After keeping representatives of various Spanish news stations waiting for roughly 25 minutes, Florentino Perez arrived to deliver news of the almost inevitable kind – he had sacked Rafa Benitez.
Just seven months previously, Perez brought in Benitez to replaced popular former coach Carlo Ancelotti, the man who brought Real La Decima during his tenure. Whilst question marks were raised at the prospect of Benitez – a man of tremendous footballing achievements, but who’s popularity dipped at Napoli and Chelsea – taking the reigns at the Bernabeu, the Real president Perez sought to assuage any doubters by confidently stating that his decision was the right one.
Benitez, by most admissions, had done little wrong in his time in charge. He had guided Real to four points off top spot in what was always likely to be an immensely tight competition between themselves, their cross-city rivals Atletico, and Barcelona. Whilst the Copa del Ray administrative farce could not entirely be his fault, he nonetheless secured the expected passage through the Champions League group stages without too much difficulty, in a group containing Paris St.Germain.
Furthermore, he is doing exactly what he said when he took the job in July: he is getting the best out of Gareth Bale. The world record signing had a less than comfortable beginning to his Bernabeu career under previous coaches, but under Benitez, he looked every bit the menace seen at Tottenham, linking to greater fruition with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, not to mention bagging himself four goals against Ray Vallecano last month.
But the cracks began to appear. Reports surfaced roughly 2 months into his tenure that senior stars were unhappy with Benitez’s training regimes. Cristiano Ronaldo apparently described a particular training session as a less than amorous four letter word. Benitez clashed with Sergio Ramos and Benzema too for various attitudes to his style of management. Isco too took to social media in response to his being dropped from the first team, while James Rodriguez’s state of morale was looked on with concern. Slowly but surely, he was beginning to lose his squad.
This is becoming a recurring theme between player and manager. Jose Mourinho, a coach arguably described as being the greatest of the modern day, but after much a publicised fallouts with club icon Iker Casillas, coupled with a 2nd place finish in both league and cup was all Perez needed to sack the Portugese. Likewise Fabio Capello suffered a similar fate due to his relationships with David Beckham and Ronaldo. By sacking his eleventh manager in his two presidential reigns, some of which are totally unjustified, Perez has proved that he is fast allowing the players to be bigger than the club.
Whilst his preferred formation of a 4-2-3-1 may have been everyone’s favourite, and in fact suggested a defensiveness to the Real game that hardly gets fans invigorated like their previous attack minded style did, it does not leave the blame entirely at Benitez’s hands. On the pitch – in a 2-2 draw with Valencia – he possesses attacking firepower in Luka Modric building the attacks from the back, Bale and Ronaldo adding width and speed, and the independent Benzema securing the goals. Benzema’s goal has become an online hit, as its craft and build up play surely demonstrated exactly what Benitez was capable of as a manager, and what the players can do when in the right mind frame. It beggars belief to see exactly where Rafa went wrong. He had four defenders on the pitch that night in Valencia, with Toni Kroos providing extra cover in front, yet time after time, Valencia managed to find space and chances. Were it not for the fact Benitez used similar strategies at Napoli and Liverpool to good effect, we might blame him. The simple truth is that Valencia, in a rare occurrence for Real opposition, got the better of them, and came away with a deserved point. One of only a few so called ‘off days’ he has encountered since his appointment
Even when his job security was the target of the media, Benitez was still getting solid results, and with good football to accompany it. It would appear that sheer petulance from within the Bernabeu is what ousted him, and this is something that cannot continue if the club is to keep up with the runaway Barcelona train.