How Juande Ramos ruined Rafa Benitez's dream date at Madrid

24 February 2009 02:12
When the draw in December paired Liverpool

with Real Madrid for the Champions League knock-out stages, it looked like the dream tie for Rafa Benitez.

He would surely roll into the Bernabeu, roll over Real and leave the Madrid masses demanding the prodigal son be brought home.

He would then either get a move back to the club where he started his coaching career as B-team boss or, because of the enormous pressure to hang on to him, get the contract he wanted out of Liverpool. Juande Ramos had other ideas.

Head scratcher:Rafa Benitez and Torres (facing camera) find training a puzzle

With the botched project at Tottenham

a distant memory, he has orchestrated a run of nine straight wins, taking Madrid from 12 points adrift of Barcelona to seven - the same gap that separates Liverpool from Manchester United.

With just two goals conceded in that winning run and 10 goals scored in the last two games, Ramos' incredible start and Liverpool's faltering league campaign have changed the face of Wednesday's tie.

There is a growing feeling in Madrid that Ramos is the man to take the club forward. Benitez's Bernabeu audition was a formality back in December. Now it looks like a case of 'don't call us, we'll call you'.

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The Liverpool manager admitted recently that the pressure of ending the 19-year wait for a league title is taking its toll. He told one media outlet here: 'Our problem lies in the massive expectations of success that surround us. The league! The league! We have gone 19 years without winning it! And then when the Champions League comes around we go for that, too.

'Since I arrived we have won four trophies and played in seven finals and a Champions League semi-final. We are where we ought to be but the problem is the anxiety. We need to manage it but it is not easy.'

Liverpool's down-turn in 2009 contrasts with the Ramos revolution at Real Madrid.

Striker and club captain Raul said: 'Since Juande's arrival the team look much more solid and we can still improve. We have only been together under him for two months.'

Raul denies being the king-maker in the appointment of Ramos, although the two share the same agent and met for lunch several months before Real Madrid sacked Bernd Schuster and recruited the former Tottenham manager.

He has voiced his admiration for Benitez in the past but as things stand would support Ramos remaining in the job.

Raul's fellow striker Gonzalo Higuain has also lauded the effect that Ramos has had at both ends of the Real Madrid team.

'Since Juande came we have let in only four goals,' he said.

'We all know what system we are going to be playing - something that has improved under his management. And he gives me complete freedom to go out and play my game on the pitch which gives a player so much confidence.'

That freedom granted to Madrid's most talented players is an essential requisite of the job.

This is the club that, despite being top of the league, once sacked Radomir Antic because the football was too dull. They went one better in 2007 when, for the same reason, they fired Fabio Capello, who had just won them the league.

Even when his stock was at its highest in Madrid, Benitez's reputation for a tendency towards robot football left him with opponents inside the boardroom and the ever-influential football press.

Asked recently about the Real hot-seat, Benitez covered all bases by admitting: 'The truth is that I am not thinking about leaving and I hope to be at Liverpool for a long time.

'Of course, Real Madrid would be the perfect ending to anyone's career, but my career is not coming to an end yet.'

In the same interview he admitted he got on 'okay' with Real's president in-waiting Florentino Perez, the man most likely to win July's elections and therefore pick the coach.

Perez, on the verge of a second presidential stint, is, above all, a populist and would find it difficult to justify not sticking with Ramos if current form continues.

Before Wednesday's game, one of the heroes of Benitez's Champions League winning Liverpool side from 2005, Jerzy Dudek - now with Real - backed his old boss to stay at the club.

He said: 'This year they are very close to winning the Premier League and that means that they are on the right road to winning the trophy everyone there wants.

'Maybe we can help Liverpool win the League by knocking them out of the Champions League.'

A victory for the Spanish champions would certainly move Ramos closer to a long-term deal at the Bernabeu and thus push Benitez further away from Madrid than ever.

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Source: Daily_Mail