Rodgers not focusing on Benitez
Fri, 19 Apr 2013 18:51:00
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers insists the rapturous welcome Rafael Benitez is expected to receive on his return to Anfield does not faze him.
The Spaniard heads back to his former club as an opposition boss for the first time since leaving in 2010 after six years in which he made them European champions again.
Benitez's Champions League win in Istanbul in 2005 - his first season in charge - means he is held in the highest regard by Reds fans.
The 53-year-old's home remains on the Wirral and his close association with the club and fans was cemented with his support for the Hillsborough families, this week marking the 24th anniversary of the disaster, and his wife Montse's charitable foundation benefiting local causes.
It means when he steps back out into the Anfield dug-out on Sunday there will be the bizarre scenario where only section of the ground not likely to be applauding the visiting manager are the away fans - many of whom have actively campaigned against him purely because of his links to the Reds.
Some managers - notably current England coach Roy Hodgson - have suffered as a result of the ghosts of Liverpool's past looming behind them but Rodgers feels no threat.
"It won't be strange in any way at all," said Rodgers, whom some fans feel still needs to do some convincing after a hit-and-miss first season in charge.
"It is a club with supporters who are very respectful. They still sing Kenny's (Dalglish) name and rightly so, a legend at the club as a player and a manager.
"There is absolutely no question Rafael Benitez will get an excellent reception because of the great work he did here.
"The football club as a whole always respect former players and managers.
"He obviously had a real good time here, won the Champions League and FA Cup in his six years here, so I am sure he will get a fantastic reception."
Rodgers is yet to feel the overbearing pressure of not achieving success at a club with Liverpool's glorious past.
And he knows that merely getting them back into the Champions League will not be enough - although it has to be his primary aim - as the club's winning mentality will not allow it.
"It is interesting. The season they actually won the Champions League (under Benitez) they finished on 58 points and outside of the top four," added the Northern Irishman.
"The season before Gerard Houllier had 60 points and finished in fourth place.
"But everyone knows the history of that season (2004-05) in terms of the Champions League and by winning that it buys you another season in there which you can build and move forward.
"The history is history, and it is an incredible history, and it is easy for me to appreciate the history because that was one of the key reasons for me coming here.
"But you can't be held hostage to it. You have to chip away at being the best you can be.
"The focus is purely on the job and improving the team.
"If you put too much pressure on then it becomes even more difficult."
The mood this week has been a more sombre one as the club, along with fans and families of the 96 Hillsborough victims, marked the 24th anniversary with the annual service at Anfield.
Long-time campaign Anne Williams, who lost her 15-year-old son Kevin in the disaster, attended on Monday despite being seriously ill with terminal cancer.
She died yesterday and Rodgers paid his own tribute.
"Obviously it was the first time I'd attended the service and I felt a real emotion in it," he said.
"To have seen Anne there and only a few days later for her to pass away is very sad
"She suffered for a long time fighting for her son and the families have suffered for many years as a whole and we hope in the not-too-distant future they get what they deserve which is justice for them all.
"She has fought a lifetime for her child and hopefully in the future justice will be there without too long a wait.
"Hopefully there are not many more in the families who will die and have to go to their grave not knowing whether they had justice or not."