Rafa Benitez is enjoying life outside of European football since joining Dalian Professional in China.
With no pressure to fight for titles or silverware, Benitez is happy to go back to the basics of coaching and being able to focus on improving the players he has at his disposal in order to leave a legacy.
The Spanish coach welcomed MARCA late into the night, with his former club Liverpool playing in the background, to talk through his career.
How is the Coronavirus being dealt with?
We have to control everything daily – our temperature, washing our hands… We’re training normally because we don’t have any sick players or anything. Madness was created and it’s hard to control that. We’ve come to Marbella now, and it’s been almost a month.
Do you feel like more of a teacher than a coach?
Of course. I’m doing a lot of the things that I did with Castilla. People wonder why Chinese football doesn’t grow quickly, but it’s because kids start playing at 13, which is very late.
You signed for two and a half years in China. Aren’t you worried about falling behind in Europe?
Not at all. I have a good staff here and we’re very up to date. We watch games from other leagues, we look for players and the only difference is that you’re not in the papers every day.
Did you have offers from Spain?
There too. There was a lot of money on the table from a lot of well paid leagues, but from teams who couldn’t compete or win. But here, as well as a good contract, I have a project where winning titles isn’t demanded, but there’s a need for us to improve things and leave a legacy behind, which we can do.
Is it possible that we’ll see you in LaLiga Santander again?
The big leagues always attract me. The important thing is that people know we’re up to date with everything. My team and I never stop.
How do you see your relationship with Real Madrid?
I went a long time without talking about the club. I thought I should say something but it seemed like I couldn’t say what I thought. So I don’t talk about them and I only focus on the future, which for now is with Dalian Professional.
There are still some signs of Benitez at Madrid: Casemiro, Lucas Vazquez…
We were able to sign Lucas, Casemiro and [Mateo] Kovacic and two of them are still there at a good level, but I don’t want to talk about it. They let me work for six months but then, for whatever reason, we didn’t interest them any more. I don’t want to say any more.
A lot of things have been said about you. Is it true that you tried to teach Cristiano Ronaldo how to take freekicks?
It’s a lie. At no time did I do that. The only time we discussed free kicks was in Australia. I told him we analysed how he took them at Manchester United. At no time did I tell him how to take them, nor did I tell [Luka] Modric to stop passing with the outside of his foot.
So there was nothing with the Croatian either?
All I told him was that when there’s a simple pass with the inside of the foot, he had to use the inside of his foot because it’s easier for his teammate. I also used the outside of my foot when I player, but for 10-15 metre passes. But it’s easy to spread lies.
Who wants to hurt you?
Some people know that more than me, but I’m not wasting my time and I’m focusing on the future.
Let’s look at another of your clubs, Liverpool. What does this side have that yours didn’t?
We had no money. Our transfer budget in my last year was 17 million euros, and you can’t compete with that. We had tried to sell and buy, it was the only way to close in on our rivals. This team have had two or three years of very good investment and a lot of successful signings. As well as that, there’s a coach whose opinion is valued by the owners.
What will happen at Anfield after Atletico Madrid’s 1-0 win in Spain?
Liverpool will try to be on top, to overwhelm from the first minute. If the chances come, there’ll be pressure. But if Atletico can stay calm, as they have so many times, and get through the early stages then they can cause problems. Logically, I’ve been with Liverpool and I’d like them to win. My family are there, I still love the city, but my father was an Atletico Madrid fan, so I don’t want to say I’m on one side or the other. I can only offer a professional analysis.