“I have huge respect for him, for his talent, for his career and I want to believe he feels the same.”
Tomorrow, one of football’s great rivalries is reignited as Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho, quoted above, again lock horns when Newcastle United travel to Old Trafford.
And Mourinho, breaking his stereotype, moved to quell any notion that there’s bad blood between himself and Benitez.
Privately, though, the Portuguese knows all too well that despite the respect for each other’s talents, this is a rivalry that runs deep.
And its roots lie 12 years back, when Benitez was at Liverpool and Mourinho in his first, seemingly unstoppable, spell at Stamford Bridge.
Back then, a Luis Garcia goal ended Chelsea’s quest for Champions League glory at the semi-final stage, the year the Reds, led by Benitez, lifted the trophy after the ‘miracle of Istanbul’.
It is something that Mourinho never seemed to get over. Ever since, there has been needle between the two, every time the managers have gone toe-to-toe.
But Red Devils boss Mourinho has played down the idea of any personal animosity. He said: “I don’t think the rivalry was with Rafael, it was more between our clubs than between us.
“We are managers from the same generation. We came to England in the same season. We were both successful in Europe – not many have won Champions League and Europa League.
“We are some of the few managers who did it.
“Of course, between Liverpool and Chelsea we rivalry, and it happens, but I have huge respect for him, for his talent, for his career. I want to believe he feels the same.”