As Newcastle prepare to host Manchester United on Nissan Super Sunday, we revisit the best quotes from Rafa Benitez’s rivalry with Jose Mourinho.
Both managers first moved to England in 2004, with Benitez taking the reins at Liverpool just two weeks after Mourinho moved to Chelsea.
An unforgettable feud followed, and with the two sides facing off a staggering 15 times in their first three seasons, it offered the pair plenty of opportunities to trade jibes.
It’s a rivalry which has mellowed as the years have gone by, but ahead of Newcastle v Manchester United – live on Sky Sports Premier League this Sunday – we look at a war of words which stretched until 2015, when Benitez’s wife opted to weigh in…
2005 & the ‘Ghost goal’
“You can say the linesman’s scored. It was a goal coming from the moon or from the Anfield Road stands. The best team lost and didn’t deserve to lose. After they scored only one team played, the other one just defended for the whole game.” (Mourinho, May 2005)
Mourinho refused to accept Luis Garcia’s shot went over the line in their Champions League semi-final second leg meeting at Anfield, and reiterated this belief when they met in the next season’s group stages.
“They didn’t score in the semi-final – but I accept they beat us.” (Mourinho, September 2005)
Benitez finally responded after Chelsea held Liverpool to a 0-0 draw at Anfield in the first of their two group-stage meetings.
“To me, Arsenal play much better football. They win matches and are exciting to watch. Barcelona and Milan too. They create excitement so how can you say Chelsea are the best team in the world?” (Benitez, September 2005)
2006: Mind the gap
Smarting from Chelsea’s FA Cup semi-final defeat by Liverpool, Mourinho refused to shake Benitez’s hand, and chose to remind the Spaniard of the sizeable gulf in Premier League success since the two had taken charge in England.
“Did the best team win? I don’t think so. In a one-off game maybe they will surprise me and they can do it. In the Premiership the distance between the teams is 45 points over two seasons.” (Mourinho, April 2006)
2007: Who needs flags?
As their rivalry entered a third season, it was Benitez who opted to stoke the fire when taking aim at Mourinho’s self-attributed nickname of ‘The Special One’ before claiming Anfiled would never use flags to help create an atmosphere.
“We have our special ones here, they are our fans, who always play with their hearts. We don’t need to give away flags for our fans to wave. Our supporters are always there with their hearts, and that is all we need. It’s the passion of the fans that helps to win matches, not flags.” (Benitez, April 2007)
“We have our special ones here, they are our fans, who always play with their hearts. We don’t need to give away flags for our fans to wave.”
Benitez in 2007
Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea after a stuttering start to the 2007/08 season, but even seven months after his departure, he still found time to take aim at Benitez.
“How many championships has Benitez won since he joined Liverpool? None. And how many names were suggested by the press to replace him? None.” (Mourinho, April 2008)
2010: Just not that Inter you
Mourinho left Inter Milan as a treble-winning manager in 2010, and it was none other than Benitez who succeeded him at the San Siro. The Spaniard was chasing trophies on six fronts.
“There’s the coaches, first Mancini, then Mourinho and now me, and I hope to win more than them. We could win six trophies this season.” (Benitez, June 2010)
“One thing is for certain. Benitez won’t do better than me.”
Mourinho on Benitez’s Inter appointment in 2010
But Mourinho was not so sure…
“One thing is for certain. Benitez won’t do better than me. Another thing is also true that should he lift the Intercontinental Cup, he will have only won two games compared to my 13. Therefore it will be my trophy and not his.” (Mourinho, August 2010)
And Mourinho was then left disappointed when claiming he expected a thank you after Benitez led Inter to the 2010 Club World Cup.
“I expected at least a thank you for the success that I gave him. Ask all the Inter fans what they think of me and him.” (Mourinho, December 2010)
2013: Back at the Bridge
Mourinho took over from Benitez for his second spell at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2013, just months after the Spaniard led Chelsea to the Europa League. However, Mourinho was less than impressed with the achievement.
“I don’t want to win the Europa League. It would be a big disappointment for me. I don’t want my players to feel the Europa League is our competition.” (Mourinho, July 2013)
“I don’t want to win the Europa League. It would be a big disappointment for me. I don’t want my players to feel the Europa League is our competition.”
Mourinho in 2013
Mourinho continued his verbal assault on Benitez’s Chelsea reign after Mourinho’s side beat Manchester City at the Etihad in October 2013.
“I watched every game of Chelsea against City in the last year. I saw the game at Wembley, the game at home, the game at City, I saw even parts of the friendlies in the States. Mental. Not tactical. Nothing. Mental. Afraid to assume. Afraid to go. Afraid to say we want to win, we can win.” (Mourinho, October 2013)
Then in 2014, Benitez wanted to look at the facts regarding the Chelsea manager’s record in Europe.
“Mourinho talks a lot about a lot of people, but I prefer to talk about facts. At Liverpool, with a squad half of the value of Chelsea, we twice knocked his Chelsea side out of the Champions League. Later, with the most expensive squad at Real Madrid, he did nothing in the Champions League. Now he says if there is an offer of hundreds of millions for Hazard and Oscar, maybe he can build a strong squad to win something.” (Benitez, March 2014)
2015: ‘We tidy up his mess’
After Benitez followed in Mourinho’s managerial footsteps for a third time when taking over at Real Madrid, the Spaniard’s wife joked that her husband had spent his whole career cleaning up after the ‘Special One’.
“Real Madrid are the third of Jose Mourinho’s old teams Rafa has coached. We tidy up his messes! If you think about it, of course you end up crossing paths. There are only a few world-class clubs out there.” (Montserrat Seara, July 2015)
“I think the lady needs to occupy her time, and if she takes care of her husband’s diet she will have less time to speak about me.”
Mourinho in response to Benitez’s wife in 2015
Mourinho could not help but respond…
“The lady is a bit confused, with all respect. I’m not laughing. She is confused because her husband went to Chelsea to replace Roberto Di Matteo and he went to Real Madrid and replaced Carlo Ancelotti. The only club where her husband replaced me was at Inter Milan, where in six months he destroyed the best team in Europe at the time. And for her also to think about me and to speak about me, I think the lady needs to occupy her time, and if she takes care of her husband’s diet she will have less time to speak about me.” (Mourinho, July 2015)
Benitez refused to rise to the jibe about his weight, and the rivalry has subsided ever since, with Manchester United’s 4-1 victory over Newcastle in November coming and going without drama on the sidelines.
It would only take a spark to relight the rift, but you imagine the duo will look to focus on footballing matters – for very contrasting reasons -when they do battle once more at St James’ Park.