Benitez: My most important game ever

Rafael Benitez on the replica European Cups in the Liverpool Museum: "The four European Cups act as an inspiration to us all. I haven’t had time to see them this week but it would be fantastic for everyone at the club if there’s a fifth one to go alongside them very soon." In fact if Liverpool do make it five wins, they’ll be able to keep the real one and put it on show. Rafa was talking ahead of Liverpool’s biggest match for years, taking place on Wednesday in Turkey. He continued: "It’s 20 years since Liverpool last played in a European Cup Final and we are in it to win it. For sure, AC Milan will start as favourites but we can beat them. They have more experience but we are hungry and have a lot of confidence."

Benitez has been working flat out to prepare his team for the final, and revealed: "My players are relaxed and I am very proud at the prospect of leading them out for a Champions League Final. It is, at this moment, the most important game I have ever been involved in and you never know when such an opportunity will come along again."

Rafa also wants to thank the fans he showed to his young daughters on Sunday at Anfield. Benitez has been amazed at the support he has received from the Reds supporters: "I hear there is going to be so many of our fans out in Istanbul and we hope to repay them by winning the cup. After today we are finished with the press and will be thinking only about football."

Benitez spoke recently about how he’d love to stay as Reds boss for twenty years if he could bring success. He’s confident about his future: "I have many more years on my contract and I want to win trophies for my club. I would like to be here for a number of years and win a lot of trophies. If people then compare me to Shankly or Paisley that would be fantastic. At the moment, they’re right up here and I’m right down there. But I will try to do the same as Shankly did."

Rafa has made changes already for next season – he’s got new signings lined-up and will start pre-season early. He’s decided more or less which players will leave, although they haven’t all been told yet. He said, "I need more time to achieve things here but I say to you that I have confidence I will have the time it will need. I believe in that but I know it’s difficult. I want to manage and work hard."

Benitez wants Liverpool to regain their place as the best team in the country one day, and for his team to spoken about as title contenders: "People talk now about Chelsea, Arsenal and United. But when I was in Spain they only spoke about Real Madrid and Barcelona. I know it will be difficult but I have confidence and I love my job."

The Spaniard also revealed that he left Valencia because of their version of Liverpool’s Rick Parry. Where Parry is striving to do all he can to help Liverpool to get the success the fans crave, Valencia’s Chief Executive took too much responsibility on himself for Rafa’s liking: "My mentality is always to improve and learn. I left Valencia because I didn’t respect the chief executive and he didn’t respect me and didn’t believe in me. When he told me ‘you have a good team but it’s not your job’ I had to go. Here it’s different. The chairman, chief executive, board and supporters are all people who believe in me. Then you can do your job."

Benitez likes the fact he’s got more power over team affairs at Anfield than he’s ever had before: "It’s harder here. In Spain you are just the coach. Here I am a manager and have far more responsibilities. But it is better. If I want to sign a player and make the wrong choice it is my mistake, my responsibility. I prefer to make those decisions for myself rather than having a sporting director make them."

If Benitez can improve other players the way he’s improved Jamie Carragher this season, then Liverpool will be very successful. Benitez is confident that it won’t be through lack of trying if Liverpool don’t get this success: "The only thing I can do is work really hard, work properly and have confidence. If you have confidence, you can say things to people and know they will believe you."

Rafa scuppered any chances of becoming England manager one day. Not that he’d necessarily want to of course, but he doesn’t like to get his players practising for shoot-outs, and that’s always been a criticism of England managers from the national press. Rafa said: "I don’t believe in practising penalties. In my opinion, the most important factor is how you feel on the day, not if you look good taking a penalty in training. You can look the best in practise, but then when you’re in front of all the people inside the stadium, you may get afraid. I don’t go into a game like this thinking it’s going to go to penalties. I only think about winning the match. Maybe if we get to extra time, then I’ll consider who takes penalties."

We’d rather not think about penalties at all ourselves.