“Liverpool’s comeback against AC Milan was inspired primarily by principles that are inherently chess-like. The Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez did not bring about such transformation in his team by making a rousing speech. He inspired it by analysing the game and changing it from a tactical point of view. Everything that followed was a direct consequence of the chess-like repositioning of his players. The relationship between chess and football is not an obscure idea that comes to mind while watching certain types of football. It is a permanently entrenched part of all football games”
Adam Wells, Football and Chess
As a child, one of Rafa Benitez’s passions was chess, in this fantastic audio interview he mentions studying the games of the great Grandmasters (or Großmeisters) and World Champions such as Bobby Fischer, Boris Spassky, Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov. What inspired him the most was the level of preparation they put in, and then the control they had over their opponents but most of all their imaginations and understanding the perfect moments to attack: initially control the middle and then create chances to attack out wide later on in the game. You can all probably remember countless examples of Liverpool doing exactly this during Benitez’s tenure in football matches.
Whatever the similarities between football and chess – and this article by Scott Oliver called ‘Play Jazz, not Chess’ argues against the comparison between the two whereas this by Uli Hesse is far more favourable and describes the current footballers who play chess regularly and why – in this article my comparison is more between football managers and those at the pinnacle of chess, the Grandmasters (GMs).
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