Rafa Benitez expects Everton’s players to improve every day on his watch – and insists developing individual talent is integral to his job.
The Spaniard, appointed Everton manager in June after two years away from the Premier League, is intent on proving he remains “capable of competing against anyone”.
And to meet that objective he’s harnessing a passion for coaching which began forming when Benitez would make tactical notes about teammates as a teenager in Real Madrid's academy.
“It is crucial for players to feel you care about them and want to improve them – and that you can do it [oversee improvement],” Benitez told evertontv.
“I have passion one-on-one when I coach them.
“I think they can feel this passion and will try to make sure next time they can do this or that.
“I go to the head.
“I want them to think, not just to tell them, ‘You have to do that’.
“It is more, ‘Think about that, do you think it is right or wrong?’
“Give them the chance to find the solution, so they will learn for the future.
“Fundamentally, if you want to improve your team, improve the individuals, then improve the mentality of all of them together.”
Benitez originally combined football and education, gaining a physical education degree and working as a PE teacher, while playing for Real Madrid's reserve team, then lower down the Spanish structure with Parla in Madrid and Andalusian side Linares.
A persistent knee problem curtailed his playing career at the age of 26, when Benitez went back to Real Madrid's academy as a coach.
“I am a coach and a professional teacher,” continued Benitez.
“I had kids with different levels and had to improve them, to teach them and make them better in one way or another.
“With players, it is similar.
“You try to create an atmosphere where they are keen to learn.
“If you have to; show videos, stay with them after training analysing the body shape, the movement depending on whether the ball is in defence or attack.
“I like doing these things.
“When we finish every training session, they have to be sure they learned a little bit – 0.5 per cent [improvement] in one training session.
“Put all the training sessions together and they will be better players... then we have the chance to win more games.”
Benitez had eight years with Real Madrid after joining the club's academy aged 13.
He moved to Parla in 1981, playing in Spanish football's fifth and fourth tiers, and transferred to fourth-tier Linares four years later.
During 12 injury-affected months in southern Spain, Benitez began weighing up the potential for a coaching career.
He duly secured a position in Real Madrid’s academy, which was coupled with work in gyms as a technical director.
Nearly a decade after returning to the Spanish capital, Benitez embarked on a managerial career that has delivered major honours with Valencia, Liverpool, Chelsea and Napoli.
And a deep-seated desire to win can be traced back half a century.
“When I was 11, I played in a tournament in Madrid, all the schools against each other,” said Benitez.
“At 12, I was captain of my team and we won the competition.
“When I was 13, I was in the Real Madrid academy.
“Since then, everything was about winning.
“At Real Madrid, finishing second means nothing.
“You have to win, win, win.
“That was part of my education.
“Since I was a kid, it was just to win, to finish first, it is something you will keep forever.”
Benitez managed outside Europe for the first time when he spent 18 months with Dalian Professional in China after leaving Newcastle United in June 2019.
And while Asia was a worthwhile experience, he is savouring the prospect of competing again in the cutthroat Premier League.
Benitez added: “Some of the questions about China [whether that period softened his competitive edge]… mean nothing to me.
“It is the opposite.
"For me, [managing Everton] is an opportunity to show I am still competitive and capable of competing against anyone.
“It depends on your team – but I am ready to compete and try to do really well in every single game.”