How Rafa Benitez suppressed Steven Gerrard

Rafa Benitez seems like a bit of a miserable old git. Also known as ‘that guy from Toy Story’, the Spaniard is currently coaching Newcastle on their way back up to the Premier League. But it turns out that he has a bizarre little trick for keeping a hold over his top players… Steven Gerrard included, it would appear.

Dubbed as the ultimate Mr One-Club man, Stevie G has become synonymous with his hometown Merseyside club, Liverpool. He helped them to Champions League victory in 2005 but sadly never the Premier League title, as we all know. At his peak, however, Gerrard was playing way below his pay grade with Liverpool and could have made it at any club across the world, should he have fancied. But he chose to stay. Why? No, not undying loyalty and a child-like elation at being with the ‘club of his dreams’, but a far sneakier bit of manipulation from his former gaffer.

Steven Gerrard and Rafa Benitez had quite a well-publicised and poor relationship. Gerrard has gone so far as to claim that Benitez rarely praised the Scouse skipper, or even use his first name when discussing him at interviews or in the changing room. Odd, given that Gerrard was by far and away the best player to play in red under Benitez.

“It’s a shame because we probably shared the biggest night of both our careers — the 2005 Champions League victory in Istanbul — and yet there is no bond between us.”

“He would read out the team and use nicknames. But, for me, it would just be ‘Gerrard’. I don’t think Rafa Benitez liked me as a person.”

Steven Gerrard

Bold claims from the midfield maestro, there.

But did the Spanish boss really have a personal dislike for Gerrard or was it a conscious decision on his part that just so happened to have an interesting impact on his captain’s career? Well, Didi Hamann, former Liverpool midfielder has recently suggested the latter.

“He’d read names out: Sami, Carra, Didi, Xabi, Luis… Gerrard. All the nicknames, then Gerrard,”

“It was so obvious to me. I don’t know if anyone else picked it up. I think Rafa’s worry was that Stevie would become bigger than the club and that was the point he was making.”

Didi Hamman

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The well capped German was suggesting that Benitez’s cold treatment of, let’s face it, Liverpool’s only genuinely world-class player at the time – aside from Xabi Alonso, but he was on the way out anyway – was to keep the player from outgrowing the club that relied on him so very heavily.

In other words, Gerrard’s ego and understanding of his own immense talent was repressed by Benitez in order to keep him under his wing and keep his career and status alive and well. These sort of actions were expected of Sir Alex Ferguson, a man who was at the helm of the world’s largest club and had been so for 27 years. Benitez, on the other hand, was a tough authoritarian manager who still actually had a lot to prove, in comparison with Fergie at least. It seems, if Hamman is right, like the fella had squandered Gerrard’s chances of ever moving onto sunnier climbs with bigger, better clubs for his own benefit.

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Given his skill, Gerrard easily could have won the league as he so desperately desired to with clubs like Chelsea, United and even Manchester City in his later years. Did Rafa stop him from realising this at the time he needed to? Surely Gerrard had the footballing world at his fingertips under Benitez and thus wasted most of his time simply for the futile purpose of nostalgia and a vague sensation of loyalty? Alonso clearly realised that he could get further, but then again he wasn’t given the bizarrely petulant Benitez treatment. Maybe it made all the difference.

Anyway, had Gerrard not been kept down by Benitez in this way, who knows? Perhaps the star of Istanbul would have jumped ship. It would have been like going from the Titanic to a NASA space-shuttle. It’s a shame for his sake that he didn’t, then.

Poor old Stevie G, even this terrible Manchester United players won the Premier League more times than him…