Former Real Madrid coach, Rafael Benitez surprisingly chose Barcelona’s Lionel Messi as the player he most wished he could have worked with despite having a strong affiliation with Los Blancos.
The Spanish coach claimed him and the Argentine number 10 speak the same football language. He also named Franz Beckenbauer, Kevin Keegan, and Alan Shearer as the former players he would have relished the chance to coach, but among current players, Messi stands out for the former Real Madrid boss.
Messi starred for Barcelona in their 4-0 La Liga victory over Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu during Benitez’s time at the dugout of Los Blancos, and the newly appointed Dalian Yifang coach said he had a meeting of minds with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
“Maybe Messi,” replied Benitez when asked which player he wished he could manage in a fans’ Q&A on The Athletic. “He is so good that I could maybe just have sat on the sidelines and enjoyed watching him play! When he trained at the Manchester City training ground with Argentina, I had a conversation with him and we spoke the same language – about football, too.”
Benitez took his first managerial role outside Europe when he was confirmed as the new boss of Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang in July. Many Newcastle United supporters were disheartened to see the 59-year-old leave St James’ Park but he said he would like to come back to the Premier League in the future. As well as being popular on Tyneside, Benitez is fondly thought of on Merseyside where he guided Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005 and a second-placed Premier League finish in 2008-09.
He was asked which current Liverpool player he would have liked in his 2008-09 team, he said: “[Virgil] van Dijk, he would help. Not because the others are not good enough but because in this position he is maybe the best at the moment. We had [Fernando] Torres and [Steven] Gerrard so we had lots of good attacking players, but as a centre-back – although I was really pleased with my players – Van Dijk is maybe playing at another level now.”
Barcelona are set to visit Osasuna this weekend in the third match of the La Liga campaign without Messi once again, with the Argentine having missed the first two games of the season. Meanwhile, Van Dijk’s Liverpool will look to continue a perfect start to the Premier League season against Burnley this weekend.
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