MADRID, January 4 – Rafael Benitez’s unhappy reign in charge of Real Madrid came to an end after just seven months and 25 games when he was sacked and replaced by club legend Zinedine Zidane on Monday.
Here, AFP Sports looks at what went wrong for the former Liverpool and Chelsea manager on his return to the club where he started his playing and coaching career.
– Dressing room revolts
Benitez was brought in to add discipline to the Madrid dressing room after club president Florentino Perez believed his popular predecessor Carlo Ancelotti’s soft touch was to blame for a trophyless 2015. However, his combative style failed to win over some of Madrid’s biggest stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos, who routinely continued to praise Ancelotti long after his departure.
– Big game failures
To be sacked on a return of 17 wins and just three defeats from 25 games seems harsh on Benitez, but nowhere are the demands higher than at Madrid and Benitez paid for his inability to produce the results in the big games. Even aside from the 4-0 humiliation at home to Barcelona in November, Real failed to beat Atletico Madrid, Villarreal, Sevilla and Valencia to fall four points behind Atletico in the title race.
– Off-field distractions
Quite apart from Madrid’s problems on the field, Benitez had to front up at press conferences for a number of his stars’ misdemeanours off it. Benitez offered his full backing to Karim Benzema despite the Frenchman facing blackmail charges over a sex-tape involving international teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
Meanwhile, Colombian playmaker James Rodriguez was left out of Benitez’s final game in a 2-2 draw at Valencia on Sunday days after being pursued to the club’s training ground by an unmarked police car and accused of speeding at up to 200kph (124mph).
– Cup farce
It is a problem routinely faced by cash-strapped non-league sides, but the richest club in the world managed to get thrown out of the Copa del Rey due to an administrative error as Benitez fielded an ineligible player in the first leg of their tie at Cadiz last month.
Denis Cheryshev was suspended after an accumulation of yellow cards whilst on loan at Villarreal last season, but started and scored the opening goal. It was the second time a Benitez side had been eliminated from the cup in embarrassing circumstances as Valencia were also thrown out when he was in charge in 2001 for fielding too many players from outside the European Union.
– Defensive tactics
Even when the results were favourable for Benitez early in his Madrid reign, he came under fire from the local media and the club’s fans for his perceived negative tactics. Creative players like Rodriguez and Isco were marginalised, and Benitez could never find the right balance as when the goals did begin to flow after the return of Benzema and Gareth Bale from injury, they conceded 18 goals in his last 11 games in charge.