In an exclusive interview with CNN, Rafa Benitez talked to CNN’s Pedro Pinto about the challenge of succeeding Jose Mourinho as manager of Inter Milan and his style of coaching, as well as looking back upon his time at Liverpool in the Premier League. Regarding his time at Anfield, Benitez defends his record there, claiming that he made the club big in Europe again.
PP: I wanted to go back in time a little to your first day when you faced the players for the first time. What was going through your mind and how well did you prepare that first speech taking in to account how much success they had the previous season?
RB: I think it is the same in all the teams no? When you have a new squad and you have to know them and in this case to congratulate them for everything else they have achieved. I knew 5 or 6 players, so more or less knew how they were thinking about the future or what they were doing in the past or more or less I had an idea and it was easier because they knew me too.
PP: You may have had that contact, but when you come to a new group and they are used to doing things one way, and that was successful, how difficult is it for you to come in and say ‘well yeah that was successful but I want to do it this other way’?
RB: From the beginning I wanted to keep the things they were doing well, the style of play and things on a daily basis they were doing every day, and after a while you try and do things your way, but to arrive at a point of being successful, you can do things one way or the other way so there are different ways to arrive at the success. It is important to know if this is a good option we will try to follow this option.
PP: You and Jose Mourinho were rivals in England, and you succeeded him here. Did you feel people were still talking about him here when you came, and did that make it difficult for you?
RB: No I think it is always the same when you go to a club that has won something. When I arrived at Valencia they were playing in 2 Champions League finals so people were talking about how the team is strong, and a new manager will change things. Liverpool was the same, they were talking about the past and how they were winning trophies so it was a question of time. Here it was more difficult at the beginning, they had won the three titles, the three also that they had. Again we have to watch the future. This team has won the Italian Super Cup, and this is a minor trophy you won, but it is still a trophy, so hopefully now we can win the Intercontinental Cup, and everything will be easier.
PP: Different managers have different styles. Some are more enthusiastic, some are more controlled, how would you describe your own style? Some say you are very detached, when you are on the bench you don’t have a lot of feelings. How would you describe yourself?
RB: That is not true, so obviously if you can see any of our games you can see it is not true. I have passion, I have control, two things it is sometimes not easy to put together, but I like my job, I like to teach and I like to be involved and to show something to the players at the same time I have to think. So I need control, I need to know what is going on and to find a solution at the same time. I think we are in the big brother society so if you do more you are better, but you have to do what you have to do.
PP: What impressed you the most when you got to Inter?
RB: I would say to you that this is a big club. You can see that this is a big club. The mentality of the fans is similar to the mentality of the Liverpool fans, they are behind the team and they try to be behind the team and push them. The mentality of the players, the majority of them, they are very good professionals with a good approach, and this is very important if you want to keep winning games.
PP: You mentioned Liverpool, and I want to ask you a couple of questions about Liverpool. It’s not been a very long time since you left, but so many things have changed. When you look back upon your time there, what do you feel?
RB: Well I am really proud that I was the manager, the feeling, the relationship with the fans and the city. I was really comfortable there, and still I have my house there so always the same, if I finish here in ten years time, I will go back there so it was really good for me and my family.
PP: You’ve been asked a couple of times in press conferences about Liverpool and the new manager. I’ll be honest, I was entertained by the philosophical remarks you made, the priest and the sugar, the milk. How do you see the club how it is now?
RB: I still have a lot of respect for Liverpool and Liverpool Football Club, so I don’t really want to talk about them. But sometimes when someone says something I have to respond with what is in this case what I know. But again I would prefer not to say anything because I wish them all the best, I wish to stay in a really good position and do really well because for me it is what I feel too.
PP: But how difficult was the last year for you? Were you treated unfairly by the club?
RB: Again I would prefer to not talk too much about that so the people that were there are really proud now again. We have the opportunity to give them back the possibility to say I am a Liverpool Football Club fan and I support this big club. We gave to them this back by working very hard and winning. It wasn’t just Istanbul, it was more trophies, more finals, semi-finals quarter finals. The team was again very important in Europe and the fans, they know.
Interview transcript provided by CNN International.