Saturday evening brings with it an Anfield return for former Reds midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, who, throughout an already rollercoaster career filled with ups and downs, certainly had the potential to wear the famous red of Liverpool, yet disappointingly never quite met the expectations placed upon him. His journey back to Merseyside will however be overshadowed by one man and one man only, with former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez bringing his Newcastle side to Anfield this weekend. Renowned for being bitterly cold to his players throughout the years, nothing but a warm reception awaits the much-loved Spaniard this Saturday.
The Reds will never forget just how important their beloved Benitez was for them throughout his often-difficult tenure, a six-year reign that often involved complications with those above him while also dealing with several challenging egos in the dressing room. His efforts in convincing Steven Gerrard to remain at the club proved to be crucial in the seasons that followed, while the Spaniard also brought in some of the greatest talents to ever grace the Anfield turf during his spell with the club.
Players such as Alberto Aquilani and Andriy Voronin admittedly never quite made it under their new manager Benitez, but those disappointing recruits can be long forgotten about in the eyes of fans who also witnessed players such as Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia join the club under the Spaniard. The trio are undeniably in an exclusive list of the greatest players to ever don the shirt, and all had huge success during their Anfield days.
In a debut season where Liverpool brought home that elusive fifth European Cup, the name of Rafael Benitez was immediately etched into Anfield folklore. After an incredible European journey, finishing fifth in the Premier League was of no worry to the Reds, who also narrowly lost out to Chelsea in the League Cup final just months prior to that famous win in Istanbul.
Liverpool fans were in dreamland as FA Cup success followed in 2005/06, along with a fantastic third place finish in the league. The following season then brought only heartache as the Reds fell short at the final hurdle as AC Milan finally got their revenge in the 2006/07 Champions League final, with the next two seasons ending in semi final and quarter final misery at the hands of Chelsea. Second place in the league was however secured, yet the 2009/10 season saw the Reds dramatically slip to seventh in the league, and with Liverpool then dumped out of the Champions League group stages along with disappointing defeats to Reading and Arsenal in the FA Cup and League Cup respectively, Benitez’ time at the club had sadly come to an end.
His almost endless list of honours away from Liverpool comprises two La Liga titles with Valencia 2001/02 and 2003/04, the former being their first in 31 years, with the latter also bringing with it UEFA Cup glory. The man from Madrid also clinched the 2012/13 Europa League title with Chelsea and the Championship with current club Newcastle, and boasts countless other individual and team awards which have ensured his status as one of the best in the business.
The Spaniard will be welcomed with open arms by every corner of Anfield, yet his warm welcome will soon evaporate come the first whistle at 17:30 on Saturday evening as the Reds aim to continue their fine form and their search to cement that vital top four spot. Benitez will likewise forget about any past memories to provide his former side with an extremely tough challenge. His £96,000 donation to the Hillsborough Family Support Group shortly after his Liverpool departure epitomises exactly why the Anfield faithful will always hold a special place for him in their hearts.