DIDI HAMANN wants Kopites to show their appreciation for Rafa Benitez at Anfield on Sunday before channelling their energies into ensuring a “footballing genius” leaves empty-handed.
The former Reds midfielder insists Benitez deserves a rapturous reception on his return to the club he served as manager for six years.
But Hamann, who played under the Spaniard for two seasons, insists no-one should lose sight of the overriding priority – claiming the scalp of old foes Chelsea.
After back to back goalless draws against West Ham and Reading, Brendan Rodgers’ side are in need of a lift.
“Liverpool supporters are very loyal and I’m sure Rafa will be welcomed back,” Hamann said.
“He certainly deserves to be because he did a fantastic job for the club. He gave the fans some amazing nights.
“But after that initial welcome on Sunday, the fans need to be focused on getting behind Brendan and his team. Anfield can’t be too welcoming.
“Liverpool need a win to ensure their season doesn’t just peter out. They need to make life difficult for Chelsea and ensure Rafa doesn’t get the three points he’s looking for.
“During his time in charge of Liverpool, Brendan will benefit from the kind of loyalty he will see shown to Rafa on Sunday. He’s looking to get the club back to the level it was at when Rafa was there – playing in the Champions League.
“There have been signs of progress this season but the longer you’re outside that top four the more difficult it is to get back in. Achieving that over the next couple of years will be easier with all the supporters pulling in the same direction.”
Benitez divides opinion amongst Liverpool fans but for Hamann there is no debate to be had about his former boss’ managerial qualities.
The ex-Germany international, who had been at the club for five years prior to Benitez’s arrival in 2004, relished the time he spent working with him.
Hamann famously came off the bench to help spearhead Liverpool’s remarkable fightback against Milan in the 2005 Champions League final. Twelve months later his last touch for the Reds was scoring in the penalty shootout triumph over West Ham in the FA Cup final.
“Rafa’s a footballing genius,” said Hamann. “From day one I rated him very highly.
“He was meticulous with his planning. He was very much into details and we spent a lot of time on team shape. We would practise things over and over.
“He had an unshakable belief in his way of working. He wasn’t one of those managers who if we lost would impose a double session. If things weren’t working he’d change the team, not the training regime or his philosophy.
“I never had a problem with the way he handled players. I didn’t need a pat on the back or be told I’d played well. I just want a manager to tell me what he wants on the pitch. Rafa had high expectations and always demanded more from you. He was there solely to win football matches.
“Tactically, he was very strong and I learned a lot from him. He improved every player he worked with.
“He won the Champions League, got to another final in 2007 and consistently reached the later stages. He also took Liverpool the closest they’ve come to winning the Premier League title. There were some great times.”
Hamann believes much of the criticism of Benitez’s transfer dealings at Anfield is unfair.
He added: “This is the manager who signed Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres.
“Look at what Alonso, Mascherano and Torres cost, and what they were sold for. Look at the Liverpool team this weekend - Rafa signed Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson, Lucas Leiva and Daniel Agger.
“Most of the names people say were flops were mainly free transfers or very cheap signings, who were then moved on for a profit. I don’t buy into the idea he failed in the transfer market or that he left behind a poor team.
“I wasn’t there towards the end of his time at Liverpool but obviously there were problems with the owners and the club’s debts. Time has moved on but with Rafa coming back it’s only right to recognise what he did for the club.”