Steven Gerrard has admitted that former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez sounded ‘muddled and bitter and paranoid’ during his ‘facts’ rant about Sir Alex Ferguson in 2009.
The former Reds captain’s autobiography is being serialised in the Mail and the latest excerpt reveals Gerrard’s ‘frosty’ relationship with the Champions League-winning manager.
‘I can pick up the phone and speak to all of my previous Liverpool managers. Except for Rafa,’ reveals Gerrard in ‘My Story’.
‘It’s a shame because we probably shared the biggest night of both our careers – the 2005 Champions League victory in Istanbul – and yet there is no bond between us.
‘Our working relationship was ultra-professional and his frostiness drove me to become a better player.
‘I had a hunger to earn a compliment from him — but also a hunger to let him know he really needed me as a player. We were like fire and ice. Passion surged inside me, while Rafa was the strategic thinker.
‘One time he did suffer a meltdown involving Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. I went home from training that Friday lunchtime and switched on the TV. Rafa sat down with his usual half-smile. It looked likely to be a normal press conference, but then he reached into his pocket for a piece of paper.
‘He spread it out on the table and began to read out one ‘fact’ after another. Rafa kept saying ‘fact…fact…fact…’ and I could not believe what I was hearing. I was grabbing the couch, digging my fingers into the arms, feeling embarrassed for him.
‘Rafa started by saying that maybe Manchester United ‘are nervous because we are at the top of the table’. I thought: ‘Uh oh, what’s happening here?’
‘It seemed so unlike Rafa to talk in such an emotional way. You could see the anger in him. ‘I want to talk about facts,’ Rafa said. ‘I want to be clear, I do not want to play mind games too early, although they seem to want to start. But I have seen some facts.’
‘Rafa went off on a ramble about how Manchester United and ‘Mr Ferguson’ had not been properly punished for various misdemeanours. He listed dates and incidents and concluded that ‘Mr Ferguson is the only manager in the league that cannot be punished for these things’.
‘He then railed against the fixture list and the timing of matches being skewed in United’s favour. Rafa was sounding muddled and bitter and paranoid. He was humiliating himself. It was a disaster. I couldn’t understand Rafa’s thinking in wanting to take on Ferguson, a master of mind games, when we were sitting so calmly on top of the table early into a new year.
‘When I met up with England all the Manchester United players told me Fergie was just laughing at Rafa, saying: ‘I’ve got him. I’ve got him.’
‘Rafa made a lot of decisions with himself in mind. He wanted power and control. I didn’t like it. Fighting with the board, other managers and the press wasn’t the Liverpool way.
‘Rafa had fallen out with the owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. We were all starting to doubt them but Rafa talked to the press about problems with his new contract.
‘Rafa broke the focus of the team. We got asked about it all the time in the media: ‘What’s all that about? Why has he done that?’ We never found out because Rafa didn’t say a word to us. I think he felt awkward because he knew it backfired.’