For a man who has hardly taken a break from football since his first coaching assignment in 1995, the last 15 months could have presented a conundrum for Rafael Benitez. Without a job since leaving Inter Milan in the final days of 2010, the Spaniard has had time to focus on other interests in his life.
Those include his own personal website, which he uses to deliver his views and analysis on the latest subjects in the game. As well as continuing the charity work he and his wife, Montse, began when they arrived in Liverpool in 2004, Benitez is also helping to develop a tactics program which he believes will help coaches at every level of the sport.
In the first part of an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Benitez explains the motivation behind beginning his website, how he stays involved with football when not employed, what he wants from his next club, and his thoughts on the dominance of Barcelona.
FIFA.com: Can you explain why you started your website and what you are hoping to achieve with it?
Rafael Benitez: Between jobs normally a lot of people would relax and that’s it, or some people watch games on the television as a pundit. But I wanted to do something more. I was interested in a website ten or 15 years ago. I was creating my own website but it was really difficult because when you have a job, you don’t have too much time. But now, because I had some time, I decided to create a website because you can explain what you want to explain with your words. Also I wanted to give an opportunity to young coaches. When I was a young coach I was trying to read everything, buy books and DVDs or watch training sessions. So you can give them the opportunity to stay in contact with you. I answer a lot of questions in the forums and analyse games and they can ask questions or they can have their own opinion and you can interact with them.
Is this a stop-gap until you get another job or would you carry it on?
No, we can carry on. Obviously it would be a little bit different - you cannot talk about all the teams. I try to be very respectful with the teams so I try to analyse things that are obvious, that people can see, not just my opinion, so I cannot be controversial with any other manager. Sometimes you have to give your opinion so if you are working with a club, you have to be careful in the way that you analyse things. But it’s the same idea and the same philosophy, to give something, especially to young coaches.
How many games do you attend or do you prefer to watch on television?
To be fair I have my staff also helping, but normally now you have games on Monday, on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and Sunday. So you have every day during the week and at the weekend you can see the Spanish league normally has two games, and the Bundesliga one or two, and Serie A another two. So with the Premier League you can see maybe six or seven games on Saturday and on Sunday more or less the same.
When I talk about a project it has to be a club that can match my desire to fight for trophies.
Have you ever had a break for a long time from football?
No, this is the first time that I have been between jobs for a long time. You try to relax but, at the end of the day, you like to watch games. I think my wife understands but she was telling me to take my time and record the games and watch them when I can, but she understands that I have to do it.
Is that difficult, trying to explain to your wife that you need to watch a lot of games?
No, years of experience together means she realises when I have to do it and when I can be with the family. I don’t sleep too much, for example. I wake up early in the morning and watch games, then after you can stay with your children.
Do you constantly watch games and think about tactics?
I try to relax when I am watching a game but it is something you cannot change, you are analysing the game. You are watching what will happen and why it is happening. I’ll be watching with my wife and I’ll say ‘goal’ then two seconds later it’s a goal. Because you can see the positions of the defenders, the winger may be free or the full-back goes late or something like that. So without thinking too much, you are just analysing.
You have mentioned that you are looking for a project when you choose your next club. What exactly does that mean?
My idea is not just to find a job, because when I talk about a project it has to be a club that can match my desire to fight for trophies. So if you don’t have a club that can win but at the same time wants to be consistent, at least challenging for trophies, you can take the job but it will not be the same. The experience that I have now in Italy, Spain and England allows me to analyse the jobs and the projects and say ‘this is the right one’. With the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules you have to manage the budget, you have to be careful and you have to promote young players from the academy. You need to analyse your squad, you have a number of local players or players from the country that can play in the Champions League. All the experience that we have had in different countries, with different structures, we are trying to use now.
Do you think the new rules will even things up? Do you think you could ever build a smaller team up to challenge?
To be fair, I was not a top-class player because I had my injury and I couldn’t play in the first division. So I started in the academy of Real Madrid and I was progressing. Then I went to small teams and we were improving and promoting Extremadura to the first division and Tenerife was the same. I had some experience with this structure then I went to Valencia and Liverpool, big clubs, and they have a structure already there. Then you analyse and you learn different things, so that is the good thing - that you have seen different structures and ways to manage. Then you can build, from the beginning or you can start from the top.
Talking about Valencia, you were the last person to break up Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top of La Liga. Do you think that is going to happen again soon or will they continue to dominate?
I think it will be some years that they are at the top, but Valencia are finishing third and are doing well. You can see Athletic Bilbao doing well, also Sevilla and Atletico Madrid. These clubs, I think, will come back. How long it will take to stay at the same level as the others? You never know. They [Barcelona and Real Madrid] have always been clubs with massive money but now, because of the television rights and all these things, it is different and they have even more. But I think that the other teams work hard, they work well and they will improve too.
Are Barcelona the best team you have seen in your lifetime?
To be fair I was an admirer of AC Milan, when they were playing with [Marco] van Basten and [Ruud] Gullit and all these players, with [Arrigo] Sacchi as the manager. They were doing really well, they were very dominant at that time. Barcelona has been more or less the same, and you can see now Bayern Munich or sometimes [Manchester] United or Real Madrid can challenge. I remember Real Madrid was a fantastic team and they couldn’t do anything against AC Milan so it was a big difference. But Barcelona are a great team to watch.
The second part of this interview, during which Benitez discusses his time in charge of Liverpool, will be published tomorrow, Tuesday 3 April.