As a Player: CF Extremadura Spain 1986-2002 Levante UD Spain 2002-2005
As a Coach: Levante UD Fem. Spain 2006-2008
The Rafa Benitez that I knew
Only a few of us had faith in him when he arrived at the club: the shadow of the previous coach was still fresh in the memory along with promotion to the top division of Spanish football. The club had been relegated to the second division and a lot of players had left. The task was enormous.
Rafa had a big job on his hands: to get the team back to the first division. This would be utopia for the people of Almendralejo but gradually he was getting them closer to achieving it through hard work, modesty and hours of dedication; more than once he was almost locked in the dressing room because he was the last to leave the building. He took care of everything, analysed everything. I spent two years wearing a heart rate monitor!
The perseverance, the confidence he instilled, the opposition analysis he gave us, all showed his attention to detail, a person capable of dissecting the opponent and minimising their threats. I remember him knowing which was the favoured foot for all the players we played against and he tested us on it in the dressing room. He made us think constantly about football, to be aware of everything, and he never let you relax for a minute. What impressed me was the way he lived passionately for the game and that for him it held no secrets. He left no stone unturned in his search for perfection and he demanded maximum effort.
The "objective" was achieved convincingly, we were promoted easily through the front door, in what was the best ever second division season in the history of Extremadura. Rafa had managed the most difficult of tasks. The season in the first division was great and the team came within a point of staying up due to a last gasp goal.
And although we parted ways, he was and always will be a reference point. It has been a privelege to have witnessed so many of his tactical masterclasses. And despite the passage of time, in almost every conversation with football people, his name comes up in the same breath as passion, a search for perfection, and attempting to find a solution to everything.
Nowadays, from my standpoint as a coach, he is an example for all to follow, with an inexhaustible fount of knowledge which we can use as we work in this industry, because he managed to win two league titles against the two giants of our league and also to have opened the door internationally for many Spanish coaches.