By Peter Glynn
New Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez has not been afforded the warmest welcome on his recent arrival at Stamford Bridge.
But when the Spaniard talks about English football, he does so with consistent enthusiasm.
Chelsea’s ninth manager in as many years captured the UEFA Champions League during his six-season reign as Liverpool manager.
And having kept a home on Merseyside since leaving Anfield in 2010, he possesses a strong bond with the country.
So Benitez is well placed to reflect on the development of the English game over the last 10 years or so.
He said: “I think it is improving technically, it is much better now, but you can see it is more physical than in other countries.
“You can see more tackles and you can see more challenges.
“It means it is also more demanding for the players. The tempo is also higher. All these things together mean the Premier League is quite exciting.”
Benitez’s last assignment was a short spell at the San Siro with Inter Milan. The 52 year-old describes the Italian league as a test of control and tempo, whereas in Spain, where Benitez began his career, it is different again.
He added: “In Spain it is more technical and also more tactical – tactically they think a lot about the game, they understand the tactics. In England it is more physical.”
Given the discussions about the technical development of young English players the former Valencia manager’s assessment could be deemed critical.
But Benitez recognises the efforts made by The FA and the Premier League with the new proposals for an overhaul of Youth Development.
And he stresses that change will take time, with his native country providing the perfect example.
Speaking at The FA’s UEFA Pro-Licence in January, Benitez explained: “Spain have been working for a while to play with this idea, the same system and to play with this style – to pass and support.
“We talk about some good players at Barcelona who are playing for the national team.
“You can see for years the U17, U19 and the U21, all these national teams they have the same direction, they have the same idea.”
He continued: “Barcelona are following a path. They were playing 3-4-3 when Johan Cruyff came to Barcelona and then 4-3-3 after.
“The style, the idea, is to pass the ball, go and support and stay in your position. It’s more a game of position, and then after this they play the game of possession.”
Benitez’s perspective on Catalonian domination is different than most. Where the Blaugrana’s passing and possession have exhausted most commentators reserve of metaphor, the team’s positional architecture does not always receive the same spotlight.
He said: “It’s about having good positions to pass the ball, to keep the possession. It has been this way for years.
“Possession is very important, but at the same time the structure and the organisation of the team gives the balance, and you can attack even better if you are well organised.”
The observation reveals much about the workings of the Spaniard’s mind and may point towards things to come in West London.
Renowned for his attention to detail and meticulous planning, Benitez admits the obsessive tendencies and thirst for knowledge surfaced in his younger years.
He said: “When I was younger I was watching eight or 10 games every weekend. I was in the car and I was driving to games, eating a sandwich in the car. Now you say ‘maybe this is not necessary’.”
Until his unveiling at Stamford Bridge last week, Benitez had been out of work since 2011. He was dismissed by Inter six months into the job after winning the Italian Super Cup and the World Club Cup.
And although he has been linked with many of Europe’s top jobs, Benitez was waiting for the right ‘project’ before he got back on the training ground.
So how does Benitez begin to shape a side in his own style?
He said: “You have to adapt to the club but you also have to have an idea. My idea is to always play well – but ‘what is to play well?’
“I like to keep the ball, but if you have to play long you have to play long. It depends on the moment.
“But always try to be organised and to keep balanced. If you are good in defence, people say you are ‘defensive’. No, that means you keep the balance. We always try to attack and we always try to score goals.”
• Rafa Benitez spoke at The FA’s UEFA Pro-Licence in January 2012. The full interview with him is available in September's issue of The Boot Room, The FA Licensed Coaches’ Club magazine.