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Benitez lured by dreams, not dollars

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-04 08:45
Dalian Yifang's new head coach Rafa Benitez (center) gets down to business at Dalian Sports Center Stadium on Tuesday. The Spaniard will earn a reported $15 million per year at the club, making him the most expensive coach in the Chinese Super League. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Rafa Benitez may now be the most expensive coach in the Chinese Super League, but the Spaniard is adamant his eye-popping salary was not the main factor in his decision to ditch the English Premier League for Dalian Yifang.

On Tuesday the former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Chelsea coach was introduced as Dalian's new boss, with reports claiming the 59-year-old will earn 12 million pounds ($15 million) annually in a two-and-a-half-year deal.

Benitez, though, insisted it was the lure of spearheading "an incredible project" at struggling Dalian that saw him quit one thrifty northeastern club, Newcastle United, for a more extravagant one in China.

"I have had offers of greater financial significance during my career, but they weren't the project I was looking for," Benitez said on his website.

"What I have found at Dalian is an incredible project that has arrived at the perfect time and this has been a major factor in my decision. We've accepted the challenge of leading a superb project with the full backing and confidence of the club's leadership team."

As the only manager in history to have won the Champions League, Europa League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup, Benitez' resume is among the best in the global game.

His feat in keeping a low-budget Newcastle team in the EPL for the past two seasons also bodes well for his immediate task at Dalian, which now sits 10th in the CSL, just six points above the relegation zone.

"It's a pleasure for me to be here, and it's a challenge," said Benitez at a Tuesday media conference to confirm his appointment.

"We're coming to a new country with a new culture. We need help, but we will try to do our best."

Getting the best out of Dalian's star playmaker Marek Hamsik, who was signed for a reported 20 million euros ($22.6 million) in February, will be high on Benitez' to-do list.

Benitez worked with Hamsik at Napoli but on Tuesday seemed keen to deflect attention away from the Slovakian's struggles, saying he was more focused on improving the skill and morale of the squad's Chinese players.

Having already studied videos of Dalian's matches, Benitez said he will work on the younger players' reading of the game and decision-making.

Dalian is confident Benitez' vast experience will have major long-term implications for the club and, in particular, its youth setup.

"I hope Benitez can lead the club and help build a better youth training system here," said chairman Zhang Lin.

"We know that Benitez played a significant role in building the youth training system when he was at Liverpool.

"We believe he can build a solid and promising future for Dalian. That's his strong suit and the reason why we want him.

"We still need time and the young players still need room to grow. Now the team is ranked 10th and our performances are inconsistent. However, we are looking to next year and even the next decade."

Dalian will, indeed, be glad to see the back of this season, which has been marred by a very public dispute between Belgian attacker Yannick Carrasco and former coach Choi Kang-hee.

Carrasco, a big-money acquisition from Atletico Madrid last year, has seemingly been angling for a return to Europe, with the winger missing training sessions and blaming a missed flight for his no-show last month for a loss to Hebei China Fortune.

Dalian responded by fining and temporarily suspending the player, who was then angered when he was scratched from the squad for a June 23 draw with Tianjin Tianhai.

"The attitude of some of the club's leaders and my teammates towards me is incomprehensible given my commitment and performance with the team so far," Carrasco wrote on social media.

Coach Choi thought different, saying: "If a foreign player wants to fit in to the team better in the future, he needs to display better professionalism and more devotion."

Now, Benitez must try to unite his squad ahead of his first test, Sunday's visit of fellow struggler Henan Jianye.

It's a match that Dalian will hope signals the dawn of a new era for the club.

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