A look at the top ten achievements in the career of Rafael Benitez.
Wins promotion with Spanish second division side Extremadura
Rafa’s first success following spells with the Real Madrid youth team is with Spanish Segunda Division side Extremadura, whom he helps to promotion to La Liga in 1998 with a second place finish in the table. However, they lasted just won season in the top flight, losing a relegation playoff after finishing 17th the following year.
Wins another promotion to La Liga, this time with CD Tenerife
After quitting Extremadura, Benitez took some time out of the game to study, but returned in the 2000/01 season to win yet another promotion from the Segunda Division to La Liga, this time with CD Tenerife. His side finished 3rd in the table and his work attracted the interests of Valencia, who appointed him as their manager the following season to replace Hector Cuper.
First La Liga title with Valencia
Benitez brought immediate success to the Mestalla, defying the odds to win the club’s first La Liga title in thirty-one years, finishing seven points ahead of Deportivo La Coruna – different times in Spanish football indeed! His side earned a reputation for playing a good brand of attacking football, with big-name players such as David Albelda, Vicente and Pablo Aimar.
Another La Liga title success
Rafa’s first title win was followed up with a disappointing fifth place finish the following year, but it did not take long for the Spaniard to lead the club back to the top with his second La Liga title in the 2003/04 season, finishing five points ahead of Barcelona, who were just starting to build a team that was set to dominate for years to come.
UEFA Cup glory
Valencia added the UEFA Cup to their trophy cabinet that season as well, as Benitez’s side beat a Marseille side containing Didier Drogba in the final. Despite this excellent season, Benitez quit the club following a dispute with the club’s director of football Jesus Garcia Pitarch. Many top clubs were alerted after this highly-rated manager’s availability.
Appointed manager of Liverpool
Liverpool were on the lookout for a new manager in 2004, and turned to Rafael Benitez after in-demand Porto boss Jose Mourinho went to Chelsea. Benitez was a popular second choice though, and he did his first job of managing to persuade star player Steven Gerrard to stay at the club. He also brought in some promising signings from La Liga, most notably Xabi Alonso from Real Sociedad, and Luis Garcia from Barcelona.
Champions League glory
After defeat to Chelsea in the Carling Cup final and an inconsistent season in the league, where they finished 5th, Liverpool needed to win the Champions League to have any hope of qualifying for it next year. Benitez’s unfancied side forced their way to the final following a hard-fought semi-final win over Mourinho’s Chelsea, but looked dead and buried against favourites AC Milan, trailing 3-0 at half time. However, an incredible second half comeback to make it 3-3 brought the Spaniard one of his finest hours as a manager, as his side triumphed on penalties to lift the Champions League trophy against all the odds.
Wins FA Cup with Liverpool
Benitez followed up his first season success with another trophy in 2006. Again his side showed great resilience to stage a comeback, and again it was a penalty shoot-out win after a 3-3 draw, this time with West Ham. It would be the last major silverware of his Anfield career, as he failed to live up to his early success in his following years at the club.
Appointed manager of Inter Milan
Despite finishing 7th and being sacked after a poor final season with Liverpool, Benitez was chosen by Inter Milan to replace his old rival Mourinho, who had just won an historic treble with the club. Despite two trophies (the Super Cup and Club World Cup) Benitez did not last long in the job, after turning the same set of players who had looked like world beaters just months earlier into a joke.
Wins Europa League with Chelsea
Benitez’s latest success comes at Chelsea, after a difficult few months in charge of the club as interim manager. The Spaniard was an unpopular choice to replace Roberto Di Matteo due to his Liverpool connections, but in his penultimate game in charge he may have finally turned them around, with an impressive 2-1 win over Benfica in the Europa League final. He has also left them in good shape for next season, securing what is likely to be a 3rd place finish in the Premier League, meaning automatic qualification for the Champions League next year.