MELBOURNE, July 23- Real Madrid manager Rafael Benitez on Thursday hailed his superstar striker Cristiano Ronaldo as the best in the world as he played down reports of tension between the pair.
Real Madrid take on English Premier League heavyweights Manchester City in the final match of the International Champions Cup in Melbourne on Friday, however Spanish reports say the atmosphere has become testy on the training pitch during the club’s pre-season tour of Australia.
At the same time, Benitez said he is “100 percent” confident skipper Sergio Ramos will stay at Real amid fevered speculation linking him with Manchester United.
Spain international Ramos has been linked to United in a swap deal with Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea, but Benitez made it clear the defender was going nowhere.
The new boss, who took over from Carlo Ancelotti in June, suggested he had no problems with Ronaldo.
“Luckily, I have had the opportunity this week to spend quite a few days with him,” Benitez told reporters.
“And I can say that he’s competitive, he likes to win, and for that reason he is the best in the world.
“I would like all players to have that desire to win and to compete. You’ve all seen him train today and I think his performance will be up to scratch.
“I talk to all the players a lot. I have had the opportunity to talk to him, too. We talked about football and yes, he is competitive.
“Seeing Ronaldo up close training, I can see that he’s doing very well.”
Ronaldo, the world’s third-highest paid sportsman this year after boxers Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, played the first-half on Saturday as Real Madrid lost their opening Melbourne match on penalties to Italy’s AS Roma.
On Ramos, Benitez asserted; “It’s very simple, De Gea is not our player so nothing to say about him,” he told reporters ahead of Real Madrid facing Manchester City in the final match of the International Champions Cup in Melbourne on Friday.
“The update about Sergio Ramos is that he is our player and he’s a key player for us. He’s the captain and I would like to see him at the beginning of the season because I think he will be crucial for us in the season.
“Yes, for me 100 percent (staying). I insist that it is clear for both me and the club that Sergio will be here. Football is a curious world, but Sergio will be playing for us this season,” he added.
“I have a lot of respect for (Manchester United manager) Louis van Gaal, but Sergio will stay with us.”
Reports have said Manchester United want to use Madrid’s interest in De Gea in an attempt to sign Ramos, believing the defender was keen to move after the Spanish club failed to offer him an extension to his contract, which expires in 2017.
Ramos scored Real’s injury-time equaliser in their Champions League final win over Atletico Madrid in 2014 and has made 445 appearances for the club since joining from Sevilla in 2005.
He has 128 caps for Spain and was in the starting line-up when they won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
Croatia midfielder and team-mate Luka Modric said Ramos was an important part of the team.
“We hope that he stays. He’s a very important part of the team. He’s our captain, our leader, both on and off the pitch and he’s happy where he is,” Modric said.
“He’s the best defender and he wants to stay at the club.”
City, who beat Roma in a penalty shoot-out on Tuesday, will attempt to win the three-team tournament when they take on the 10-time European champions at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.