"Mmm! I have to search deep in my memory to recall how many years I have known Rafa Benítez but it must be over twenty. Back there at the extinct and loved Ciudad Deportiva (Training Ground) of Real Madrid. In those stuttering 90s I used to cover the younger teams of the ‘merengue’ club for my paper, Marca. So our first contact came about when he was in charge of the U19s. I remember him as quiet and reserved but I instantly felt he was approachable. Because I was so used to ‘fighting’ at that time against such hardened men as Toni Grande, Mariano Garcia Remon and Vicente del Bosque, with many journalists already behind them, his age, closer to mine, and his affable character clinched our relationship.
"I remember him as a quiet and reserved but I instantly felt he was approachable".
Rafa was already then a coach who wanted to conquer the world, hard-working, tireless and 100% perfectionist. In his second season with this U19 team, his first full season, with players like Fernando Sanz, Marcos, Sandro, Gerardo, the sadly forgotten Molina, Victor or Dani, he won the league and cup and made his name nationally. ‘We did’ our first report. Already back then, for him, the computer was an indispensible tool. He wanted to have everything under control about how the lads were working in training, in matches...’The more information you have, the better’ he always used to say when I asked about its usefulness. He lives for and with football. From the U19s he rose to Madrid B then to Second A and our contact became as regular as it was friendly. Despite never getting anything out of him! If it wasn’t for the players, with whom he had a great rapport, I would never have known the possible starting XI which he always kept under wraps. One anecdote springs to mind, when I remember him once before his last match with Madrid B –
""The more information you have", the better", he always used to say when I asked about its usefulness. He lives for and with football".
he already knew he would coach Valladolid the following season – with everything already done and dusted, because the team had already finished 3rd or 4th whatever happened. I asked him half in jest to tell me, even if it was for the one and only time, his starting XI. I was going to tape it as a professional jewel. I managed to get Benítez to give me his starting XI! No chance! Like all the other times, the players had to be the first to know. To cut a long story short, always with a smile on our faces as a sign of complicity between two good friends, I finished up leaving the training ground without the coveted starting XI. After he left Madrid, we never lost contact. With many more commitments he was still the approachable man whose professional successes even from a distance give you pleasure. All of these achieved through his values, his infinite capacity for work and continual desire to improve. He is always learning, always growing".