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Real Madrid boss Rafa Benitez will ponder swoop for Liverpool's Raheem Sterling

By Robert Jones

New Real Madrid coach Rafael Benitez has admitted he is a big admirer of unsettled Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling but was unwilling to say whether or not the club would move for the England winger in the summer.

The Madrid-born coach was unveiled at the Santiago Bernabeu yesterday after signing a three-year contract.

When asked about Sterling, 20, the former Anfield boss said: "We admire Raheem, that's no secret - but he is not one of our players so I can't really comment on him."

Benitez also batted away a question about the club signing Manchester United's 24-year-old Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea, who could leave Old Trafford this summer.

"I like the way you have tried to sneak that question under the radar but we will evaluate everything in time," said Benitez. "We will not name names today."

Benitez was overcome with emotion when he was unveiled as the new Real supremo.

The 55-year-old, who has replaced Italian Carlo Ancelotti to become Real's 13th coach in the past 12 years, has returned to his home-town club, a place where he began his playing and coaching career.

If Benitez faced pressure when he left Spain to coach Liverpool more than a decade ago, he says the expectations are even greater in his new job.

"The demand and the starting point is different with respect to when I was unveiled at Liverpool," Benitez said.

"When I arrived at Liverpool, I had three years to help the club become competitive.

"Here, from the first minute, we have to compete and make sure we're always at the top."

Real finished third in La Liga behind Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in Ancelotti's first season at the helm, but they won the Champions League after beating Atletico in the final.

This year, Real finished second to Barca in La Liga and exited the Champions League after a defeat to Juventus in the semi-finals, results that cost Ancelotti his job. Benitez has returned to Real 20 years after leaving the club where he had worked as the coach of their 'B' team.

"It's an emotional day, a very special one," a tearful Benitez said. "I have worked very hard to achieve success and return home, which was an aim of mine.

"The cycle is completed but I hope it lasts a long time. I hope things go well and we win titles."

Benitez takes over from a coach that he is very fond of.

"Carlo is a great coach and a wonderful person," Benitez said. "I spoke to Carlo. I have a great relationship with him. I wish him the best and I hope that the day I leave, the players will give me the same farewell Carlo got."

Benitez was told at his unveiling by president Florentino Perez that he will face his biggest challenge to date. "At Real, the demands are maximum," Perez said. "You have arrived at the biggest club in the world. We have won more titles than any other but we want more.

"Today, we start a new chapter. We are certain that the arrival of our new coach will make us stronger."

Benitez won the Coppa Italia with Napoli in the 2013-14 campaign and got the team into the qualifying round for this season's Champions League, yet they lost to Athletic Bilbao and were eliminated.

He has been away from Spain since 2004 when he left Valencia to take the helm of Liverpool.

He is the first Spanish coach to be appointed at Real since Juande Ramos took the reins in 2008 and the first Spaniard in Perez's second term as president.

Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, Portugal's Jose Mourinho and Ancelotti were the last three coaches.

Perez is happy to see Benitez take charge and he said: "There is no one better than you," he said to his new coach. "You know what we represent and what we want. Your heart is Madridista."

Belfast Telegraph


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