Javier Mascherano: Rafa Benitez rescued my career at Liverpool
Barcelona's Javier Mascherano has credited Real Madrid coach Rafa Benitez with "lifting him out of a dark hole" by signing him for Liverpool in 2007.
Mascherano, 31, first came to Europe when joining West Ham alongside fellow Argentina international Carlos Tevez in a controversial 2006 deal involving third-party ownership.
The midfielder was apparently not rated by Hammers manager Alan Pardew and played only seven games before making a January 2007 move to Anfield that took further time to be ratified by both the Premier League and FIFA.
With Benitez's man-management skills being questioned following reported differences of opinion with a number of Madrid stars in recent weeks, Mascherano has told Panenka he will always be grateful for the support received at that time and that the Spaniard is an excellent coach for players who listened to him.
"Benitez lifted me out of a dark hole 20 metres underground and put me up on a high," Mascherano said. "He is a great person and a teacher as a coach -- with him you can learn a lot, if that is what you really want."
Mascherano said he had stayed in touch with Benitez after both had left Anfield, but their current positions at Barca and Madrid meant they talked less currently.
"Since we were at the same team we have remained in touch," he said. "Our relationship has not changed, although the situation is a bit more uncomfortable now. Someday I will leave Barca, or he will leave Madrid, and it will return to normal. We still talk now, but less often."
Benitez's tactics have also been criticised by Madrid fans and pundits -- and even club captain Sergio Ramos -- in the wake of last weekend's 1-1 La Liga draw at Atletico Madrid, when Los Blancos went ahead but seemed to sit back instead of killing off the game.
However, Barca legend Xavi Hernandez has backed Benitez against such criticism, with the midfielder telling Eurosport that the media focus on Spain's big two often led to overreactions.
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"It is difficult," Al-Sadd playmaker Xavi said. "[Benitez] is starting out. Last year there was also lots of criticism of Luis Enrique and in the end we won everything. People should have patience, but football lives from day to day, with so many TV and radio programmes which have to say something.
"When Barca or Madrid do not win, the alarms go off. There is criticism, that is normal. But you must give him time to see what his Real Madrid team will offer us."
Injured Madrid right-backs Dani Carvajal and Danilo also backed their coach, after being asked whether Ramos and Benitez have moved on from their public disagreements earlier in the week.
"Ask Benitez and Ramos about that," Carvajal said. "We have no problems at all with the boss, we are fine."
Danilo added: "The relationship with Benitez could not be better. You can talk with him and he is always very open. I do not know anything about [a problem with] Ramos."