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The two targets we identified were Robbie Keane, a striker at Tottenham Hotspur, and Gareth Barry, an England international midfielder at Aston Villa. I spoke to our senior players about both, and their responses were uniformly positive. Everyone saw them as the sort of signings that would suit us perfectly.
Barry appealed to us for a number of reasons. I have never been the sort of manager who prioritises a system above all else: I am willing to change and adapt my preferred formations given the strength of my squad or the requirements of a particular game. Barry was perfect: he could play as a central midfielder, of course, but he had some experience as an attacking left-back, which would be a useful option for home games where we were expected to go forward, and even as a left-winger. People who knew him told us he was a good professional, dedicated to his career, and a fine player. His nationality and price made him the ideal signing.
At the same time, we knew we needed another striker, someone to relieve the goal-scoring burden from Fernando Torres, and a player who could act as a partner, as well as a replacement. Keane's proven record for a number of clubs made him a good candidate. The problem, of course, as ever, was that we did not have that much money. The interest payments the Americans were giving to the banks as a result of the loans they had taken out to buy the club were eating into our transfer budget, so we had to be clever. It would be much easier if football was a case of just selling the players you no longer needed. It is not. Sometimes, you have to part with a valued asset.
We knew we would have to sell players that summer if we were to raise the funds to bring in the reinforcements - and, in particular, the British reinforcements - we needed. That would require parting company with one of our current squad members who would fetch a substantial fee. We decided that the most likely candidate was Xabi Alonso, who had been a great player for us since we signed him from Real Sociedad, but had not quite performed to his best in the last couple of years. He remained coveted on the continent and we knew we had to make a sacrifice if we were to build the squad we needed.
Juventus - no doubt still remembering his excellent performance against them in 2005 - had shown a strong interest, but they would not meet our valuation. They did not want to pay what Alonso was worth, hoping that we would be forced to lower our estimate as the summer wore on. That was not the case: we needed a certain amount, to cover the fee for Barry and give us some funds in reserve for other players. We could not afford to sell cheap.
The deal to sign Keane was rather more straightforward. Negotiations progressed smoothly, and confirmation of his signing sent a wave of confidence around the club. Everyone was delighted, the staff and the players, that we had managed to land one of our prime targets.
Negotiations with Aston Villa over Barry were much slower going, though. We could not agree a fee that we felt was suitable and it became increasingly clear there was little or no chance that a deal would be completed. At almost the same time as we made it plain to Juventus that they would have to meet our valuation if they wanted to sign Alonso, we pulled out of talks with Villa.
Champions League Dreams by Rafa Benitez is out now in hardback and ebook, priced £20.