Rafael Benitez, the Spanish coach has left his role as manager of Dalian Professional after 18 months in charge of the Chinese Super League club. The 60-year-old veteran boss had a season remaining on his contract. But his coaching team stepped down from the staff amid speculations of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Unfortunately, like so many things in the last year, Covid-19 has changed our lives and our projects," said Benitez.
"The pandemic is still here, for all of us, and supporting our families has been a priority when making this decision."
Dalian had a season to forget and narrowly avoided dropping out of the division in the 2020 season. They finished 12th after a series of relegation play-offs and after a mutual understanding with the club, he parted ways.
He joined in July 2019 after leaving Newcastle United, Benitez oversaw the development of a new training facility and academy. He tried to renovate the way Dalian played football. He had minimal success.
"We have tried to learn and understand a new culture and also to transmit a more professional, more European vision of football," he added.
"I'm convinced we have left a structure and a methodology that will allow the project to go ahead successfully. Since we arrived, the first team has been rejuvenated and the foundations have been laid for the future, from the grassroots schools to the top.”
Who is Rafa Benitez?
Rafa Benitez is a hugely successful manager and he is known for his deep tactical understanding of the game. He is known for developing refined and role oriented training regime for the clubs he managed. For all of his success and the years spent at some of Europe’s leading clubs, however, he remains under-appreciated for many reasons.
We can’t ever forget the man on the Liverpool dugout with a stern glass and a notebook was Rafa Benitez when the Miracle of Istanbul redefined the history of European Football. One of the most iconic moments in world football. Benitez was the man behind that miracle by Liverpool.
Diego Alonso, his former player at Valencia rates Benítez among the top 10 methodical trainers.
With an interesting list of available managers at the moment in European football, Benitez would be the newest entry. Frank Lampard, Zinedine Zidane, and Mikel Arteta being under scrutiny, Benitez will be expecting a few calls soon. A prospect of returning to Newcastle United also gained momentum on social media soon after his news of departure from China.
Let’s take a look at his illustrious career at different clubs which always guaranteed exciting football and a pinch of controversy. He is managing teams since he was 26 years of age. He had a long career before entering the big game of European football.
REAL MADRID (1993-95)
In 1986, at the age of 26, Benítez retired from professional football as a player and joined the Real Madrid coaching staff. At the start of the 1986–87 season, he was appointed coach of Castilla B. With this team, he won two league titles in 1987 and 1989. He won a third league title with Real Madrid Youth B in 1990. He quickly became a word of the mouth at Castilla and in Spain. At Real Madrid, he worked with the coaching team as an assistant to Mariano García Remón and the great
Vicente Del Bosque. This is where his foundation was built. Under Del Bosque in 1994-95, he helped reshape the start of a new decade of Real Madrid.
EARLY DAYS IN LA LIGA PRIMERA AND SEGUNDA (1995-1999)
He started working in the Primera and Segunda clubs like Real Valladolid, Osasuna, and Extremadura. After a not so successful time with the clubs, Benítez took a year off from football to study in England and Italy. He retunred to Spain in 2000 with improved knowledge and a deeper understanding of the game. He was appointed manager of Tenerife of the Segunda División and with a team that included Luis García who joined Liverpool later in his career with Benitez. Tenerife gained promotion to La Liga by finishing third in the league behind Sevilla and Real Betis. It was a significant moment in his career. He earned himself a name and entered among the big names of Spanish football.
VALENCIA (2001-2004) Making it big
Rafa Benitez was appointed as manager of Valencia in 2001. Valencia was one of the best teams in Europe at that moment having reached two Champions League finals in a row. players lost both of these, against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, but it’s clear that they were a good group of players since they managed to get that far. Rafa inherited a strong squad of players. Benitez went on to win La Liga in his first season in charge, as Valencia finished seven points clear of Deportivo La Coruna.
It was a significant achievement. Rafa knew how to give the final touch to a great Valencia dominance era. It was the club’s first league title for 31 years, as they last won it in 1971. Valencia was a force to be reckoned with at that time,
But the success didn’t last long. The euphoria went down the drain and, the following season Valencia finished fifth in La Liga and went out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage. Then came the rebuilding phase. He again took Valencia to the summit of Spanish football. Next season he won another league title. Valencia won La Liga; finishing five points clear of Barcelona. They also won the Uefa Cup, as they beat Marseille in the final.
Despite having huge success, Benitez would go on to fall out with the board and leave the club. It was because he wanted Samuel Eto’o on his squad. He wanted to strengthen the reign with a quality striker. But the board ended up buying him winger Fabian Canobbio instead. This is when Benitez said: “I was hoping for a sofa and they bought me a lamp.”
The La Liga box office for Rafa Benitez opened. He was unapologetic but had a fantastic managerial campaign in his bag. He would leave the club at the start of June 2004. Job offers flooded to him.
LIVERPOOL (2004-10) The Miracle Awaits
Just over two weeks later, he was appointed as manager of Liverpool. History was made. He became the first Spaniard to manage in the Premier League. Steven Gerrard was pn the verge of joining Chelsea at the moment and Michael Owen was almost on his way to Real Madrid. He was unable, however, to convince Michael Owen to extend his contract but convinced Gerrard to stay. It was a historic moment and the start of something extraordinary.
In his first summer at Liverpool, Benitez brought Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia to the club. Liverpool went on to finish fifth in the table: 27 points behind Chelsea. They also lost to Chelsea in the League Cup final. But the league and League Cup were irrelevant that season. Something magical waited for them at Istanbul.
Liverpool’s Champions League campaign didn’t off to a flying start. In Liverpool’s final Champions League group game, they faced Olympiacos at Anfield, with nothing less than a two-goal win being enough to send them through. The Reds were just four minutes from going out of the competition. But Steven Gerrard rescued them, and smashed the net with a thunderbolt from outside the box; sending Liverpool through to the knockout stages.
In Liverpool’s final Champions League group game, they faced Olympiacos at Anfield, with nothing less than a two-goal win being enough to send them through. The Reds were just four minutes from going out of the competition. But Steven Gerrard rescued them and smashed the net with a thunderbolt from outside the box; sending Liverpool through to the knockout stages.
This set up a Champions League final showdown with AC Milan in Istanbul. It was a night to remember. The Italian side boasted a global powerhouse of champions. Cafu, Alessandro Nesta, Paulo Maldini, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Kaka, and Andriy Shevchenko- names so big that half of their squad went on to win the World Cup next year in 2006. Carlo Ancelloti’s Milan was one of the best teams in that era without a shadow of a doubt.
No disrespect to Liverpool players but the likes of Steve Finnan, Djimi Traore, John Arne Riise, Harry Kewell, and Milan Baros were of no comparison to that Milan side. In the first half of the final, AC Milan showed their class. They raced into a 3-0 lead, courtesy to Maldini opening the scoring after less than one minute before Hernan Crespo scored twice. It was almost done and dusted for Liverpool. But Benitez had other plans. It was his moment to shine and he was adamant. It would be fascinating to know what exactly Benitez said to the pool players on the half time.
In the second half, Liverpool made the most unlikely of comebacks football has ever seen. In the space of just six minutes, Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer, and Xabi Alonso scored to draw Liverpool level (3-3). The game was at balance again with 30minutes to go. Both the team showed their resilience. English football is known for many teams but not for their defensive masterclass. Liverpool under the helm of the Spaniard presented a defensive masterclass for that 30minute and neutralized the threatening AC Milan.
Extra-time also went scoreless, and they went to a penalty shootout. Liverpool won on penalties. They have crowned Champions of Europe in 2005. It was the pinnacle of Rafa Benitez’s career.
The next season(2005-2006), Liverpool went on to win the Uefa Super Cup and the FA Cup. In the FA Cup final, against West Ham, Liverpool again mounted an impressive comeback. They found themselves 2-0 down, before scoring twice to make it 2-2. Under Rafa, Liverpool revived their winning mentality.
Apart from the Community Shield, the 2006 FA Cup was the last trophy Rafa Benitez won at Liverpool. They reached another Champions League final under the Spaniard’s guidance, again against AC Milan, but the Italian side won the game 2-1. No more miracle of Istanbul. AC Milan was dominant and deservedly won the trophy.
Liverpool mounted a Premier League title challenge in the 2008/09 season but ended up finishing second: four points behind arch-rivals Manchester United. That season was the beginning of the end for Benitez at Liverpool.
There were power struggles at the Liverpool board. In March 2009, Benitez signed a new five-year contract, despite his differences with the board, as he said he loved the fans, the club, and the city, and could never say no to staying. But eventually, he got sacked in 2010. He didn’t win the Premier League title when Liverpool was the best team in England at that point in time.
INTER MILAN (2010)
He had big shows to fill at Inter Milan. With an aging core and inspired performances, Jose Mourinho had won Serie A, the Champions League and the Coppa Italia in the previous season. Despite winning the Italian Super Cup in his first game and the Club World Cup in December, Benitez only lasted at the club until December 2010, when he was sacked. It was not a pleasant trip for him. The club and board were in dispute after Jose left and he inherited a squad who just achieved the cherry of success t the highest level.
A dry spell of trophies and memorable success Rafa went behind the limelight. Rafa Benitez didn’t get another job until November 2012,
In November he was given the interim manager’s job at Chelsea until the end of the season after the club sacked Champions League winner Roberto Di Matteo. It was a very risky move. Benitez was the manager of Liverpool for a very long time and he not a welcomed figure at Stamford bridge. Chelsea fans heavily criticized the man who had been critical of them when he was at Liverpool.
He also criticized Chelsea legend Didier Drogba, calling him a diver. Famously he said he would never manager Chelsea because Liverpool is the only team in England. Things backfired when he entered Stamford Bridge. He got a very hostile welcome. But in his only season at Chelsea, he had a similar experience like Inter Milan. He inherited a tired and Champions League winning team. But they went on to win the Europa League and finish third in the Premier League; qualifying for the following season’s Champions League.
He wasn’t given the job permanently and left at the end of the season.
Rafa Benitez signed a two-year contract at Napoli in 2013. He led them to a Coppa Italia win in his first season, but they went out of the Europa League in the last-16 against Porto. It was a shock exit for the club as they were aiming for that title that season. He guided Napoli to third in Serie A, and they qualified for the Champions League.
The next season, they went out of the Champions League in the qualifying rounds against Athletic Bilbao and entered the Europa League. Napoli managed to get to the semi-final, but they went out to the Ukrainian side Dnipro. Benitez announced he would be leaving at the end of that season. His final game was a 4-2 defeat to Lazio, which meant Napoli was pipped for a Champions League qualification place on the final day. It was an average low for his career at the moment. But something interesting followed.
REAL MADRID (2015)
Rafa had this habit of inheriting the Champions League winner. It was like a thing that followed him since his Inter Milan days. Rafa Benitez took over as Real Madrid manager in June 2015. Real had just won the Champions league under Ancelloti. Under Rafa, they were hammered 4-0 by Barcelona in El Clasico earlier in the season. They got disqualified from the Copa Del Rey also.
On 4 January 2016, Benítez's contract was terminated following allegations of unpopularity with supporters, displeasure with players, and a failure to get good results against top sides.
Benitez was famously known as the control freak. He demanded utmost attention of the dressing room. He was not known for his management of star players. The fall out with the Real Madrid dressing room brought many things forward.
When he was out of a job in his career, he managed even school teams. You couldn’t just keep him out of the game. He loves the control of the dressing room. Over the course of his career, the allegations got justified one at a time.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (2016-19)
In March 2016, Rafa Benitez was appointed as manager of Newcastle. The Magpies were having an extremely poor season and occupied the relegation places in the Premier League when he took over. Despite a six-game unbeaten run at the end of the season – beating Swansea, Crystal Palace, and Tottenham, and drawing with Manchester City, Liverpool, and Aston Villa – Newcastle went down. They had one of the table destabilizing runs at the end of the season. Rafa announced his arrival in PL in style. Because arch-rivals Sunderland also went on a good run of form. Sunderland ended up staying up, as Newcastle were relegated to the Championship.
In Benitez’s first full season at Newcastle, they won the Championship title; finishing one point clear of Brighton. They were promoted back to the Premier League, where they remain.
Rafa Benitez had the freedom to express his philosophy and a non-champions league winner team at hand. There have been some ups and downs, and they have struggled at times. But these struggles aggravated and at the end of the 2019 season he stepped down upon his expiration of the contract.
In 2019 he went on to join the Chinese Super League.
In the next article we will discuss the style of his management and his future ahead.