Rafa Benitez was finally appointed manager of Real Madrid in June this year after often being linked with the top job at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The Spaniard boasts an impressive CV, winning trophies all over Europe, including 2 La Liga titles, 2 UEFA Cup/Europa League trophies, the FIFA Club World Cup, and of course the Champions League at Liverpool. As such, Benitez would seem to fit the bill for Real. But is he under pressure already? It would appear to be so, and it seems to be as much down to his personality as his performance.
Despite winning only four of his seven La Liga games so far, Benitez remains unbeaten and his team sits level on points with perennial rivals Barcelona, two clear of Atletico, and only one point off Villarreal at the top of the table. They have the joint best attack with 15 goals so far, and the best defence, have only conceded twice. In the Champions League they have maximum points from two games, scoring six and conceded zero. So what’s the problem?
From the outside looking in, it would appear Benitez feels the need to stamp his authority over his ‘Galacticos’, and this, allied with his aloof demeanour, is causing consternation amongst his charges.
Karim Benzema, his first choice centre forward who has 6 goals in 6 La Liga games this season, felt the need to vent his frustration after Sunday’s draw at the Vicente Calderon, saying:
“It’s true I’m fed up being taken off. It’s true that the electronic board always shows the number 9. Ask Benitez why that is.”
Although the Frenchman went on to say he’ll continue to work hard, the overtones are there for all to see. Benitez responded by challenging him to score more goals, but did try to placate him by calling him one of the best strikers in the world.
Next to discuss his manager in the press was club captain, Sergio Ramos. He was responding to a comment made by Benitez apparently criticising Ramos:
“We were ahead and we have made mistakes, with the penalty and the goal.”
To which Ramos replied:
“We all make mistakes and we don’t do it on purpose. Luckily Keylor was on hand and it didn’t affect the final result. Just as people talk about my mistake, they’ll talk about the substitutions.”
This was a reference to Benitez’s apparent defensive changes, in particular the withdrawal of Benzema for central midfielder, Mateo Kovacic. Benitez felt the need to refute the suggestion he was a defensive minded coach on Spanish radio, and pointed out that his previous side Napoli had scored 104 goals last season, adding:
“Do you believe I told the team to sit that deeply?”
This implies he believes the players ought to be blamed for any defensive mindset, imagined or otherwise.
If annoying the captain wasn’t bad enough, Benitez also felt the need to speak out regarding the club’s joint all-time record scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo, saying:
“To say he enjoys untouchable status is another myth. I talk to Cristiano every day, he will be given rest when he needs rest. Otherwise, he will give his maximum for the team, we agree on that aspect. He’s always on the field because he’s always creating and scoring goals. But I wouldn’t hesitate to bench him.”
Although Rafa went on to say that Ronaldo was the best player in the world, Benitez ought to have avoided any potential clash, especially after it was rumoured way back in July that the Portuguese superstar was unhappy with the new coach’s training methods.
Perhaps Rafa just isn’t cut out for Real. He isn’t a player’s manager; just ask Steven Gerrard. The Liverpool captain under Benitez spoke of their “distant relationship” and a “frostiness” between the manager and his squad. Occasionally world superstars want their egos massaged, and Rafa might not have it in him to do it.
If Luis Enrique’s Barcelona manage to regain their form of last season, and Madrid continue to stutter, he may just regret opening his mouth.