When you talk to Rafael Benitez about football, his face lights up with a passion very rarely seen among the world's leading managers. His eyes shine brilliantly, he smiles and he seems completely at ease, a million miles away from the stresses and strains of everyday life. But Benitez is not only a lively talker on the game, he has a formidable track record. After winning the UEFA Cup and the Spanish championship with Valencia, he also conquered Europe in his first season with Liverpool. Now he is preparing to take on the world in the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005.
FIFA.com: Since the 1960s - Liverpool Football Club has enjoyed unbelievable success - is that because a winning mentality exists at this club?
Rafael Benitez: I think so. When you see the people and talk to them, the workers, the staff and supporters and the team they enjoy winning, they want to win and believe they can win. It takes a long time to establish but I think that Liverpool has it.
What do you think were the major factors in Liverpool winning the European Cup back in May?
We had confidence. We played really, really well in some games and the team believed in themselves. That confidence stretched to the second half of the final against AC Milan and we proved that by coming back from 0-3 down. We also had the fans. At half time we could hear them singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' - that was unbelievable. It gave us confidence, it gave us strength.
People have said that you play better in Europe than you do in the Premiership, what can you do to be strong in both competitions?
We are always trying to improve, especially in the Premiership, but I have taken a lot of encouragement from the last few results we have had. We seem to getting better and getting stronger. I am excited about the future.
How do you rate the performances of your second group of signings - the ones you made in the summer?
Well, I bought five players - and the first and most important was the player I re-signed; Steven Gerrard. He was free as well, which I thought was a good bit of business. Also Pepe Reina has kept a lot of clean sheets this season. He is a good goalkeeper and he has a good defence in front of him. He has a very positive mentality. His attitude is always very good. His goalkeeping skills are excellent. He can make good saves and is good in the air.
Peter Crouch is a player who everyone knows about. I am sure he will score a lot of goals. Bolo Zenden is used to the Premiership with Middlesbrough and he fits in to our style of play. He keeps the ball well; he plays well and has great ability. Sissoko has the energy we need in the middle of the pitch and he is one for the future.
Luis Garcia is a name that has hit the headlines recently after scoring a hat-trick for Spain. As a coach, what are you doing to help him achieve more consistency?
We talk and we work hard. I talk to him about how I'd like him to improve and he is a player who wants to keep learning. He knows that it is important when you lose the ball that you have to win it back. In the last third of the pitch he can do great things, but overall, he is working hard to improve every aspect of his game.
How difficult will it be for you in December, with the tournament in Japan and then the busy domestic schedule around Christmas?
It's not easy, but we know the situation and we are trying to use the squad with this in mind. Playing two extra games does not worry me. The most important thing is winning the trophy and keeping the players fit. We know how many minutes they are playing in each game and we are determined to look after them.
Because of the amount of games you are playing are you thinking about strengthening the squad when the transfer window re-opens in January?
We are always looking to bring players in, but that is not the priority at the moment. The priority for us is this trophy.
Are you looking forward to the opportunity of testing yourself against the world's best clubs?
Yes, for me it is a challenge. I want to win games and win trophies. As a manager, the players are more important than you. You can make all the plans, but it is up to them to win. I will prepare them as best as I can for the tournament and hopefully we will be successful.
When you think about the rollercoaster ride you endured en route to UEFA Champions League success, the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup is a very difficult tournament to qualify for.
Yes. But this is a very big tournament and we are going to try and do our best to win it. It deserves to be a big tournament with extremely tough qualification: how else would you measure the best? Whoever wins will be worthy champions.
You are now manager of the European champions, what would it mean for you to be manager of the world champions?
It would be fantastic for me, but I am not thinking about it at the moment. I just want to go there to improve my team. We will be going with a strong team, with confidence and strength. I think we can beat anyone.
You told Steven Gerrard not to touch the trophy (when it was presented at Anfield last month). Is that a superstition of yours?
Yes, it's very common. You don't want to tempt fate. It's a beautiful trophy and we want to bring it back to Anfield.
Speaking of Steven - what do you think of him as a player?
He is a good player and he is improving with every year. He is learning a lot in every position he plays in. In fact, I think he can play anywhere. He is so unselfish in that respect: he always thinks about the team and not about himself.