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Former Liverpool assistant offered Villa position

Rafa Benitez & Pako Ayestaran

Former Liverpool assistant coach Pako Ayestaran has been offered the opportunity to become Unai Emery’s assistant at Aston Villa.

Emery was appointed Villa’s new boss earlier this week following the sacking of Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. Jamie Arias, Pablo Vilanueva and Victor Manas are set to follow him to Villa Park, but it’s Ayestaram who has been offered the No.2 role and it sounds like he’s accepted it.

Spanish football expert Guillem Balague seems to think the same. He is quoted as saying: “I know who the assistant coach is going to be but I can not tell you, it is also very exciting.

“He is a European Cup winner and Unai thought he was someone who is going to help him because he also understands Unai and knows him very well, but also understands the Premier League.”

Ayestaran was former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez’s most trusted member of staff before a terrible fall out. The pair worked together for 12 years. Prior to linking up at Anfield in 2004, they also had stints together at Osasuna, Extremadura, Tenerife and Valencia. Ayestaran joined Benitez’s backroom staff at Anfield in 2004. During their partnership, the duo won two La Liga titles, one UEFA Cup, one FA Cup and the Champions League in 2005. They went their separate ways in 2007.

The following year, Benitez broke his silence by saying his once close friend had “betrayed” him. He said: “Pako was much more than a physical trainer, he was my friend and someone I trusted for many years.

“I worked with him for 11 years. It’s a recent wound that still hurts.

“Liverpool gave him autonomy and power and I think that changed him a lot – he wanted more and more. One day I found out that he had serious contacts with other teams and that seemed to me a betrayal towards me and the club that I couldn’t accept.

“He told me he wanted to leave the same day that we played against Toulouse, so I lost someone I trusted greatly, a key member of my staff at a crucial moment in the preseason.

“Logically, this has an effect on a team. The people that arrived had to adapt and familiarise themselves with a new environment.

“This meant that a transitional period started at the club, but we still managed to win games and play well. Then, when we started to draw games, people questioned our work.

“I believe that no one is irreplaceable and we have to keep moving forward. Paco de Miguel took over the role as physical trainer. Also, as a result, I have more of a presence around the team and try to have more involvement with the players.”

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7 years later in 2015, Ayestaran commented on their fall out. He said: “That’s not true. I never looked at any jobs behind his back. It’s true that I had offers from Spain but Rafa knew about them.

“I would have loved to continue at the club for more years but the fact is I had stopped enjoying my work on a daily basis. I just felt Rafa and I were going in different directions in the way of wanting to do things. In terms of the training and the competitions, we were getting away from our principles.

“I’ve not seen Rafa since. I’ve not been lucky.”

In 2017, Ayestaran suggested the duo had finally patched things up. “We did have a fall-out but this happens in every marriage!” he said. “I think that we have lasted longer than many couples!

“We were together for 12 years. We keep in touch and it was last week the last time we talked about personal things.”

Last year, former Liverpool striker Peter Crouch believed their falling out was a huge blow to The Reds.

“One of the things that I felt Rafa killed himself with was Pako Ayestaran. He was amazing,” said Crouch. “He just ran the club. He was involved in absolutely everything.

“For whatever reason him and Rafa fell out, and I felt that it was to the detriment to the club really.”

However, former Reds’ shot-stopper Pepe Reina disagreed. In his 2011 autobiography he wrote: “I didn’t see it this way [as a turning point for Rafa].

“As a fitness expert and a physical coach, Pako was one of the best I have worked with and while he was at Liverpool he wanted to develop his role, which is totally understandable because everyone wants to improve and get better.

“He is such a good character and he was important for us, but at some point he had some disagreement with Rafa and they broke apart. This kind of fall-out happens in football all the time.

“It would be unfair to claim that this was the beginning of the end for Rafa because in the season that Pako left we got to the semi-finals of the Champions League and the following year we came as close to winning the Premier League title as any Liverpool team has since 1990.

“Maybe our physical condition was at its highest when Pako was here, but when Paco de Miguel came in as a fitness coach and then Darren Burgess, we still continued to be up there with the best when it came to our fitness stats. We were still a good team physically.”