A season on the brink
Any Liverpool fan could have been forgiven for thinking 'Who the heck is Rafa Benitez?' when the Spaniard was installed as manager at Anfield in 2004. But now, after one glorious night in Istanbul, he will forever be etched into Liverpool folklore.
Guillem Balague, a well respected Spanish football journalist who you will recognise from Sky Sports' 'Revista La Liga', charts the ascendancy of Liverpool's new manager, culminating in the Champions League victory at the end of the 2004/05 season.
A close personal friend of Benitez, Balague is also a Liverpool fan, which makes this book even more interesting. He clearly has a passion for the game, and for the Kop, about which he writes with affection and insight.
After a disappointing trophyless season, the sacking of Frenchman Gerard Houllier and the sale of Michael Owen to Real Madrid, Liverpool's future did not look great. Balague shows how the arrival of an unknown Spaniard changed all that; from the initial changes in tactics, to the gulf between the Scouse accent and the Spanish.
Weaving the tapestry of the Champions League final in Istanbul through the narrative, we get a unique insight into Rafa's regime. The decisions taken, the backlash felt when it all goes wrong and we are left with an overwhelming impression of what is one of the toughest jobs around.
Using his wide range of contacts, Balague is also able to show us the final through the eyes of those who were there. Amusing anecdotes fill the text, such as the Formula One champion Fernando Alonso's tribulations with a taxi driver and former Reds striker John Toshack's run-in with Besiktas fans on his way to the game.
The book also contains a unique insight into the hearts and minds of Liverpool's players and coaching staff alike. Balague is granted exclusive access to backroom staff and directors, while his friendship with Benitez fleshes out some of the issues and emotions that other authors could not have grasped.
Notably, he is also granted interviews with Milan players, including Gennaro Gattuso, manager Carlo Ancelotti and the referee Mejuto Gonzalez, proving that he can leave his Red-tinted glasses to one side occasionally.
Although the book's main thrust is driven towards the Champions League final, overall it is a fascinating portrayal of modern football management and gives us a very complete picture of what it takes to run one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Visit www.orionbooks.com for more information on how to buy the book.