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Rafa: Klopp is doing a great job at Anfield

For many Liverpool fans, a special place in their heart is reserved for Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard brought with him a tremendous managerial pedigree when he arrived on English soil from Valencia in 2004.

While Liverpool had made important headway under Gerard Houllier, Benitez elevated the squad to a new level, famously winning the Champions League in his first season.

It was not only his tactical nous along with the quality of player he was able to sign which won him plaudits, it was his ability to connect with the supporters which is so important in modern football.

So it is for that reason that when the current Newcastle manager gives his nod of approval to the current man in the Anfield hot seat, you have to give a whole lot of value to his comments.

The Liverpool Echo (via Marca) reported Benitez as saying:

" Klopp is doing a great job at Anfield.


"They are in that position because they deserve it.

"Last weekend I watched the game against Chelsea and they play with an intensity and an impressive level.

“They are a clear contender to win both titles and have the potential to do it."



Benitez was a master of getting the right result in Europe over two legs, be it against the almighty Barcelona and Real Madrid or Juventus and Inter Milan.

Since his acrimonious departure at the end of the 2009/10 season, the Reds fell off the radar in terms of top flight European football for quite a few seasons.

It has been a methodical build with the German in charge, culminating in back to back Champion League semi final appearances.

While last year's path to the final was captivating and thrilling, the ability to get to the final four while also having a title challenge on their plate adds that extra bit of merit to the achievement.

Rafa's priorities are quite rightly with his Newcastle side at this time, however you get a real sense that his trademark grin will appear if the Reds manage to lift some silverware at the end of this season.


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Hope he goes 4-2-4 against us and they charge forward for 90 minutes. When they inevitably lose 8-1 Rafa can tell the Sky gimp "well, we had a go, that's the main thing, no?"

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Rafa Benitez took part in an exclusive Q&A with subscribers from The Athletic. Here are the highlights of the one-hour session…


@Mark M: What’s your greatest achievement obviously apart from that Champions League win in 2005?

I was answering this question so many times. Valencia winning the league and Europa League, the Europa League with Chelsea was quite difficult, and also I am really proud of Extremadura, Tenerife and Newcastle when we were promoted. You cannot choose just one. There are so many good memories. At Napoli we took two cups from Juventus, that was another achievement so you have to be really proud of all of these things.


@Mark W: What did you say to the Liverpool players at half time against AC Milan in Istanbul and what is your favourite memory from your time as LFC manager?

I try to explain to anyone who listens to me that my English accent and my knowledge of English at the time was even worse than now! So imagine thinking about what to say when you were 2-0, thinking about what I was going to say, and then we conceded the third goal. The message was clear: Give them some hope, some confidence, tell them that if we score one goal we will be back in the game, and change the tactics to three at the back and two holding midfielders, to control Kaka between the lines with Hamann and Alonso. After we were lucky enough to score goals in a short period and that was a plus for everyone because we grew in confidence, little by little.


@Joseph P: Hi Rafa. I’ve read that China plans to win the World Cup by 2050. Based on your ongoing experience of Chinese football infrastructure and player quality, how feasible do you think this is?

Everything is going very fast in China. Our team, Dalian Yifang, we are working with 6-10 year-old boys and they didn’t used to play at that age in China. Football is not the main sport in the schools so if they support football in schools now in the way they support ping pong, then they have 50 million people playing ping pong. 50 million! Imagine if they play football in the same way they do with ping pong, then they can compete with anyone.


@Conor H: Who was your best ever signing as a manager?

Pffft. Let me think about this… It’s so difficult. If I’m talking about my players from my time in England, it has to be Torres, Alonso and Mascherano. If you talk about success and performances at the top level, those players stand out.

@Jack G: Do you believe Mike Ashley actually wants to sell Newcastle United?

I think I’ve said everything I want to say about the politics of Newcastle. You can read my first column. I want to talk about football now.


@Daniel T: How much of a talent is Sean Longstaff & how far do you believe he can go?

Since we were in Ireland in pre-season last summer, we saw him doing well and I remember having a conversation with my staff. I remember saying: “It is too early, he needs time.” But we knew he could do well. What impressed me the most was his commitment, he was very keen to learn, and everything that you were saying to him he was trying to replicate on the pitch. We knew that he was playing more offensive and then he could score goals from the edge of the box, but his understanding of the game and his work-rate means that we could use him as one of two holding midfielders. I think that he was good for us in the end and he has a very good future ahead of him. I think he has the potential to play for England but we have to be careful when we talk too much about players and the national team. He is humble, he’s a worker, but football can change quickly so I think it is better to be sure he continues approaching the game thinking about the next one as the most important.


@Tom D: Who would win — Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League winners vs Liverpool’s 2019 Champions League winners?

I’m really proud of what we achieved in 2005, but I have to say that the 2019 team is stronger already. The team that we had, what we had at this time was great team effort and a lot of character, as well as commitment on the pitch. This team have the intensity and the quality that can make the difference in games.

@Dougie W: How did managing in the English Championship compare to the other leagues you’ve worked in?

The Championship is more difficult, more physical and more intense. The fact that you play so many games makes it even harder. In Spain, with Tenerife, in the second division when we had Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Betis — the most difficult year ever — and we were promoted, but I will say that everything then was just ‘football’. The Championship here is not just football, it is a physical battle every game and so it is more difficult for the players to recover and get ready for the next game. It is certainly more difficult than the second division in Spain. I’m so proud of our achievement at Newcastle.


@Daniel T: Was there any truth to the Celtic rumours over the summer?

I was aware of some interest but we didn’t have any official approach. I was still under contract at Newcastle so we couldn’t even consider this option.


@George M: The 4-3-3 was the dominant formation in Premier League football in the not-too-distant past – but now the 5-3-2 (or 3-5-2, however you look at it) appears to have taken over the reins. What do you believe the next tactical innovation to be widely adopted across the league will be?

I think that people tried to replicate the 4-3-3 system because the top sides are so strong now. A lot of managers will recognise that one of the best ways to try and stop the top sides is by playing with five at the back because then you have one extra player in defence. The key is the balance. We were playing five in the back at Newcastle, but in attack it is a 3-4-3 formation. That is crucial to find the balance to defend with numbers, and then attack with numbers too.

@Reginald A: Rafa, which Liverpool player of the current team would you have liked to have in your 08/09 team?

Van Dijk, he would help. Not because the others aren’t good enough but because in this position he is maybe the best at the moment. We had Torres and Gerrard so we had lots of good attacking players, but as centre backs, although I was really pleased with my players, Van Dijk is maybe playing at another level now.


@Daniel T: Who is the one player you wish you got a chance to have under your management but never did?

Maybe Messi. He is so good that I could maybe just have sat on the sidelines and enjoyed watching him play! When he trained at the Manchester City training ground with Argentina, I had a conversation with him and we spoke the same language — about football, too.


@Richard P: Which former player would you liked to have managed?

Beckenbauer was my idol, so definitely him. But always when I was young I enjoyed watching Pele. In terms of English players, Kevin Keegan was playing against Real Madrid when I was in Spain and he was at Hamburg — he was a fantastic player and they thrashed Real Madrid in the away game. And, of course, Alan Shearer!


@Dan R: How receptive would you be to a return to Newcastle United one day and what would need to happen for you to do so?

I like to enjoy the challenge I have now in China. I am always committed whenever I accept a challenge, but I will not hide my feelings that in the future I would like to come back to the Premier League.


@Rory S: Hi Rafa, out of all the players you’ve worked with, which player would you consider the most underappreciated by the wider public/media?

Lucas Leiva. He was a fantastic professional and very positive for the team. Pepe Reina sometimes does not get the credit he deserves, he was a very important player for us. Also Paul Dummett at Newcastle. He is very consistent and is very clever in a tactical way. He can help the players around him and the fans do not always notice that.


@James F: How do you reflect on your time as Chelsea manager Rafa? Was it an easy decision to take the job given the rivalry between Liverpool from 2004-09?

It was a very easy decision because it was a top club with top players. What I have to say is that the board, the players and the staff were always very supportive. I think the majority of the fans appreciated what we did at this time. I was really happy to perform and do what we did. I hope that history will look back and see we did a good, professional job and that we were successful. I still have a great relationship with a lot of people there.


@Colin W: Would you swap your Champions League win in 2005 to be the first manager to win the Premier League with Liverpool?

No, I think you have to accept things as they come. It was a great achievement to win the Champions League after 21 years without Liverpool winning that trophy. You cannot choose one or the other one, you just have to enjoy the ones you do win.


@Matt H: Which manager would you say you’re most similar to in football philosophy, José Mourinho?

And how would you describe your football philosophy?

My idol was Arrigo Sacchi. I was following Maturana, who was the Colombian coach at this time, and then I have my own Spanish background. People say that Marcelino, who is at Valencia, and also Unai Emery when he was there, that they were playing in a similar way.


@Daniel T: Are there any other countries/leagues you would like the opportunity to manage in one day?

I was close to going to Germany on a couple of occasions. I was watching Bayern Munich and Schalke training and playing games in the past. I would have to learn German because the only sentence I can say is: “Wie geht es dir.” That means “how are you”.


@Jonathan H: This summer Joelinton smashed NUFC’s transfer record, with Saint Maximin, Krafth, Willems and Carroll joining him. What’s your thoughts on these signings and how do you think they will perform in the 19/20 season?

I’ve already said before I wish Newcastle well for the new season and I hope they have every success in the future. They are good players and they have to settle down in the Premier League, so only time will tell how successful those signings are.


@Daniel T: Would you ever consider international management?

Yeah. Still I am quite young as a manager. I do like the challenge of managing every week. I have had a few approaches in the past and, in a few years, it is something I may like to do. International management is different to club management and it would be another challenge that maybe I would like to do one day.


@Pawel B: Coaches these days don’t get enough time from their clubs. No long-term vision is being seen for the majority of the current PL sides. In your opinion, who (from the current PL managers) could follow the path of SAF or Wenger?

It depends on the manager. Guardiola is in the right place to stay for a long time to keep winning. Also Klopp at Liverpool. It depends more on whether they want to. You have some top clubs who will win more than others and they can give more time to their managers.


@Liam R: Hi Rafa. Thank you for everything you did and everything you tried to do while manager of Newcastle. We’re all gutted it didn’t work out but thank you for giving us some much-needed hope and respect in our club for 3 years. My question is how important do you think the standard of the Academy and training facilities are in modern football for clubs to progress? When I see how good other Premier League club’s facilities are I worry that NUFC are being left behind on and off the pitch. 

Also, if you could change one thing about your time at NUFC what would it be?

In football now, you can see in England and also in my experience in China, that it is so difficult to sign homegrown players. Players who know what it means to represent a club or a city, and they then have that passion and commitment to the club. Academies are becoming more and more important. To develop your players, to coach them and improve them so that they are ready for the first team is the way to be sure that your team will be working really hard and, at the same time, the business part of football will be right because you will save a lot of money.


@Will T: What is the best goal scored by your team when you were managing them? And what is the best goal you’ve ever seen your team concede? 

One of the best goals scored by one of my teams is Demba Ba for Chelsea against Manchester United in an FA Cup replay. It was a volley, the ball was coming across him and he had to hit it almost like an over-head kick and it went into the top corner. That was in a huge game.

The goal that my team has conceded, I think it might be the one Coutinho scored against Newcastle a couple of seasons ago at St James’ Park when he cut inside and curled a shot into the top corner.


@Jack G: Hi Rafa, what are the most important aspects of football management in your view?

I talk about ‘balance’ in terms of games, and I will talk about balance in terms of how you manage as well. You have to have some tactical knowledge but you also have to have a good staff around you to control the stuff you can’t control. You have to know how to manage them. You have players who are like children in some ways because they are too young and they have too many people around them so you have to advise them properly. Also, with a lot of money being invested in football, the people at the top want results quickly. Keeping the balance between all of these things is the key part of management now. And also the media and the social network now, it goes so fast that you have to approach things with perspective and don’t let yourself get carried away with one thing, just stay calm and analyse things in perspective.


@Michael F: If you could change one thing about football in 2019, what would it be and why?

Maybe the transfer window. They should be uniform again and the same for everyone because you can see at the beginning of the season now that it is a nightmare for some managers. They aren’t sure if their players are still going to be around.


@Connor H: Rafa, thanks for everything at NUFC, got to ask as no one else has, Messi or Ronaldo? Much love x

Much love back! They are both great players, each with their own style, and you have to praise both because they have been at their maximum level for so long. The younger players can learn so much from them.


@Pitesh M: How close do you feel we (Newcastle) were to ever lifting a trophy or getting back towards European football, under your reign?

We lifted the Championship trophy! You can only win the competitions you are involved in. What I always say is that you have to do things right if you want to be competitive. If you cannot then you have to concentrate on what you have and try to get results at the time. We could have done better maybe in some games at Newcastle but overall I think we did the best job we could have done at this time.


@Colin B: Do you think there’s a reason (bar a financial one) that English/British players and coaches don’t go abroad as much as their European counterparts?

I think it’s more about the culture. The way that you do things here is totally different to how they are done in other countries. When I was in Madrid, Cunningham was there and the way to approach everything was different. I think now the players have more chances to be successful in another country but they are not very keen to go away because the Premier League is a fantastic league, so it’s more difficult to see good English players playing abroad.


@Alex H: Hi Rafa. Firstly thank you for everything you did for my club, Newcastle United.

Coming from winning division titles and European trophies, how did you find the 2016/17 Championship season differed to those achievements and how does it rank in relation to all your other achievements?

I was really proud of this achievement because we knew how difficult it was to achieve promotion and to win the title at the first attempt. I was really pleased because, you can say what you want, but it was a great achievement. The Championship is always competitive, and it was really competitive that year.


@Thomas S: Do your family like to visit you in China or do you only spend time with them in Europe?

They will come to China because for my family, especially for my daughters, it is an amazing opportunity. China has 5,000 years of culture and history so it will be an experience that they will remember forever. At the moment I am visiting them at home on Merseyside but we are arranging for them to visit China soon.


@Hans L: What do you think about the current turmoil at Valencia? How does it affect a manager that there are institutional issues at the club? Many seem to think managers should “just coach the team and accept what they are getting”…

Would you return to Valencia?

I think they did a great job at Valencia last year and it’s a pity now that they cannot be consistent, doing things that they were doing well last year. Hopefully, they will realise how important it is to do things in a football way and I wish them all the best. I have a very good relationship with the fans, the city and everybody over there.


@Noel R: Do you remember the penalty shootout Vs Chelsea in 2007? Why did you sit on the ground during it?

I remember it really well. I had the fans behind me and I wanted them to watch the penalties! I knew I was in the middle so I sat down to give them a good view of the shoot-out.


@Joshua D: Who was your favourite player to manage during your time in Europe and why?

I will say Gerrard. Stevie, he was the captain but at the same time he was a leader by example. I could name a lot of other players because I was lucky enough to have a lot of good professionals working for me, but I would be repeating the same names because when you are a good player and you are professional, then you will be successful so everybody knows you already.


@Jay A: Hi Rafa. You had such a strong relationship with the Newcastle players. Were you able to have a proper goodbye with them before you left for China or was there no time?

I was in contact with them and I can say that 99, if not 100 per cent of them, we shared messages. Still I am in contact with them. Football is strange in that sense – you can spend years at a club but then you leave suddenly. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t still have a relationship with them.


@Jonathan H: Hi Rafa! Who do you think the best up and coming talents are in the game?

Mbappe is one of them, obviously. Jadon Sancho is also a very talented young player. There are some names, people can say this one or the other one, but it depends how they react to being famous and keep focused to make sure they progress and keep getting better.


@John M: Rafa in 2009 we had a great chance to win the lge. Why did u sell Robbie Keane, which meant we were left relying on El Zhar. Also the thoughts on chasing Gareth Barry, which led to Xabi Alonso leaving. 2 strange decisions that left us in a bad state. Always loved what u did for us but the timing of the 2 decisions left me confused.

It was clear that the understanding between Keane and Torres was not ideal and we needed to change that quickly because it was a very expensive signing for us that was not working. Torres was a faster striker and Keane used to play around Berbatov, and they were two different kinds of players. We needed to react quickly to something that was not good enough for the team in the end. The Barry story is something that still people don’t understand. Barry had been playing for years at his maximum level and, at this time, he could play in three positions – midfielder, winger and left back. We had Mascherano, Lucas Leiva and Gerrard with experience, and selling Alonso was a way to make some money and balance the team. Barry wasn’t to replace Alonso, he was to give us something different that we didn’t have at this time.


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On 19/04/2019 at 09:09, Aventus said:

"how am I doing boss?" 


"you're doing a great job son... A great job!" 

I came in this thread to write this only to find I already beat myself to it 4 months earlier. 

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Interesting Q&A answers there from Rafa. Hope Stevie gets to hear the praise he’s given him as he always thought he didn’t ever give him praise, didn’t he?

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1 minute ago, sir roger said:

Thought that myself as I read it , Suzy


My favourite bit was the thought of posters on here's heads exploding at his Lucas Leiva answer.

I liked the Lucas answer too!

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