Messi and I speak the same football language – Benitez names Barcelona star as player he wants to manage
Lionel Messi is the player Rafael Benitez most wishes he could have worked with and the Spanish coach says he and the Barcelona talisman speak the same football language.
Benitez named Franz Beckenbauer, Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer as the former players he would have relished the chance to coach, but among current players Messi stands out for the former Real Madrid boss.
Messi featured in Barcelona's 4-0 La Liga victory over Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu during Benitez's time in charge of Los Blancos, and the newly appointed Dalian Yifang coach said he had a meeting of minds with the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.
"Maybe Messi," replied Benitez when asked which player he wished he could manage in a fans' Q&A on The Athletic.
"He is so good that I could maybe just have sat on the sidelines and enjoyed watching him play!
Benitez took his first coaching role outside Europe when he was confirmed as the new boss of Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang in July.
Many Newcastle United supporters were disappointed to see the 59-year-old leave St James' Park but he said he would like to come back to the Premier League in the future.
When asked which current Liverpool player he would have liked in his 2008-09 team, he said: "[Virgil] van Dijk, he would help. Not because the others are not good enough but because in this position he is maybe the best at the moment.
"We had [Fernando] Torres and [Steven] Gerrard so we had lots of good attacking players, but as a centre-back – although I was really pleased with my players – Van Dijk is maybe playing at another level now."
Messi and Barcelona are set to visit Osasuna this weekend in the third match of the La Liga campaign, with the Argentine having missed the first two games of the season.
Van Dijk's Liverpool, meanwhile, will look to continue a perfect start to the Premier League season against Burnley this weekend.