitez leave Anfield.

Inter Milan 2010-2011

Head Coach Rafael Benitez and Javier Zanetti of FC Internazionale Milano celebrate with the trophy after winning the Supercoppa
Image: Benitez celebrates and Italian Super Cup win with Javier Zanetti

Days after leaving Liverpool Benitez joined Inter Milan, taking over Jose Mourinho’s treble winners. He got off to a winning start, lifting the Italian Super Cup, but lost to Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup. Despite poor league and Champions League results, Benitez won the Club World Cup. However, when he demanded backing from the board in the January transfer window there was little support forthcoming and he was sacked on December 23.

Chelsea 2012-2013

Chelsea Interim Manager Rafael Benitez poses with the trophy during the UEFA Europa League Final between SL Benfica
Image: Benitez won the Europa League while with Chelsea

“I would never take that job, in respect for my former team at Liverpool, no matter what.” Benitez – who had a number of run-ins with Chelsea during his time in charge of the Reds – had his words used as ammunition against him when he went back on his promise and signed up to replace Roberto Di Matteo at Stamford Bridge.

The Spaniard was jeered by Chelsea supporters in his first game in charge and fought an ongoing battle with the fans throughout his short reign. A Champions League group stage exit, Club World Cup final defeat and semi-final losses in the League Cup and FA Cup hardly helped his cause.

However, Benitez – who had already revealed he would be leaving at the end of the season after hitting out at the owners over his ‘interim manager’ title and the fans for jeering him instead of supporting the team – added another trophy to his cabinet with Europa League final glory against Benfica.  

Napoli 2013-2015

Rafael Benitez head coach of Napoli poses with the Tim Cup before the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Cagliari Calcio
Image: Benitez led Napoli to Coppa Italia glory in his first season

In his most recent role, Benitez added even more weight to his reputation as a cup specialist by winning the Coppa Italia in his first season in charge, before reaching the semi-finals of the Italian Cup competition in 2014/15 and the final four of the Europa League.

Serie A results were not as positive, with Napoli slipping from second in the season before Benitez’s arrival to third in 2013/14 before missing out on Champions League qualification this term.

Benitez will be in Europe's elite club competition next season, though, as he returns to where it all started: Real Madrid.

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