Rafa Benitez believes Liverpool have “all the tools” to win the Champions League final against Tottenham as he told Jurgen Klopp and his players: “Triumph and you'll be legends forever.
The Spanish coach was the last man to bring the European Cup back to Anfield when he masterminded the Miracle of Istanbul in 2005 .
Fourteen years on, Benitez believes the stage is set for Klopp to follow in his footsteps as Liverpool look to be crowned champions of Europe for the sixth time.
However, the current Newcastle United boss has warned the Reds that they will need to be at their best in order to overcome the challenge of Mauricio Pochettino's resurgent side.
Benitez sat down with the ECHO's James Pearce in his home city of Madrid to record an exclusive podcast to preview Saturday's crunch showdown. Here's how the conversation unfolded....
JP: Rafa, great to see, how are you?
RB: I am really happy to talk with you. It's good to see some friends here in Madrid in my city. You know that we live in Liverpool but my mum and my family are here in Madrid and it's great to see everyone.
JP: It's hard to believe 14 years have passed since that magical night in Istanbul. Here Liverpool are in another Champions League final, trying to win it for the first time since 2005. How do you see this showdown with Tottenham?
RB: I think it will be tough because Tottenham are a good team. People say Liverpool are favourites because they did really well in the league. For me, that's true. But still you are talking about a good team. They have had three weeks to prepare for this game. Tottenham have good players – good balance in defence, in the middle they can compete physically with Liverpool and in attack they have pace and ability and they can be a threat for the Liverpool defenders. Like with Arsenal v Chelsea the other day (in the Europa League final), a lot will depend on who scores the first goal. Maybe then the other team has to be more open and you can find more spaces in behind.
JP: You mention the three-week gap since the end of the Premier League season. How much of a challenge is that for both managers trying to get the balance right between ensuring their players are rested but still match sharp?
RB: It's a good question. When you finish, you still have to train but at the same time you have to give them some rest mentally to ensure they recover and are ready for the final. The motivation will be there. Liverpool have experience from playing in finals and the players are so focused so that won't be an issue. But the match fitness, the time to recover and the time that you have to push and stimulate the players to make sure they are ready is the key. Maybe Liverpool have an advantage because they have done this before. For Tottenham, this is the first time they have been in a massive final. I can see a little advantage for Liverpool but still Tottenham are so good that it will be a dangerous game.
JP: As a manager is it possible to treat the Champions League final like any other game or is there just too much other stuff surrounding it to be able to keep to your usual routines?
RB: You try to do it but you cannot. Just the fact that you go away and you can see all the fans around. Everywhere you go you have people asking you for tickets! Players have friends and family and the family members all have friends and everyone wants to go to the final...
I remember one game when I was in Real Madrid, one hour 50 minutes before kick-off there was still an argument about tickets! These are things you cannot forget. You try to isolate your team so the concentration is solely on the game but it's impossible to be sure that you have everything under control. In the end it's just about who manages that situation better. Again I would say that Liverpool have the experience of being there and maybe that's an advantage.
JP: How did winning the Champions League with Liverpool change your life?
RB: I will tell you that it changed from the first month because I had a problem with my hand..... from shaking hands with people all the time! It was quite complicated afterwards and I needed time to recover. It's true, in terms of what it means for you, it means the people trust you and the people love you even more. We had already reached the final of the Carling Cup in that first year. We were lucky because we went on to win the European Super Cup and the FA Cup the year after and the Community Shield.
Winning the Champions League changed everything and it gave us the opportunity to win more trophies and to be very competitive and improve the team. It was a massive change, not just for me, but for everybody. The players were the main ones but also the club was growing. I remember when I just arrived they were talking about a takeover and selling the club. Then we won and had three or four years in a row of winning titles and doing well and another Champions League final in Athens. Istanbul was massive for everyone. It gave us a lot of confidence to go on and achieve even more things.
JP: What would winning the Champions League final do for Jurgen Klopp's legacy? We've seen great progress during his time at Liverpool but no trophies so far...
RB: The first thing to say is that Jurgen has been doing really well. For me, that's very clear. It's another kind of challenge. In our time we didn't have the money that Liverpool have had in recent years. They have been improving the team and the squad. To win this final would be a massive achievement. Again I'd say it would give them more confidence and more belief and more power for the future because it will make them stronger.
JP: Your team from 2005 became Liverpool legends that night in Istanbul. That's the kind of coveted status that awaits this side if they can get the job done here...
RB: Not just the key players but everybody involved in that final is seen as a legend. I was talking with Djimi Traore the other day when he came to Newcastle. Everyone remembers Djimi and every player from that time. This final is a great opportunity for the current players to show what they can do and to be sure that they will be remembered in the history of Liverpool.
JP: How does this team compare to your Liverpool side?
RB: I want to be very respectful about my team, but this team is much better. Not just the team, but the squad. In my time at Liverpool we had (Fernando) Torres as a striker and (David) Ngog, who was a good player and a good lad but we paid £1.5million for him. He was on the bench. Now you have (Xherdan) Shaqiri, (Daniel) Sturridge and (Divock) Origi on the bench so it's totally different. Times have changed. What we achieved was good because to win against that AC Milan team was a massive achievement and the way in which we did it. Now Liverpool have a lot of good players. People were talking about them having some problems in defence and they were able to sign Virgil van Dijk for a lot of money and then the keeper (Alisson Becker). I think this is a stronger Liverpool and the teams around are also stronger.
JP: It's an all-Premier League clash. Are you expecting it to be like a Premier League game or will it be different because it's a major European final?
RB: I think it will be different. It depends on the teams and the players but sometimes one issue in finals is that some people are too worried about losing the game. When it's just about three points, you go and that's it. But in this kind of game you know that if you make a mistake it could change everything. Some players cannot manage that pressure and responsibility. They worry about that and don't play at the same level that they usually play in the Premier League.
JP: Talking about handling pressure, how much will the experience of Kiev help this Liverpool team?
RB: I think it's an advantage. You asked me before whether it's possible to just focus on the game and not everything else that's going on around.
It's the same when you are walking down that tunnel and out on to the pitch, you know what it means, you know how important it is to ensure that you don't make a mistake at the beginning of the game. Dealing with that pressure is easier if you have been there before.
JP: Both teams have had fitness concerns over strikers in the build up. Harry Kane and Roberto Firmino have both been trying to regain full fitness in time for Saturday night. Would starting them be a gamble for the two managers?
RB: Whether you start Kane or not depends on how the manager sees the player. If you ask any player: 'Are you ready? Do you want to play?' Normally, they will say: 'Yes!'. So then it's down to you as a manager and from speaking to the coaching and medical staff, watching the player training. Still it's a risk. Firmino is closer (to full fitness) than Kane. He has been training with the team more. I don't know what Jurgen will do but Firmino links with others and is a very important player for the team. With Kane, he's a key player but they were doing so well with Lucas Moura, Son Heung-Min, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli so maybe they won't need Kane at least at the beginning of the game. We have to wait and see what the managers decide. You can't say whether they're right or wrong, they have all the details and have to make the decisions.
JP: The other dilemma for Klopp is in midfield. Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum all finished the season in great form. One of those players will be left very disappointed. How tough is that call?
RB: I would like to have this problem every week! It's fantastic to have such good players and then you have to pick just three and leave one out. In this case, Jurgen knows better than anyone how they have been training, how they feel, how they are mentally for the game. Maybe someone is a little bit worried about the final and feels the responsibility too much. That is a question for Jurgen.
JP: You know that Liverpool fans always travel in huge numbers. When you think about 2005 and the impact they had from the stands that night, what kind of difference could that support make on Saturday night?
RB: They are fantastic. When they are supporting the team, you can feel the atmosphere at Anfield. Here with the bigger stadium, I think it will be similar. I remember when we were in Istanbul you could see the queues of fans walking to the stadium and it was massive. As a player, you want to deliver for them. When I was the manager, I was thinking all the time about the great atmospheres. When people were asking me about the game against Barcelona, I was remembering the game against Real Madrid when we beat them 4-0. The Liverpool fans can re-create these special kind of atmospheres from Anfield here in Madrid.
JP: This is your home city. There are tens of thousands of Kopites here. Have you been around the city and met some of them yet?
RB: I was doing some interviews in the city centre with John Barnes and there were Liverpool fans all around. You can feel the atmosphere building. It will be a great atmosphere. The only problem is the number of fans without tickets so everyone needs to stay calm. The police are a little bit worried about that because there are so many but hopefully everything will be fine and everyone will be happy.
JP: Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Rafa Benitez. That's an elite band of managers who have brought the European Cup back to Anfield. Do you expect Jurgen Klopp's name to be added to that list?
RB: I think so. They have all the tools to do it. When you say that, I think about Athens and the disappointment of losing that second Champions League final. We could have won it and we deserved more from that final..... But anyway we won it in Istanbul and did well. Hopefully now after Kiev, this Liverpool team have the experience as well as the quality to win. I think Jurgen can win the title. It won't be easy for sure but they can do it.
JP: Any advice for him?
RB: No! He has enough experience. He doesn't need any advice. It's just try to do things in the same way as you were doing because that's the reason why you are in the final.
JP: It feels different to a year ago. Back then Liverpool had surprised people by reaching the final. This time around it feels like they have proved they belong on this stage...
RB: Yeah, some people have said that maybe now they're favourites they will be over-confident but I don't think so. The experience of last year has to be more positive than negative. I am sure they will be capable of doing well. But I say it again, beating Tottenham won't be easy. When they ask me about Istanbul and the comeback, it was very emotional. I think this final will be different but I hope it will be a great game.
JP: Finally, Rafa, what's your prediction?
I don't want to say! I want to be respectful because I also have a very good relationship with (Mauricio) Pochettino and (Moussa) Sissoko was my player. You know what is inside my heart! But, officially, I will say I hope the best team will win.
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