1. Breaking the Barca/Real monopoly
Rafa’s managerial career didn’t get off the best of starts with successive sackings by Real Valladolid in 1995/96 and Osasuna in 1996/97. But after more promising spells with Extremadura and Tenerife, Benitez was offered the manager’s job at Valencia in 2001.
While at the reins at the Mestalla Stadium, the man whom Manchester United fans affectionately daubed ‘a fat Spanish waiter’ broke the Barca-Real stranglehold on La Liga to deliver Valencia’s first title in 31 years in 2002.
He followed up that impressive feat with a league and UEFA Cup double in 2004. However, less than two weeks after clinching European silverware, Benitez resigned in protest over the club’s failure to reinforce the squad.
It’s what has come to be known in footballing circles as ‘doing a Rafa’: completely glossing over a shite domestic campaign by clinching European silverware in the final game of the season.
The Spaniard’s first season at Liverpool will forever be remembered for their dramatic Champions League victory in 2005. With Benitez’s men 3-0 down to an imperious AC Milan side inspired by the masterful Brazilian Kaká, the Spanish tactician wanted to sub Steve Finnan for BOTH Djibril Cisse AND Dietmar Hamann at half-time.
After realising he’d have 12 men on the field, Rafa opted for the German who never gave Kaká a kick in the second half as Liverpool stormed back to 3-3 forcing extra-time and penalties. Reds keeper Jerzy Dudek was the hero as Liverpool won the shootout to defeat an AC Milan side which read like a World Cup All-Stars team.
Liverpool were 7pts points clear of their rivals Manchester United in the Premier League title race in January of the 2008/09 season when Benitez stunned a press conference by taking out a piece of paper and listing some ‘facts’, addressed to Sir Alex Ferguson.
In what has since become known as ‘Rafa’s Rant’, the Spaniard attempted to dissect the Scot’s claim that Liverpool were receiving preferential treatment by the Premier League when it came to the scheduling of league fixtures. The now infamous tirade is widely regarded as Rafa’s ‘Keegan moment’ as Liverpool let slip their grasp on the title with United running out eventual winners by 4pts.
4. Not that ‘in-ter-im’
After a disastrous spell at Inter Milan, the world was introduced to the title ‘interim manager’ when Rafa replaced Roberto Di Matteo at Stamford Bridge in November 2012. However, the Chelsea fans really weren’t that ‘in-ter-im’ and they welcomed Benitez’s appointment with all the enthusiasm you’d afford an aggressive yeast infection.
This was mainly the result of Rafa’s remarks about the Blues and their plastic fans while in charge of Liverpool. ‘We don’t need to give away flags for our fans to wave – our supporters are always there with their hearts, and that is all we need. It’s the passion of the fans that helps to win matches – not flags’, quipped the Spaniard on the eve of a Champions League fixture between the two clubs. However, all was forgiven when Rafa ‘did a Rafa’ and secured the Europa League title in his last game in charge of Chelsea after a shite domestic campaign.
Despite losing only 3 of his 25 games in charge, Rafa was handed his P45 by Real Madrid in January 2016. Two months later, he made the slight step down in quality to take charge of Newcastle United. The Toon Army had about as much chance of staying up as an erection in Susan Boyle’s bedroom when the Spaniard took charge and they were inevitably relegated.
However, the former Napoli manager remained in charge and guided the club back to the Premier League at the first attempt. After two seasons of managing Newcastle on a shoe-string budget, Rafa left the Magpies to fulfil his boyhood dream of becoming boss of Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang for £12m-a-year.