Rafa Benitez has been sacked after just six months as Real Madrid manager, with the club appointing Zinedine Zidane as his replacement.
One of Benitez’s old Premier League foes Gary Neville helped seal the Spaniard’s fate when his Valencia side took a point from Real Madrid at the Mestalla on Sunday.
Directors of the Spanish club were in consultation throughout the day and after a board meeting the Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, confirmed the dismissal. The appointment of Zidane represented a snub for Jose Mourinho, who was understood to be interested in taking the job after he was sacked by Chelsea in December. Perez remains a huge fan of Mourinho, but the president sees Zidane as the man who will unite Real Madrid’s squabbling players and supporters.
For Benitez it proved to be the impossible job. He was brought in with the remit of shaking up a team that had lost their intensity since being crowned Fifa World Club champions in December 2014. However, he upset senior Real Madrid players in the process and when they stopped playing for him the results suffered. Benitez was unable to win any of the side’s crucial away games against Villarreal, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Valencia in La Liga and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, while Barcelona won the first clasico of the season 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
After that disastrous home defeat Perez said Benitez remained the “solution” but the problems kept mounting and, with the attacking midfielder Isco threatening to leave the club and join Manchester City in this month’s transfer window, Perez had the excuse to dismiss yet another coach.
Real Madrid have an open training session on Wednesday, with thousands expected to flock to the club’s Valdebebas training ground to watch the players being put through their paces.
Benitez was left planning that training session late into this evening with no news from the club that had already agreed to dismiss him. He now wants to return to England and manage again in the Premier League, but neither the vacant Swansea job nor a move to Aston Villa – a job that he has turned down in the past – is understood to appeal.
Another change of manager at Real Madrid means Gareth Bale now has his third coach at the club since joining two and a half seasons ago. He is understood to be upset by the sacking of the 55-year-old and Manchester United will be encouraged by a possible change in tack from the Welshman, who has until now shown no intention of giving in to their attempts to sign him.
What next for Rafa?
Rafa Benitez still has a home in the North-west of England and a move back to the Premier League seems the most likely step for the 55-year-old. But where?
Managerless Swansea City need someone of his calibre to pull them out of trouble but the Liberty Stadium is said to not be on Rafa’s radar. The same is true about Aston Villa, still struggling, despite having a new man, Rémi Garde, in charge.
Manchester United would certainly pique his interest should the wheels finally come off for Louis van Gaal. But hang on a minute, there’s a struggling club he has worked at before who will be without a manager come the end of the season. Welcome back to the Bridge, Rafa? Chelsea might just need you...