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Rafa surprised by criticism

Rafael Benitez has said he is "surprised" his former players at Liverpool considered him too distant and has spoken of the financial constraints that he believes cost him his job.

Benitez has received criticism from a number of Liverpool players in the past for his approach, with Jermaine Pennant saying the Spaniard wanted to turn him "into a robot" and Albert Riera claiming "dialogue with the players is practically non-existent".

Steven Gerrard also joked that he did not receive a "well done" from the manager after his inspirational performance in winning the 2006 FA Cup, while Fernando Torres wrote in his autobiography that, the day after his daughter's birth, he received a belated congratulations from the manager - for attacking the post at a corner.

"I was surprised that they said I was too distant," Benitez told the Mail on Sunday. "Every day at Liverpool I spent 15 minutes in the physio room talking to players who were injured.

"I know what it means to be injured and spend six months training on your own, but I [also] say, 'You can do better'. I push, I push, I push. It's my style and I think that Gerrard, Torres, Reina - these players can always give something more because they are top-class players, mentally, physically and technically, so I try to push them.

"The approach with other players is different. When they don't have that level you have to say, 'Okay, fine. Well done' - but with top players, you have to push them."

On the Torres anecdote, Benitez said: "It's not true. We had been practising a movement, where we attacked the near post. Then against Chelsea, he attacked the near post and we scored. Straight after the game - straight after the game, not a day later - I went to see him and said, "Well done. Attacking the near post!"

"In his book, he says it was a day later, not after the game. I asked Fernando, "Why did you write this?" They changed the time of when I said this but it gets repeated and repeated and people think it's true."

Benitez also stressed that he felt the club's owners during his tenure, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, had made it difficult for him to make plans in the transfer market.

"We had the confidence we could win the league but you have to wheel and deal," he said. "You cannot bring in two or three top-class players if you don't have the money. You have to sell.

"We sold Xabi Alonso and bought Glen Johnson, Alberto Aquilani and Sotirios Kyrgiakos. We [should have] had money but I couldn't use it because we had to meet the interest payments.

"We had one top-class player who was our target, Fiorentina's Stevan Jovetic. As far as I was concerned, we had the money for him in our budget, but then the owners said: 'No, no, we don't have the money'. Then he scored against us in the Champions League to help knock us out!

"If you have your budget and you know that is happening, fine, but my budget was always given to me as a net figure [after taxes] for wage negotiation. But in the last year it was gross - a massive difference - but I didn't know. No one told me it had changed."

Benitez is now enjoying some time away from football having seen his disappointing spell at Inter cut short in December, and he said he wants to plan his next move carefully.

"It's really strange to be relaxed but now I'm watching games in a different way," he says. "You are trying to take notes, analyse things, but it is not the same as when you need to be ready for the next game. You can enjoy the football a little bit more.

"But you know you have to be ready, because we have had some offers from abroad, though for now it is better to be calm and choose the right team."

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