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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 June, 2004, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK
Liverpool buy into excellence
By Sarah Holt

Valencia coach Rafael Benitez
Rafael Benitez, who has been named the new manager of Liverpool, arrives at Anfield with an enviable record of success in one of the toughest arenas in world football.

And if the 44-year-old's achievements are anything to go by, Liverpool's long and agonising wait for Premiership success could be about to come to an end.

Since Benitez joined Spanish second division club Extremadura in 1997, each one of his sides has finished top in his first year in charge.

Most recently, the 44-year-old has established himself as Valencia's most successful manager in their 85-year history after just three years at the club.

Valencia have won Spain's Primera Liga title twice in the last three years under Benitez - putting the megastars of Real Madrid, among others, in the shade each time.

Benitez is moving to the UK after a sensational season at Valencia, who last month added the Uefa Cup to their La Liga title.

1986-89: Took first coaching role with Castilla youth team
1989-95: Worked at Real Madrid where he won the league with the youth team and the B team before assisting boss Vicente del Bosque
1995-96: First management role with Real Valladolid
1996-97: Another uninspiring spell at the helm of second division side Osasuna
1997-99: Takes over at Extremadura where he wins the second division title at his first attempt
2000-01: Clinches the second division crown again this time with Tenerife
2001-02: Moves to Valencia where he ends the club's 30-year wait for the La Liga crown
2003-04: Wins the Spanish league title for the second time and then secures his first European silverware with victory in the Uefa Cup
That success thrust their coach into the limelight, and Liverpool landed a major coup in attracting him away from Spain, exploiting his dissatisfaction with the behind-the-scenes politics at Valencia.

They are buying into a man regarded as charming but steely, with a sharp footballing brain.

He inherited from Hector Cuper in 2001 a Valencia squad brimming with potential - with Spanish international goalkeeper Santiago Canizares and Argentina stars Roberto Ayala and Pablo Aimar the backbone of an already formidable team.

But, as Real Madrid have proved, it is no good having a team full of talent if you cannot make them play together effectively.

And in that sense Benitez's managerial talent is considered to be akin to that of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger - an ability to turn a promising squad of individuals into an efficient team of winners.

Benitez places major significance on a solid defence.

This season his side conceded just 26 goals - the lowest figure for any Spanish champions in 30 years.

The 44-year-old also has an eye for spotting home-grown talent.

Striker Miguel Mista quickly followed Benitez from Tenerife in 2001 and developed into Valencia's top goalscorer.

Roberto Ayala (ottom) celebrates his goal against Real Madrid with team-mate Pablo Aimar
Argentina stars Ayala and Aimar are the backbone of a formidable Valencia team
But Benitez also built a team where the defenders go forward and the forwards defend.

Every single Valencia outfield player, except left-backs Amedeo Carboni and Fabio Aurelio, got on the scoresheet last season.

The final piece in Benitez's masterplan is his strict policy of squad rotation to keep the side fresh and the players on their toes.

Benitez has spoken of his desire to pit his wits against the best and the Premiership gives him the chance to prove his potential once again.

He has made no secret of the fact that one day he wants the top job at Real Madrid, where in a spell from 1989-95 he coached the youth team and B side before becoming assistant to manager Vicente del Bosque in 1993.

For now, though, he has the chance to etch his name into English football legend by ending Liverpool's agonising 15 years without winning the English title.

And after brushing aside such powerful teams as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Deportivo La Coruna on his way to the Primera Liga title, what price his ability to do the same for Liverpool at the cost of English giants Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea?

Interview: Rafael Benitez

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