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The rise and rise of Rafa Benitez: The Career of Madrid’s New Coach

September 08, 2015

- Grant Whittington

In many ways, rivals Rafa Benetiz and Jose Mourinho are similar as football managers. Both operating at the pinnacle of their game, they are also master tacticians who base their strategy on percentages and counter-attacking football rather than flair and style. This approach is rooted in the lack of relative success that distinguished both manager’s playing careers, with Benetiz sustaining an injury that prevented him from achieving success at his boyhood club Real Madrid.

Benetiz the Manager: A Journey through Europe’s Top Leagues

After ultimately succumbing to a troublesome knee injury, it was during his time as the manager of Valencia in La Liga that Benetiz first achieved success. Joining in 2001 and leaving at the end of the 2003-2004 season, Benitez broke the stranglehold of Real Madrid and Barcelona by winning two La Liga titles (alongside a UEFA Cup triumph). From here he moved to Liverpool, before achieving cult status among fans by lifting the Champions League in perhaps the greatest comeback in history against AC Milan.

He followed this with an FA Cup win in 2006, which once again followed a pulsating final during which the Reds trailed 2-0 and 3-2 before winning on penalties. His Liverpool side then reached the Champions League Final for the second time in three years in 2007, once again overcoming Mourinho’s all-conquering Chelsea team in a tense semi-final. Although they ultimately lost to AC Milan, Benetiz’s side rebounded and came close to winning the Premier League title in 2009. Inspired by Spanish forward Fernando Torres, Liverpool finished in second place and just four points behind Champions Manchester United.

A Journey of Continued Success

After a disappointing league campaign in 2010, Rafa left Liverpool and took the helm at Inter Milan. He then joined Chelsea in 2012, getting the best from the talented Juan Mata and winning the Europa League with a final victory over Benfica. Benitez then returned to Serie A the following season, taking charge of Napoli and winning the Coppa Italia in his first year.

Now confirmed as the new Real Madrid manager, Benitez has arguably achieved the pinnacle of his career. His services certainly remain as in demand now as they have ever been, as despite a pronounced lack of consistent success he is renowned for his tactical knowledge and ability as a cup competition manager. This is especially prevalent in European competition, and the suspicion remains that Madrid are keen to hire a manager that can add to their infamous ‘La Decima’ of 10 European titles.

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