The fallout from Real Madrid’s 4-0 crushing at the hands of fierce rivals Barcelona is threatening to cause a rift among Rafa Benitez’s camp as the club comes to terms with their heaviest El Clasico defeat since 2009.
Neymar, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta orchestrated the most dramatic of downfalls for Madrid, with Benitez facing the ire from the Real fans as they waved their white handkerchiefs in a sign of their unhappiness with the Spaniard.
But the biggest opposition to Benitez’s short reign at the club appears to be coming from inside his own squad. Cristiano Ronaldo, the superstar of Madrid and top scorer in La Liga in 2015, reportedly told team-mates in the dressing room following the loss that “either he goes, or I go.”
The murmurs could well be a sign of Ronaldo’s impending Santiago Bernabeu exit. Heading into the match, the belief was that it could well be Ronaldo’s final El Clasico at the Bernabeu, and the defeat has done nothing to weaken that notion given the breaking relationship between player and manager.
Real president Florentino Perez appears to be the man pulling the strings of Real’s calamitous defeat from behind the scenes, with suggestions that Benitez is selecting the side that Perez wants rather than his own. Perez has seen 13 head coaches come and go during his 15-year tenure, and the side that started the Barcelona encounter certainly did not resemble a Benitez side.
Ronaldo was joined by Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema in Real’s famous attacking trio, with James Rodriguez shifted back to midfield alongside usual suspects Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. It left Real’s back-four horrendously exposed, with Suarez scoring twice along with individual goals from Neymar and Iniesta.
Ronaldo is known to be wanted by French league champions Paris Saint-Germain, and a move to Ligue 1 to end his career would certainly fit in with Ronaldo’s career projection – which has seen him win Champions League and league titles in both England and Spain. However, a return to Manchester United cannot be ruled out, and while it’s unlikely that United would pay in excess of £60m for a 30-year-old, fans will expect the club to move for Ronaldo if he ever becomes available.
Perez’s insistence to stand by Bale is another reason why Ronaldo could be heading for the door. French newspaper L’Equipe described Bale’s performance as “catastrophic” and that he “seemed lost”, adding: “What is his position? What is his role? What does he do?”
Despite his struggles, Perez is sticking by the man who he sanctioned a world record £86m fee to sign, and shifting Ronaldo on would free Bale up to lead the attack in a position more familiar to his role at Tottenham Hotspur.
Further signs of Perez’s influence came in Benitez’s tactical decisions. He chose to leave out Casemiro, his one defensive midfielder who has been a success so far this season, while instead of replacing the ineffectual Bale during the match, he hauled off Rodriguez for Isco instead. Isco went on to get sent-off just 29 minutes after coming on, while Bale saw out the 90 minutes.
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