Benitez: I will fight on
Rafael Benitez has vowed to stay at Liverpool and restore the club to their place in Europe's elite.
The Anfield chief was speaking in the wake of Liverpool's bitter exit from the UEFA Champions League and ahead of the 212th Merseyside derby clash at Everton on Sunday. Calls for Benitez to be axed, along with suggestions he may even jump ship, provoked the Spaniard into an impassioned speech that followed a string of supportive words from key players.
Skipper Steven Gerrard has called for unity, while Fernando Torres and Jose Reina have insisted that Benitez is the right man to lead Liverpool back to the top of Europe. Torres, who has been struggling with a groin problem, will have a fitness test tomorrow to see whether he can be involved at Goodison Park, while only Ryan Babel (ankle) is ruled out as the side's fitness problems finally clear.
Now Benitez has underlined his own commitment to the cause in a passionate address that included him reciting the names of the Real Madrid side that faced Liverpool in the 1981 European Cup final. That underlined, clearly, just how much Real Madrid is ingrained in his footballing history, and just how much it meant to stay at Anfield when talk of a return to the Bernabeu was rife.
The post at Madrid was clearly on his mind as he said: "When I signed my new contract I had offers from other clubs for more money, and a lot more money to spend in the transfer market. But I decided to stay because I felt we had a very good team. We will prove this during the rest of the season. It is long race and we know we are not playing at the level we can, but we will improve, we will be back in Europe. It doesn't matter what people are saying, maybe trying to take advantage of the situation. We will win games, we will improve and things will change."
"When I decided to stay here, I knew that we could be facing a difficult season. I was aware that a lot of things could happen and the competition would be stronger. But I decided to stay because I wanted to," the emotional boss went on. "Look, I was a Real Madrid fan. I knew off by heart the names of the Real Madrid team that played Liverpool in the European Cup final of 1981.
"I was a fan, and also a Madrid player at that time. Now, considering that, I decided to stay in Liverpool because I liked the city, I liked the fans, I liked the life here and the passion in the Premier League," he added. "Why am I telling you this? Because when I decided to stay here, I wanted to fight for this club. I had signed a new five-year contract because I wanted to fight for Liverpool. Sometimes it is good, sometimes there are bad moments. But still I will fight.
"So we will play in the Europa League, that will be a target. We will play against Everton on Sunday and that will be our target," Benitez continued. "Every single week we will fight and try to win. If we can, we will be happier. If we cannot, we will still have to fight."
Liverpool need to quickly address a situation that sees them seventh in the Premier League and with their top four place seriously threatened by Aston Villa, Manchester City and Spurs. Benitez said: "If you have seen the players since the Champions League disappointment, you will know they want to fight too. I have seen the reaction of Torres and Pepe Reina with their words of support. Now Steven Gerrard has called for us to fight together.
"All the players know that we have to improve, we have to push harder, we have to start right now," he concluded. "I have talked to them about belief and trust. And of course I am pleased that they have come out and said I am the right man for the job. We are together, we are working hard together, and that is the main thing for me."