Rafael Benitez and Real Madrid: Five reasons why it went wrong
It was short but intense. After barely seven eventful months at the helm of Real Madrid, Rafael Benitez has lost one of the biggest jobs in world football. The decision by president Florentino Perez didn't surprise many, as rumours about Benitez's impending dismissal have been in the Madrid media for the past few weeks, but now attention will turn to Zinedine Zidane, who on Monday was named the new manager at the Bernabeu.
After a 2-2 draw with Valencia this weekend saw Real Madrid fail to capitalise on Barcelona's slip in their 0-0 draw at Espanyol, Benitez was sacked with the club in third position, having lost three and drawn four of their 18 games under the Spanish manager.
Here are five reasons that explain the coach's rapid fall from grace.
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1. Failure to win over the dressing room
Reported arguments with Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco, James Rodriguez, Marcelo and other top Madrid players tell the story of an atmosphere that Benitez never managed to improve. The contrast with Carlo Ancelotti's smooth ways in the dressing room was blatant, as players reportedly poked fun at Benitez's comments during training sessions, especially at those aimed to correct technical issues.
Ronaldo was visibly upset with some of Benitez's methods, and although the coach always claimed that "everything was normal," there was something behind the scenes that did not sit well.
2. Losing the Clasico 4-0 at home
The humiliating defeat to Barcelona at the Bernabeu was probably the tipping point -- not only because of the result, but because of the starting XI he picked and the team's terribly disjointed performance.
Barcelona didn't even have talisman Lionel Messi from the start, but Benitez played Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in midfield and also chose to bring back James, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema before they were ready; they were soon overrun by Luis Suarez and Neymar. Isco's 84th-minute red card was a sign of frustration that his coach would have shared; it was the beginning of the end.
3. The Copa del Rey fiasco
Even if the team's administrative manager would shoulder most of the blame for Real Madrid being kicked out of the Spanish cup, it's shocking that with all the data at their disposal, no one in Benitez's entourage knew that Denis Cheryshev was ineligible for the Cadiz match.
The buck stops with the manager, and the whole incident was hugely embarrassing for a club of Real Madrid's stature.
4. Hiding behind stats caused boos at the Bernabeu
Benitez is a local lad who played for Real Madrid on their youth teams and started his coaching career with the Castilla side. He had the whole package to build a strong relationship with the socios.
Speaking candidly about the team, the players and the opponents in news conferences would have helped him win most supporters over, something similar to what Ancelotti did during the previous two seasons. Instead, Benitez kept discussing stats, stubbornly refused to admit any issues with the team performance and failed to recognise his own mistakes.
This strategy essentially built a wall between himself and the fans; Benitez also complained of a "campaign" by the media.
5. Dropped in-form players for galacticos
In the Clasico, Benitez left Casemiro and Isco on the bench and preferred to play with three "stars" who were far from their best shape (James, Bale and Benzema) having just returned from injury.
The 1-0 defeat in Villarreal is another great example of how Benitez trusted the big names a bit too much. Real Madrid is a club that often relies on its stars to shine brighter than any other, but they ended up not winning the big matches for him and as a result, the manager paid the price.
Eduardo Alvarez covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @alvarez.