He didn't want to be baby-sitting for Pep but now Rafa is ready to lead Chelsea
09:37 GMT, 21 November 2012
'My ideas are near to the Milan of Arrigo Sacchi. I like technical and aggressive teams that don’t allow the opponents to play. I like teams that play the ball with speed and look to score with as few passes as possible.' – Rafa Benitez (2004)
When Montse Benitez handed her newborn baby to husband Rafa for night-feeding duties she expected little else.
For the next three months, at 4am every morning, the proud father would feed his baby daughter until she peacefully settled. Yet it wasn't the sweet background sound of nursery rhymes that prompted young Miss Benitez to slumber but the whirring of an old video recorder playing football videos as her doting father studied footage of his side's next opposition.
Some call it dedication, some would call it obsession. It is a quality that often strained relationships among his Liverpool staff but it is one that also brought memorable results.
Challenge: Rafa Benitez would be up to the task of taking over at Chelsea
Last year when Chelsea came calling, Benitez wanted assurances that he wasn't just baby-sitting for Pep Guardiola. Budget wasn't an issue, he wanted a challenge that he could turn into a legacy.
Today Benitez is addressing the Abu Dhabi Sports Council with a talk about football coaching; the differing styles between Spanish, English and Italian leagues and the structures of football clubs. He talks from experience and is on comfortable ground. However, Benitez is now ready to take risks. To steal his phrase, that's fact.
Talk to Benitez and he is charming company. There is a recognition that he became embroiled in the wrong arguments at Liverpool and Inter Milan but also a burning desire to prove he can bring success to any club.
Burning desire: Benitez wants to prove he can be a success at any club but does not want to be a babysitter for Pep Guardiola (below)
A deep thinker and supreme strategist he can't help but talk in football nuances. How running in a side-on lateral movement gives you greater chance of recovering possession, how closing down the left-footed centre back when on his right steals an advantage or simply when demonstrating tactical moves with his prized chess set, two salt cellars or a bowl of fat cut chips – Benitez thrives on the challenge of the game.
Though with Roman Abramovich he seeks an assurance he can be allowed to do the job, the demands of the task do not trouble him. Nor does the status of any player.
Steven Gerrard probably never forgave him for the day he substituted Liverpool's iconic captain during a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. Yet his replacement, Lucas Leiva, went on to win the decisive penalty. 'Gerrard,' Benitez said, 'was playing with too much passion.'
Fernando Torres was non-plussed as he was unceremoniously taken off when Liverpool toiled against Birmingham City. Benitez was adamant his striker's health needed protecting. Days later Torres tore Benfica apart in a UEFA Cup quarter final.
They've got previous: Benitez bought Torres when he was in charge at Liverpool
Glory days: Benitez guided Liverpool to Champions League success in 2005
How Chelsea would love those sort of problems.
Torres is the great enigma. Dropped last night, there is a recognition that the 50million striker must be sacrificed but Benitez can save Abramovich that embarrassment. He believes he can bring out the best in his compatriot and still harness the finesse of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard to boot.
Abramovich wants victory with style. The problem is idealistic choice Guardiola would come without the well-laid foundations that preceded his project at Barcelona. Benitez has confidence he can deliver now.
The Anglophile may drive a Union Jack mini by choice but Benitez can accelerate Abramovich's Rolls-Royce of a squad to the glory days they yearn for.