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In depth with Rafa Benítez


What were the key steps which you took to become a top-level coach?
Even as a teenager I was interested in football teams and I took notes and made assessments. Later, I studied physical education and over a three-year period went through the three levels of the Spanish FA coaching programme. For ten years I trained the youth teams and the reserves at Real Madrid although I was not on the full- time staff. As the assistant of the second team, I found myself training two different teams, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and working every day as a coach, writing reports or watching matches. After three months of this I decided it was time to be a professional coach and the president offered me a contract.

Who were the biggest influences on your coaching career?
The best team that I saw when I was developing as a young coach was Sacchi's great side at Milan. But it is impossible to repeat what others have done you can be influenced, but you must try to do something yourself. Yes, Arrigo Sacchi, the coach, was a big influence.

What have been the main differences between coaching in Spain and in England?
Language is of course the first difference and that is difficult to deal with. In Spain, you have more pressure from the board, and the journalists are different because they are constantly present, constantly reporting ever/ detail. In England, media attention is concentrated around the games.

How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
When I think of myself as a coach, the first thing I would say is that I am a worker. I have a very good staff and every day we ask: Why this? Why that? We are always questioning, always looking for new solutions, new ways to proceed. We pay attention to all the details. Regarding football philosophy, in Spain there are two considerations: Firstly, the short passing game or the long passing style? Secondly, to win or to perform well? I think you can play both styles of play, short and long. And our approach is to play well and win. It is important to have control over the situations in the game. If a team plays deep against you, you may need to circulate the ball; when you are being pressurised, sometimes the long ball is the answer. To know what to do in each situation is the key. I am very pragmatic in my coaching work.

What do you emphasise in training?
The first priority is to improve defensive tactical play because this is less complicated than the attacking side and is important for success. The most important thing for me is to be organised. I work a lot on patterns of play and, of course, as the statistics prove, counter-attacks and set-plays are very important. When we talk about set-plays, I agree with Sir Alex (Ferguson) that delivery is everything.

Do you do the coaching yourself or do you delegate it to other members of the staff?
This is another difference between Spain and England when we talk about coaching. In Spain, you must do your job on the pitch, coaching the players in tactical work or working with your physical trainer and other members of staff. You must be there every day on the field. In England, you can where, how and when to do the press- give responsibility to your people because you may have to deal with agents, the board or a player. You need to have confidence in your staff to carry out the general work, but I am always there to deal with the tactical training. Some members of my staff have been with me for eight or nine years and they know my philosophy and the way I work. But I also have an assistant, Alex Miller, who was at Liverpool before me and he knows the mentality of the players and the philosophy of the club.

What were the important features of your Valencia team which won the UEFA Cup?
It was a team that worked very hard and had been together for three years. We were therefore able to talk about where, how and when to do the pressing. They knew what to do and we could change tactics quickly. We used a lot of players by rotating the squad and this proved successful because we won the league and the UEFA Cup. This was a team which understood our style and what we were trying to do.

Has the history of Liverpool FC influenced the type of football you have developed at Anfield?
For sure. The former Liverpool sides played pass-and-move and we try to do the same, but as I said to you, we also have to be able to adapt to circumstances. For me, the pass-and- run approach is the best. I read a lot about the club's history and at the moment I have a book about Bill Shankly, who built the foundations of the current club.

Your predecessor as Liverpool head coach, Gerard Houllier, met you shortly after you took over at Anfield to offer his support. How valuable was that?
For me, it was another country, another team, and I appreciated Gerard's help - he gave me a lot of information. The advice I got from many people at Anfield, like Gerard, Phi! Thompson and others, was invaluable.

What were the decisive moments on your way to the final in Istanbul?
The most important game was against Olympiacos at home. We had spoken about being cautious because if they scored we would need three goals. Just before half-time they did score and, as we would say in Spanish, it was like having water poured on your hopes. Stevie Gerrard scored a fantastic goal before the end to give us a great 3-1 victory. But I have to add that the home tie with Chelsea was also very significant because of the rivalry.

Your tactical changes at half-time against AC Milan transformed the final. What was the thinking behind your decisions?
I was thinking about what to say and how to say it as I walked into the dressing room at half-time in Istanbul. People don't know how difficult it can be at such a moment, especially if you don't know the right words to use. Before half-time we were losing 2-0and I was writing some words when suddenly we lost a third goal. As I walked down the tunnel to the dressing room at the end of the first half, I was considering what to say. I said to the players that our supporters were still behind us and that if we scored one goal the situation could change. I then made tactical changes and went three at the back with Dietmar Hamann as part of a two-man screen in the midfield. But significantly, with Stevie Finnan injured and out of the second half, we had no right-back on the field. After we went to 3-3 and Milan brought on Serginho on the left, I had to move Stevie Gerrard from his attacking role behind the strikers to right back - Stevie was the only appropriate player available to play the role. This was our captain's third position in the game. At the end we controlled the game, controlled the spaces, and Stevie did a great job, ultimately leading the team to victory.

Since you started coaching, how has the game evolved tactically?
The game has become faster and more technical, that is true. I remember when we started and we used a sweeper. Now nearly everybody operates with a flat four-man zone. The formations have also evolved and today most operate with only one striker. It has become more important to get players into the penalty box rather than have players already in there. This is the major difference we have seen in the development of the game.

What annoys you most/pleases you most about football today?
Difficult question. However! must say that I love the crowds, the atmosphere, in England. The supporters are wonderful. The respect you receive just for doing what you love doing – taking training and doing your job. I get enormous confidence from the support I receive; it is fantastic. A problem in football today is the money - it has become big business. There are a lot of people around the players and the coaches who are thinking only about money and business. Sometimes players don't play so well because they are thinking about other things.

You had a difficult start as a head coach. What advice would you give to those who are starting out?
Put simply: you need passion and hours. You need passion and to spend endless hours at developing yourself as a coach. You also have to have faith in your ability. When I was sacked from my first two jobs, one of them after only nine games of the season, I looked for a new job and continued my education. I had a physical education degree, including four years of specialisation in football, and all my life I had been in sport, so it was my business. I remember my second agent telling me that it would be difficult to get a new job after two sackings. Without hesitation I told him I would be in the first division. My wife was also very supportive during those difficult days. When I went on my study tour to Italy, England and Brazil, i asked a lot of questions to the coaches 1 met, like Fabio Capello. If you don't know something, you must look for the answers. You must do the right things in order to win and this means knowing what works - it is not just about theory, but about being practical and flexible. In my parents' house alone, I had 1,500 videos, with three matches on each, and I used to analyse the details of the games. That was ten years ago. Now I use the computer and I have all the DVDs at our training ground. I suppose you could say, all things considered, that I am a student of the game."

Copyright - This interview with UEFA technical Director Andy Roxburgh, was first published in The Technician supplement of the October edition of uefadirect.

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