Why Celta Vigo are right for Rafa Benítez

News broke last week that Celta Vigo had agreed a deal with Rafa Benítez for him to take over as manager, and today (3 July) the 63-year-old was finally unveiled as Carlos Carvalhal’s successor at a press conference in Galicia.

Usual circumstances dictate that we ask what a manager can bring to a new club, but as the conservative and controlling or genius and lovable boss (depending on who you ask) has been so familiar to the top of European football for so long, it is perhaps more fitting to ask what Os Celestes can offer Benítez.

Out of work since departing Everton in January 2022 and apparently the recipient of more than 20 offers – including in Saudi Arabia and the Premier League – why has Rafa accepted the job at Balaídos over ones that were surely more lucrative?

There’s no place like home

Rafa Benítez is from Madrid, a good six-hour drive from Vigo, in the south of Spain’s northwest region, which is not what one might call a stone’s throw.

Yet, it is still his homeland, and the opportunity to be back home was one of the driving factors in his decision to go to Celta.

Benítez has not worked in La Liga since his only season as Real Madrid boss, 2015-16, and other than that, he has not worked in Spain since leaving Valencia for Liverpool in 2004.

Approaching the age when most of us are counting down the days to retirement, is it any wonder that home comforts are a priority?

Only the best will do

As well as wanting to be close to home, Benítez highlighted in his press conference his desire to work in one of the world’s top leagues.

Despite the Saudi Pro League improving with every phone call to Todd Boehly, it appears this was Rafa’s way of telling the world the Arabian Gulf is not on his radar.

He has experienced managing in one of football’s other brave new worlds; spending 18 months in charge of Dalian Professional in the Chinese Super League, citing health concerns as his reason for terminating his contract early, rather than footballing reasons.

Nonetheless, it seems it is the top of the established order or nothing else for Benitez.

Spain’s sleeping giant?

The demise of Deportivo La Coruña, plummeting to the third tier, means Celta are undoubtedly Galicia’s biggest club and will be for some time.

Incredibly, thanks to Real Valladolid’s relegation, those quarter-day trips to Madrid will be among the shortest away trips they will have to make in the league. It is quite the catchment area the club has to play with.

They are about to embark on their 12th successive top-flight campaign; with the exception of three 17th-place finishes, the majority of the previous 11 have resulted in comfortable mid-table finishes, and the dizzying heights of sixth were reached in 2016.

Desperate to perform in their 100th season of existence, with a high-profile manager to take them forward, are Celta Vigo about to start building towards regular, consistent, European football?

A Rafa-ready squad

Certainly not popular in all corners of England, Benítez’s reputation and popularity in England have long been better than in Spain, where his spell as Los Blancos boss still leaves a stain.

His defensive approach, in hindsight, was unlikely to win the hearts and minds of Real Madrid fans and players.

Whereas his industrious style was better suited to keeping Newcastle’s heads above water and taking a Liverpool squad featuring Igor Bišćan and Vladimir Šmicer to Champions League final glory.

In Celta Vigo, he inherits a team much more similar to his English successes; in Iago Aspas, he has a club legend who will run through hell itself for the light blue shirt.

In new permanent signing Carles Pérez, plus midfield core Fran Beltrán and Renato Tapia, they have enough quality to improve on last season’s 13th place, despite losing Javi Galán to Atlético Madrid today.

Anthony Tomas | GSFN

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