The former Reds midfielder expects the Spaniard to receive a warmer welcome at Anfield on Sunday than he will ever get from Chelsea fans but does not see him back in the dugout
By Russell Stoddart
Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez will be hailed as a hero on his return to Anfield to face Liverpool on Sunday, according to Ray Houghton.
The former Reds midfielder believes that it will be one of those rare occasions when a visiting manager will receive a better reception from opposing fans than his own but thinks it unlikely that the Spaniard will be back in his old team’s dugout any time soon.
“When he takes his place in the Anfield dugout he will receive heartfelt applause from the home fans and some might even sing his name. I doubt he would ever get that from Chelsea fans,” Houghton told Goal.com.
“There has been some time to reflect on his overall period in charge and Liverpool fans view it as a success. The general opinion is that the club had a more successful time under Rafa than any manager since the glory days of the 70s and 80s.
“No-one will ever forget the Champions League win in 2005 but there was other cup success too, a second place in the league and also another Champions League final.
“It only really went pear-shaped in the last year when Rafa began to make some mistakes. There was the power struggle he had with the owners over the direction of the club and there were some bad dealings in the transfer market.
“Perhaps the final straw was a change in the style of play. Liverpool fans are used to easy-on-the-eye, pass-and-run style but Rafa wanted a more direct approach and it didn’t work.
“I don’t know what he will do next but, despite his family remaining in Merseyside, I doubt he would come back to Liverpool and I don’t think he would be invited.
“Brendan Rodgers will be given at least another year to prove himself at Liverpool and, by then, Rafa will be somewhere else.
“When he took over at Chelsea he talked about going for five trophies but, while the only one he can still win is the Europa League, if he can double up with a top-four finish then he will feel he’s done a decent job.”
Houghton observes that Benitez’s tussles with Chelsea, particularly when Jose Mourinho was in charge, helped endear him to the Anfield faithful. While the two managers were in place, the Reds beat the Blues in two Champions League semi-finals even though the London club were the dominant force in English football.
“The fans love it when their manager knows the history of the club, particularly at Liverpool where there is such a rich history,” the ex-pro continued. “If beating Chelsea twice on such a big stage wasn’t enough for the Liverpool fans, Rafa went one better by boasting that while Chelsea were ‘new’ to success, Liverpool had the ‘history’.
“I don’t think Liverpool fans have ever forgotten that, and, equally, I think it is part of the Chelsea fans’ resentment towards him.”