My Mentor – Rafa Benitez

That’s it! That’s why he is my mentor! Even though he does not know it…

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Abridged extract of the laudatio delivered by Prof. Dr. D. Eduardo Cervello, at the Miguel Hernández University in Elche, 04/05/2008.
Aristotle explained that intelligence is not only defined by the possession of knowledge, but in how that knowledge is applied in practice. With that in mind, it is clear that the person, to whom I have the honour of awarding this Honorary Doctorate, is without doubt, an intelligent person.
Rafael Benítez is clearly representative of the communion between scientific study, intelligence and a passion for his work: all of which combined have brought him the success that he has become renowned for in his chosen field of competitive sport. It is hard to find – within sport in general, and specifically within football – another person who better embodies those characteristics. Rafael Benítez’ continued successes on the pitch are not a product of mere good fortune, but a consequence of the application of science to the field of sport. If there is a phrase that may be used to define Rafael Benítez: it is his passion for football and his fundamental desire to keep learning, understanding and improving in every respect.
We talk of Rafael Benítez as a football coach, yet this term is inadequate when it comes down to describing the global and holistic dimensions to his work. The traditional notion of a ‘coach’ hardly comes close to describing the way Benítez has surrounded himself with a team of dedicated specialists who are all pulling together to deliver the same objectives. Therefore, we are talking of not just a coach, but of an executive in charge of a body of sports professionals.
It is universally accepted that one of the most prized characteristics in the modern coach is the ability to lead and manage a group of people and, in the case of the recipient of this honorary doctorate, Rafael Benítez’ qualities in this area have won him the praise of everyone who knows him and who say that this represents one of his outstanding virtues.
It is worth looking at the example of his current club, Liverpool FC, where Benítez expertly leads and manages a team of over 40 experts: a group that includes physical trainers, physiotherapists, exercise physiologists, bio-mechanics experts, tactical analysts, nutritionists, video analysts and player scouts; all of them overseen and co-ordinated in their various departments by Benítez himself.
In all walks of life – whether in the sciences or in business – the most successful people are invariably those are able to see the ‘big picture’: those who possess a global vision that allows them to predict where best to focus their efforts and resources in the future. Rafael Benítez is one such person and his global vision has allowed him to introduce a number of bold innovations to the field of football coaching.
I would like to draw your attention to one such innovation: the utilisation of automated systems for measuring a player’s workload in training and in competition. These systems enable, amongst other things, the measurement of the amount of work and the exact level of exertion applied by every single player in a match, thereby allowing the coaches to plan a specific programme of recuperation and assess the recovery times necessary for every individual: providing vital assistance in planning that famous ‘rotation policy’. It is also a vital tool in the assessment of the physical demands of every specific playing position on the pitch and the tactical positioning of every player in every role in the team: permitting the creation of individualised preparation and planning for every formation.
Along similar lines, Benítez has made a further contribution with the development of a web based system that enable the gathering of information and images in real time, of any player anywhere in the world, updated via a network of scouts, in situ, spread out across the globe. This system also enables the development of a performance scale that can be used to measure the efficacy of each player against a different set of parameters. This database consists of literally hundreds of players.
And finally, the control of behavioural aspects is also a determining factor in Rafael Benítez’ team preparations. The setting of competitive objectives for players and positions; individualised tactical instruction tailored to every game and opponent in order to improve the efficiency of every player and to give the side a competitive edge: all elements that are incorporated in to the daily preparation of a group of players under the instruction of Rafael Benítez – who demands that they work as a team in the strictest sense of the word.
The following anecdote illustrates perfectly how Rafael Benítez’ scientific approach has been behind many of his extraordinary successes. In the 2005 Champions League final between Liverpool FC and AC Milan, with the two sides deadlocked at 3-3 following an astonishing comeback from Liverpool, the match was to be decided by a penalty shootout. As we now know, Liverpool finished as winners: courtesy of the fact that the Liverpool goalkeeper saved 4 out of Milan’s 5 penalties. Was that a coincidence?
As you can well imagine – with Benítez involved – the decision making of the Liverpool goalkeeper was supported by a rigorous historical analysis of Milan’s penalty taking in recent years and a record of exactly where every penalty taken by a Milan player had been directed. As Confucius said “in order to understand the future, we must look to the past.”
As you may appreciate by now, Rafael Benítez is much more than your typical football coach. Of course, this scientific approach does not guarantee success; but it must be remembered that Rafael Benítez’ endeavour and application is backed up by the 20 plus titles he has won since he began working in professional football.
Therefore, it is for all of those reasons, in this Olympic year: a sporting year par excellence, that on behalf of the Miguel Hernández University Elche, I bestow this Honorary Doctorate upon Sir Rafael Benítez Maudes.

Prof. Dr. D. Eduardo Cervello

Abridged version of speech delivered by Rafael Benitez upon receipt of his Honorary Doctorate…

If I’m being honest, I must say that from the moment I heard the news, I have been asking myself: what qualities do I possess to be deserving of such an award? Having heard the Laudatio delivered by my sponsor, I at least now partially understand the reasoning behind the decision. I believe it to be in recognition of my lifelong pursuit of the attainment of technical and scientific knowledge, through education, that I have endeavoured to apply, on a daily basis, to my professional life working within the football industry.
In recent times we have, fortunately, become used to seeing elite level teams employ specialists in sports medicine, orthopaedic specialists, physiologists, physiotherapists and so forth. Many of these specialists have gone on to become successful physical trainers with elite level teams, however, it is not all that common to find someone with a degree in physical education working as a coach and manager of a top flight team.
A question I am frequently asked, when discussing players, is whether or not a footballer – or any other athlete – is a product of nature or nurture: whether a player is born that way, or created. However, I am very rarely asked that same question when it comes to coaches and managers.

I believe that we would have to conclude that a talent for coaching is innate.

However, as in all walks of life, simply getting on with the job is not always enough and, even though an individual may possess a natural flair for coaching, a desire to improve and a commitment to learning is always going to lead to improvement.
Speaking from experience, you are never going to get very far without a decent grounding in theory and a solid grasp of the fundamentals.
Without hard work there is nothing, as Miguel Hernández wrote…

Not money, not the man;
he did not sweat or toil
to raise them he did nothing
on the closed soil. (Aceituneros )

(No los levantó la nada,
ni el dinero, ni el señor,
sino la tierra callada,
el trabajo y el sudor
The Olive Harvesters)

In other words, nothing worthwhile grows without sweat or toil; and for me, it is hard work that is the key to progress, development and success in any chosen profession. Of course, there are always exceptions that prove the rule; but hard work, dedication to the job and adequate training are all fundamental to success.
However, we must not forget that perseverance, determination, motivation, hope, curiosity and support are also vital. We all need support in order to grow: something that I have had from my family since infancy. I have had support from my mother, who took me to training in the evenings and in the middle of winter, when I was just 12 or 13 years old; from my father and brothers who came to watch me play – or to watch me ‘manage’ as my father used to say.
I have been supported by my family members who have been there to enjoy the victories and suffered alongside me in defeat; supported by my wife, who has stood by me when a job has come to an end, when the criticism has been ferocious, when I have had problems with the management and – why not – when celebrating the trophies.

And of course, I have been supported by my friends – my true friends – who have stood by me throughout the years.

This support is fundamental to an individual: in sustaining and improving him. And improvement is also borne of training and a combination of practical and accumulated experience: not to mention hour upon hour of study, investigation, analysis and research. All of which is a source of great pride for me, and my knowledge base is all the greater for it.
We must not forget that experience is not what happens to us, but what we learn from what has happened to us. We must apply what we have learned in order to keep learning.
Everybody knows that in the sporting arena, a coach’s ‘name’ can only go as far as making a good impression and is only of use at the outset; following that, it is knowledge and wisdom that are the key to earning the respect of your fellow professionals.

Therefore, as I said in the beginning, an ability to coach is innate; but it is also learned, and the adequate training of those working around you is also fundamental in achieving success.

Rafael Benitez

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The above reproduced with kind permission from the Miguel Hernández University in Elche and Rafel Benitez. Copyright & Translation GuillemBalague.com

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3 thoughts on “My Mentor – Rafa Benitez

  1. I heard he (or probably the lab guys) actually calculated the momentum of a ball. So, the players actually know where to stand in case the ball bounces off somebody. Really?

  2. I was looking for Benitez’s bio but I stumbled on this blog. Very well written and I couldn’t agree more. I am a Man U fan but I admire Benitez. After beating Chelsea yesterday (26th Oct 2008) I had alot of respect for his tactical handling of the game. He knows how to use individuals very well. People like Mascherano and Carragher would otherwise not be the players they are today

  3. Thanks Bill. I read some reports how the team now resembles his old Valencia… But I believe that he wanted “leaders” in his team so that they can provide the vision for the rest…set the standards to perform at the highest level and at all times…people say its all fluke since winning the Champion’s League, but I don’t think so…Masch (is like the captain of the Olympics winning team), Torres (captain of Athletico when he was there), Keane (captain for Rep of Ireland), Gerrard – of course, Reina – a leader in Spanish team…he wanted natural leaders, because leaders will think through when chips are down…it’s not just tactics, its heart too…in a battlefield…cheers

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