‘I can pick up the phone and speak to all of my previous Liverpool managers. Apart from one of them. Rafa is the exception.’ Steven Gerrard on his time under Benitez in his latest autobiography.
These excerpts are courtesy the Daily Mail.
“I don’t think Rafa Benitez liked me as a person. I’m not sure why, but that’s the feeling I got from him. It probably started even before he spoke to me, when he met my mum.
Rafa was appointed as Liverpool’s manager in June 2004 — and I was playing for England in the Euros in Portugal that summer.
Even though he was being replaced by Rafa, Gerard Houllier still loved Liverpool and he remained very close to me. He and my mum flew out to Portugal to watch me play for England against Croatia — and they bumped into Rafa.
Gerard introduced Rafa to my mum. Rafa shook her hand, said hello and then immediately asked her a very blunt question: ‘Does Steven like money?’
Apart from a standard ‘Hello… good to meet you’ introduction, those were the first words Rafa said to my mum. I thought: ‘What kind of question is that?’
I can pick up the phone and speak to all of my previous Liverpool managers. Except for Rafa.
I used to think he favoured our Spanish-speakers. He was an especially big fan of South American players, which is fine. It caused no problem between us.
At press conferences he might call other players by their first name but I was always ‘Gerrard’. It was the same in the dressing room. He would read out the team and use nicknames. But, for me, it would just be ‘Gerrard’.
It wouldn’t have made me play any better if he’d suddenly started calling me ‘Stevie’. I just wanted to win the next game and I knew Rafa could, usually, help us achieve another victory. He was the best tactical coach I worked with at Liverpool and England so I didn’t care what he called me.
If we were to bump into each other tomorrow there would be no unpleasantness but maybe a day will come when we can actually have a deeper and friendlier conversation and reflect on everything we experienced at Liverpool.
Our working relationship was ultra-professional and his frostiness drove me to become a better player. I had a hunger to earn a compliment from him — but also a hunger to let him know he really needed me as a player. We were like fire and ice. Passion surged inside me, while Rafa was the strategic thinker.
One time he did suffer a meltdown involving Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. I went home from training that Friday lunchtime and switched on the TV. Rafa sat down with his usual half-smile. It looked likely to be a normal press conference, but then he reached into his pocket for a piece of paper.
He spread it out on the table and began to read out one ‘fact’ after another. Rafa kept saying ‘fact… fact… fact…’ and I could not believe what I was hearing. I was grabbing the couch, digging my fingers into the arms, feeling embarrassed for him.
Rafa started by saying that maybe Manchester United ‘are nervous because we are at the top of the table’. I thought: ‘Uh oh, what’s happening here?’
It seemed so unlike Rafa to talk in such an emotional way. You could see the anger in him. ‘I want to talk about facts,’ Rafa said. ‘I want to be clear, I do not want to play mind games too early, although they seem to want to start. But I have seen some facts.’
Rafa went off on a ramble about how Manchester United and ‘Mr Ferguson’ had not been properly punished for various misdemeanours. He listed dates and incidents and concluded that ‘Mr Ferguson is the only manager in the league that cannot be punished for these things’.
He then railed against the fixture list and the timing of matches being skewed in United’s favour. Rafa was sounding muddled and bitter and paranoid. He was humiliating himself. It was a disaster. I couldn’t understand Rafa’s thinking in wanting to take on Ferguson, a master of mind games, when we were sitting so calmly on top of the table early into a new year.
When I met up with England all the Manchester United players told me Fergie was just laughing at Rafa, saying: ‘I’ve got him. I’ve got him.’
Rafa made a lot of decisions with himself in mind. He wanted power and control. I didn’t like it. Fighting with the board, other managers and the press wasn’t the Liverpool way.
Rafa had fallen out with the owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. We were all starting to doubt them but Rafa talked to the press about problems with his new contract.
Rafa broke the focus of the team. We got asked about it all the time in the media: ‘What’s all that about? Why has he done that?’ We never found out because Rafa didn’t say a word to us. I think he felt awkward because he knew it backfired
That weekend Manchester United hammered Chelsea 3–0. We drew 0–0 at Stoke. My managers over the years have been diverse personalities, with their own style of working.
On a basic human level I prefer a likeable manager, such as Gerard Houllier or Brendan Rodgers, but in terms of football I really don’t mind working with a colder man. An emotionless and distant relationship with the likes of Rafa Benítez and Fabio Capello can sometimes produce more success.
It would not be my style if I were to ever become a manager — I’d try to fuse the best of Rafa’s tactical thinking with Brendan’s skill as a man-manager.”