Benitez is just stubborn enough to make it work at Chelsea
SIDELINE CUT:In the memoir he published at the age of 27 (with no-frills title of Gerrard: My Autobiography), Steven Gerrard threw considerable light on the peculiar charisma of Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard’s spectacular return to English football, where he will attempt to manage the fascinatingly dysfunctional carnival that is Chelsea FC, inevitably brings his previous turn as Liverpool boss to mind.
Benitez was and remains a beloved figure around Anfield. Even after he was sacked by the club after the 2009-10 season, he wasn’t quite ready to flee the north east, maintaining his home, a New-Brutalism pile called Lindisfarne, in the Wirral and also a strong sentimental attachment to his former club.
There was nothing forced about the emotion that Benitez displayed last year when he was thanked at the Hillsborough commemorative ceremony at Anfield.
The gesture and the warm reaction of the fans left Benitez openly teary and as evidently locked into the club just as much as any of the former gods of the Kop who sit in the stands, winter-coated and greying, their presence a vivid reminder of how just how far Liverpool have fallen from their position of unassailable greatness.
Benitez was, depending on one’s view, the manager who came closest to guiding Liverpool to its first league success since 1990 or an outrageously lucky general whose period in charge revolved around the fabled comeback in the Champions League final of 2005, a second-half fantasy that had as much to do with fate as managerial acumen.
But Benitez was stubborn and suffused with an unshakeable self-belief and as Stevie G recalled in one episode, which highlights the fact that the lifestyle of the Premier League gang never strays too far from high farce, he had his own way of taking care of business.
“When the karaoke gets started, all sense gets drowned out,” Gerrard writes, setting the scene for a team night out which ended with Craig Bellamy, the volatile Welsh man, attacking John Arne Riise, Liverpool’s reliable and expressionless full-back, with a golf-club.
The team was on a training trip in Portugal and pleased with the general attitude and sharpness on the football ground, Rafa gifted the squad with a night on the town on the understanding that they return by midnight. The curfew was predictably broken and, as captain, Stevie G agonised over his failure to return his men to base and also to address the brewing hostility between the Welsh man and the recalcitrant Norwegian. It turned out that Bellamy was aggrieved by John Arne’s reluctance to get up on stage and sing a bit of Rod Stewart.
“I did notice a bit of handbags between Riise and Bellamy which led to a bigger incident later on when Bellamy hit Riise with a golf club,” Stevie reflects gloomily.