The walk from Rafael Benitez’s front door in Caldy to the home of his old friend and right-hand man, Pako Ayestaran, in Hoylake only takes 10 minutes.
It’s a testament to their love of Merseyside that both have stayed long after leaving Liverpool. Yet, over the last six years, the paths of two men who travelled the world together and conquered Europe have not crossed once.
‘It’s unbelievable but that’s the way it is,’ says Ayestaran, speaking for the first time about the split. ‘I think it’s sad because we’d been together for so many years. To lose that is a pity.
‘To keep a relationship for 12 years is probably more than many married couples. There were moments when we knew what the other was thinking without even talking. It was a close relationship and I’m proud to be part of the success.
Benitez and Ayestaran first met at Osasuna. They went on to win promotion with Extremadura and then Tenerife after a one-year sabbatical that included studying Sir Alex Ferguson’s methods at Manchester United.
Two La Liga titles and the UEFA Cup followed at Valencia, and the success story continued at Anfield until late August 2007, the day of Liverpool’s squad photograph, when their differences came to a head and Ayestaran walked out.
‘Things began to change when we arrived at Liverpool and were so successful,’ he says. ‘In England the people around the game, even for myself, make you feel that you’re bigger than you really are.
‘Sometimes you don’t take care of the values and principles that made you so successful. Maybe we didn’t have as much detail in training. I wasn’t able to convince him that we should go back to our principles and stick to them.
‘There was a difference between the beliefs that were so rooted in myself, beliefs that we applied for many years and got us success. We were running away from them.
‘We stopped being critical with ourselves and sometimes we went through the motions. That’s the reason I wasn’t happy.’
Benitez accused Ayestaran of betraying him by talking to other clubs behind his back when Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao made an approach, describing it later as ‘a wound that still hurts’.
‘That’s not true,’ insists Ayestaran, who also turned down an offer to join Avram Grant at Chelsea after leaving Anfield out of respect to Liverpool. ‘Rafa was always the first one to know. He was aware of everything.’
So would he shake his old friend’s hand if they met?