The image of Rafael Benítez sitting cross-legged, Buddha-like, on the Anfield turf during the penalty shoot-out in the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League is an enduring one. His work was done. There was no more he could do at that point to determine the outcome of a tie that would send either his Liverpool FC or Chelsea FC to the final in Athens.
Look to future
Three weeks on and his latest challenge is just beginning. Benítez had only just stepped off the pitch after the 2-1 defeat by AC Milan and already he was looking to the future. For the Spaniard this was not the moment to reflect on the achievement of taking his side to a second UEFA Champions League final in three years, but time to accelerate the process of taking Liverpool to the next level. There was a sense of urgency in his voice.
"We were nearly there but in football you need to take your chances and score goals - that's the difference," he said. "You could see the quality of one of the players that they have, and we need to start thinking about how we can improve our team. My first idea is to support my players because they worked really hard and did their best, but after you need to think about the future."
It seems there is nothing quite like the UEFA Champions League final to focus the mind. Vladimír Smicer, Milan Baroš, Djibril Cissé and penalty shout-out hero Jerzy Dudek had all played their part in the 2005 triumph, but would play no part in Benitez's plans for the future. Similarly now, Benitez will put sentiment to one side as he looks to rejuvenate a team that finished a full 21 points behind champions Manchester United FC in the Premier League, with local hero Robbie Fowler already on his way out and Mark González and Boudewijn Zenden reportedly set to follow.
What Liverpool lacked against Milan was the cutting edge the likes of Kaká provide. Benítez, though, has had to be patient. Daniel Alves was a target in the summer, but the price was too high, so Jermaine Pennant was signed instead. It seems now the Spaniard is no longer ready to settle for Plan B. "Some players even playing isolated up front can change the game. They can receive the ball, dribble, pass, and they can change the game. I hope I will get the backing. When you see the players working as hard as they did today maybe it's not enough. When you want to get close to [Manchester] United and Chelsea and have another chance in the Champions League you need to go maybe two steps at a time."
Benítez has been promised funds by new owners George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks and with a 60,000-capacity stadium in the pipeline Liverpool will soon be hoping to narrow the financial gap off the pitch as well as the quality gap on it. Fernando Torres, David Villa and Samuel Eto'o are all reported targets, but as ever with Benítez any new faces will have to do things his way.
"The perfect team must be proactive," he said. "That for me is the key. Sometimes you need to react but if you want to have the perfect team, you need to change, you need to prepare the players to be proactive. That is something we can improve upon. My idea has always been to give the players things to think about and then they can find solutions." For Benítez the search has already begun.
This is an abridged version of an article that appears in this week's edition of the uefa.com Magazine. To read it in full, please click here.
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