Rafael Benitez is regarded as one of the best tacticians in the world game and it is on the European scene that he has had his biggest successes with Liverpool.
The Champions League requires tactical acumen and Benitez has rarely come out second best when pitted against some of the heavy hitters of world coaching. He won the competition with the Reds in 2005, was a finalist in 2007 and took them to the last four in 2008.
It all begun for Benitez in 1986 when he joined Real Madrid's coaching staff. Later that year he took over Castilla B [Real Madrid's youth team] where he won two Second Division titles in 1987 and 1989. He went on to enjoy success with the Real Madrid Youth B and under-19 sides before a brief stint as assistant manager for the club's senior side in 1994. His first forays into senior management away from Real Madrid proved unsuccessful and he was sacked by both Valladolid and Osasuna.
Benitez was known as something of a promotion expert during his time in Spain and led Extremadura to the Spanish first division after taking over in 1997. He repeated the trick with Tenerife before Valencia came calling in 2001.
Valencia's fans are notoriously demanding but Benitez was able to fulfil all their expectations by helping the club to their first league title in 31 years in 2002. The following season Valencia finished a disappointing fifth but Benitez was again able to establish a winning formula in 2004 as he brought the title home for the second time in three years. There was success in Europe, too, as Valencia won the UEFA Cup, defeating Marseille 2-0 in the final.
Benitez opted for a fresh challenge that summer, taking up the reins at Liverpool. His first season will of course be remembered for that astonishing Champions League final triumph against AC Milan in Istanbul. Trailing 3-0 at half-time, to a Kaka-inspired Milan, Benitez replaced Steve Finnan with Dietmar Hamann at half-time. Hamann succeeded in negating the threat of the Brazilian, Liverpool hit back through Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso, and forced penalties after extra-time. The rest was history as Jerzy Dudek saved from Andrea Pirlo and Andriy Shevchenko in the shoot-out to clinch a stunning victory. That was Benitez's finest hour as a manager. The club finished fifth in the league that season.
The following season, Liverpool won the FA Cup, also on penalties after a 3-3 draw with West Ham United. They also reached the finals of the Carling Cup and Club World Championship, losing on both occasions. The Reds did, however, claim the European Super Cup and a third place finish in the league.
The Reds finished in the same position in the 2006/7 campaign and reached the Champions League final once again. This time it was disappointment for Benitez who watched his side lose 2-1 to Milan.
The 2007/08 season yielded no trophies for the Reds, although they did reach the semi-finals of the Carling Cup and Champions League, only to be knocked out by Chelsea. A fourth place finish was attained in the league.
Premier League record
2006: Celebrates 50th Premier League win - (Liverpool 4-0 Fulham, 9th December)
2007: Manages 100th Premier League match - (Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea, 20th January)