Saturday 22 July 2017

Former Reds boss Benitez sticks by his 'small club' jibe at Toffees

Ian Herbert

RAFAEL BENITEZ has stood by his description of Everton as a being "small club," delivered four years ago, but insisted his words related only to David Moyes' side's unambitious display against Liverpool in one game.

"I didn't want to be disrespectful to the club. I was talking about the way they were playing, not the club," said the 51-year-old, who has expressed his desire to return to the Premier League.

The Spaniard's "small club" comments came after the 0-0 draw at Anfield in February 2007. "When we had the meeting with the manager in the boot room and we were having a drink I explained (to David Moyes) what I meant," said Benitez.

"If you remember, the game was 0-0 and we were attacking, attacking, attacking and they were defending, so after this game I wanted to say that they were a small club.

"I wanted to say they were a small team in the way that they were playing -- deep, defensively and doing nothing in attack. That was my idea. When you play against a top side you know they will have more possession and they will be in more control and you have to find one or two counterattacks."

Benitez is no stranger to stoking the fires as he did when he calmly took a handwritten list of complaints about Alex Ferguson from his inside jacket pocket and read them out -- history has mistakenly characterised it as a 'rant' -- and the decision to substitute Steven Gerrard 20 minutes from the end of the October 2007 Goodison derby. Gerrard, who trudged from the field to gleeful blue derision that day, later said he was "hurt."

"I had Lucas (Leiva) on the bench and I could explain to him what I wanted," Benitez recalls, detailing the way Liverpool had entered the last 20 minutes at 1-1 against Moyes' 10-men.

"I couldn't explain to the players on the pitch with the temperature at 180 (degrees). I wanted less passion and more calm. Someone that could analyse the game and say 'we are not in a hurry. If you play 15 minutes with calm and you have possession you will have four or five chances'."

When one fell to Lucas and an ensuing penalty took Liverpool to victory, the manager was vindicated.

Yet the fascination for toppling Manchester United always absorbed Benitez more than the jousts against the team from across Stanley Park.

"For the fans, for the city, we know what it means to beat Everton," he reflects.

"We knew that United could be a six-points game. Everton was an important game for the feeling in the city. It is another thing when you are playing against the top teams. For me there are three teams now: United, Chelsea and City. You can see from the table that they are ahead of the others.

Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal -- they all have a very good team (too). The others have better squads. One or two of the top six will make mistakes and it depends on the others if they will be there."

Benitez has said his renewed life in Liverpool, after parting company with Inter Milan in December, is temporary. "Whenever people say things about me, it always comes back to Liverpool -- but I cannot just become 'the former manager'. I am a professional football manager. I want to talk more about the future." (© Indep- endent News Service)

Irish Independent

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