Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Chat With Rafa The Gaffa At what point in your life did you realise that management was the route you wanted to take?

It's difficult to say exactly but at 13 years of age I was writing down the team-sheets for the team I was playing in and giving my team-mates notes. At 16 and 17 I was training and playing and then at 23 I was just interested in training.

How do you compare the current Liverpool squad to your title winning Valencia side?

The other team was stronger in all the areas. We have been really good in defence and now we are good in attack but at Valencia we had the balance that you are normally looking for.

What has been the most memorable match in your managerial career?

Maybe Istanbul and the final against AC Milan.

Who are your daughters' favorite Liverpool players?

Sami Hyypia and Steven Gerrard.

How are the kids' Scouse accents coming along?

They are doing well and they speak really good English. I can't understand the little one sometimes when she speaks English. It's not easy for me and it's the same when she speaks Spanish because she now speaks better English than Spanish.

Which signing do you consider to be your most important since taking over at Liverpool?

I think we have signed some good players in Alonso, Reina, Garcia, Crouch and Sissoko. It's difficult to say which one is the best. They are all good players and good professionals.

Do you think whoever wins the Premiership this season will need to gain at least 90 points?

Maybe, if you analyse the last two seasons, but I think it will be more difficult for the top sides to win every game this year. We can talk about West Ham, Tottenham and Blackburn as well now who are all difficult teams to beat.

You now have over 20 very good players who will all be hoping for a regular place in your first team. How do you hope to keep them all content with life at Anfield?

It's not easy but the only thing I can say is they must think about the whole season and know they will all have opportunities. We will play 60-65 games and it's important they all keep training hard and be as fit as possible to play as many games as they can. I always use the example of Smicer and the Champions League final. We were talking about the fact that he wasn't playing much but we said he could score the most important goal of his life in the next match and that's what happened. He was always training well, he was a good professional and was always fit for any game.

If we had a 90th minute penalty in the last game of the season to secure the Premiership title, who would you want to take it?

We have some good players but I think I would choose Robbie (Fowler).

This is your third season in charge of the Reds now. Do you think you have achieved what you set out to do so far and has it been harder then you expected?

I am really happy with what we have achieved but you can always do more and win more titles. It was hard because you know you can speak English but need to improve, but there's no time to learn. Sometimes it's difficult to understand players or to tell them what you want. It was harder than I thought.

When selecting your team for any given match – what is the most important thing you consider - who is in form, levels of fitness or who the opposition is?

The form of the players is the first thing, then the chemistry and understanding between them and then the opposing team. You have to put all three things together and come up with the team you think is right for the match.

What do you think is the most important quality in a modern football side?

Game intelligence. You need clever players who are quick and that means they have good game intelligence.

You’ve mentioned Gabriel Paletta as a player for the future. Should we expect to see much of him this year?

I was watching him today in the training session and he scored some good goals. You could say it's a surprise for a centre back because he could turn, he could shoot and he could pass. He's a player who will improve a lot and if he progresses learning English he will settle down properly. He can certainly strike the ball as hard as Daniel Agger, who last weekend scored one of the best goals in the 100 years of the Kop's history.

As a coach at the beginning of my career, I would like to know what advice you would give to anyone wishing to progress in football coaching and management?

I would say you have to keep going and keep working. Sometimes you can lose games and be disappointed or lose confidence but you have to keep going, analyse every situation and every game and try to find solutions.

If you could change one thing in football, what would it be and why?

I don't like the violence. I don't like to see players with the attitude of 'this is my space so be careful'.

Is it a hard job being the manager of Liverpool?

It's hard but I enjoy it, especially because we have a good atmosphere at the club and supporters who are fantastic.

Would you prefer to win 2-0 or 4-2?


If you lose your temper during training or during the actual game, is it in Spanish or English?

A mix. I try in English but sometimes I have to say something in Spanish. The other day I was shouting something to one of the players but he couldn't hear me so I thought I'd need a megaphone. I told him in Spanish afterwards because he couldn't understand me properly.

Many Premiership managers get involved in "wars of words" with other managers and officials both before and after games. It is refreshing that you seem to avoid this. Is this a reflection of your personality and the way you manage the team?

I dot think it's good. Sometimes I think I must say something but then I decide it's more important to stay focused on my team because that's the most important thing. Sometimes I want to say something but it's better to instead think about the team and the club.

Were you academically strong? What were your favourite subjects at school and what would you have been if football did not have a place in your heart?

I wasn't the best but I wasn't bad. I studied physical education at university and I liked physiology and psychology. I was decent.

Do you do all your work for Liverpool at Melwood and Anfield or do you find you end up taking your work home?

I have a lot of problems because I take my job home and work at home a lot. Sometimes I don't have time at Melwood to watch a video so I take it home and my daughter will say ‘switch off the TV, no more football, no more football’. It's not easy.

Will you be giving the youth stars such as Paul Anderson and Adam Hammill amongst others a chance to shine in the Carling Cup this season?

I always say it depends on the player. If they are playing well and progressing then we can use them in the first team. We are playing a lot of games and if the young players are doing well then why not?

What made you spend that much money on Dirk Kuyt when you looked at so many other forwards? What made him stand out?

He's a different kind of player. We had Crouch who is good in the air while Robbie, Luis and Bellamy are runners or second strikers. We needed another player with more power who is stronger than them who can intimidate the defenders. Hopefully the others can benefit.

I was just wondering how many watches are you planning on buying Montse this year?

I have spent big money on watches but I'm really happy because it means we have been winning trophies. I hope to buy her a very expensive watch at the end of the season because it means we have won the Premier League.

Do your children think it’s normal now to see their Dad with a trophy at the end of a season?

They don't understand. For the last seven years they have seen me with trophies and my seven year old has seen me with lots of them. She doesn't understand how hard it is to win one!

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