London – Rafa Benitez has had an underwhelming start as Chelsea’s interim manager. But he has an unshakeable faith in his ability to succeed at the highest level.
In an interview given to France Football before his Stamford Bridge appointment, Benitez provided a fascinating insight into his methods, explaining:
Chelsea's interim manager Rafael Benitez (centre) relies on a combination of science and observation in his job. Credit: REUTERS
Why he believes he can get the best out of players like Fernando Torres.
How he blends cutting-edge technology and science with old-fashioned man- management.
And why he laughs off mind games with Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho.
You have won the Spanish title and Uefa Cup with Valencia and the Champions League at Liverpool. What is your definition of a successful manager?
A successful manager not only wins trophies but also gives stability to his club and helps them progress. If you do not have a plan, you can win but only in the short term.
You also need to consider financial fair play and how clubs operate economically. What is a successful season? It depends on the plan. You can finish mid-table and be a success. Success for me is the realisation of that plan.
To succeed, though, managers need to have a good working relationship with players. What approach do you favour?
My way of coaching, especially with players who can analyse a game, is not to give orders but to teach them. If we do not agree, we can discuss. When players enter the dressing room at half-time, they must know you have a plan. You never win trophies if your players do not trust you.
You must spend time explaining difficult things. It can be an hour or five minutes, it depends on the player, but it is so he can improve, and trust is essential. Look at Torres. When he has confidence he is a top-class player, when he does not…
Steven Gerrard, when I arrived in Liverpool, played in the hole. He scored 10 goals a season. We made him play support striker, on the right, he scored 20.
You have a reputation for using technology. How important is that?
We do not win with technology. It is a question of balance between data and team spirit. We have tons of information.
People tell me: ‘You won the Champions League because you got lucky.’ Well, I have a database for penalties since 1990, with all players and matches. We won the Under 19 Spanish Cup with Real Madrid against Barcelona on penalties. Why? Perhaps because we worked on penalties?
Technology can help. I saw a Japanese player during training. The coach was trying to explain an exercise through an interpreter. I use software to illustrate it with images. You don’t need an interpreter.
When did you start using technology?
When I was the coach of Real Madrid Under 18s, I used to have a computer, and I was the only manager to do so. I had my own database, I created my own software on a Commodore 64.
I did my physical and technical test on players at the beginning of a season, and, by the end, they had increased by 30 per cent. We were at the top of the table, we had scored 114 goals and conceded only 14. The director of the academy called me in and asked: ‘Why do you use the computer?’ I replied: ‘We have scored 114 goals and conceded 14 and you’re wondering why I use a computer?’
But, if you do not have people to analyse information, you’re wasting your time. We do not train with numbers or statistics but players. I have spent all my life in football, and I know that it is a strange sport. You can be incredibly precise in your shots and lose 1-0.
So, how do you use technology and science during training?
We have settings for each player. It means we can explain that he has played too much, it would be better he remained on the bench. Sometimes they do not understand but they accept it a little better. Training begins with consultation with medical staff. After that there is 60 to 90 minutes of exercises with the ball prepared according to the strategy of the upcoming match, the nature of the opponent. Seventy per cent of the exercises are planned, the rest will depend on what you observe.
What are the biggest changes in your job since you started?
For 10, 20 years, many people had no idea of financial fair play, the use of GPS systems in training, Opta, ProZone, marketing or training camps in Asia and the United States. The financial crisis will also play a role.
Are mind games important?
The psychological battle is not that important. When you have many foreign players, they do not read the British press. These mind games do not mean anything to them! – Daily Mail