It appears Real Madrid were just looking for the right time to dismiss manager Rafa Benitez. A 2-2 draw at Valencia on Sunday was far from the team’s worst performance since Benitez took the reins just seven months ago. And 15 goals scored in their last three games, from which they have taken seven points, is not exactly a disastrous run of form. But Benitez’s job has been hanging by a thread since a 4-0 defeat to Barcelona at the end of November.
On Monday, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is widely expected to confirm that Benitez’s time has now run out. In truth, it was a marriage doomed to a swift divorce from the outset. While Real Madrid under Perez are a club in thrall to hugely marketable, superstar players and the idea of similarly glamorous soccer, Benitez is a somewhat dour tactician, unwilling and perhaps unable to massage the egos of his players or his bosses in the same way as predecessor Carlo Ancelotti.
Real Madrid are four points off the pace in La Liga, finding themselves behind both Barcelona and neighbors Atlético Madrid. Meanwhile, there have been constant reports of friction between Benitez and some of the club’s big players, notably Cristiano Ronaldo.
For Benitez’s replacement, Real Madrid are expected to turn to a man already on their payroll. Zinedine Zidane spent a single season as an assistant to Ancelotti and has been in charge of Real Madrid’s Castilla (B) team for the past 18 months. The former Ballon d’Or winner also spent five seasons at the Bernabeu as a player, winning the Champions League in 2002 after joining from Juventus for a then world record transfer fee.
He has long been seen as a future manager at Real Madrid and was linked to taking over from Ancelotti last summer. However, his short coaching resume is not a hugely impressive one. In his first season, he could only guide the Castilla team to sixth place in Segunda Division B, Spain’s third tier. This season he has them up in third spot, although the 43-year-old has also had difficult managing the most high-profile player under his command, Norwegian starlet Martin Ødegaard.
Still, it seems he will be given a chance to try and replicate his success as a player. Real Madrid will also surely be hoping that the appointment will be as fruitful as a similar one made by their great rivals eight-and-a-half years ago. Barcelona appointed former player Pep Guardiola in 2008, after the Catalan had just a single season of experience in charge of the club’s B team. He would go onto lead the club to 14 trophies in four seasons. There is a key difference, however, in that Guardiola won the league and won rave reviews in his campaign in charge of the B team.
Yet the only other serious candidate is thought to be former manager Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese, who was dismissed from his role as Chelsea boss last month, won a league title during his three-year reign at the Bernabeu. It would be a major turnaround were he to return, given that his relationship was thought to have broken down with almost everyone at the club, both on and off the pitch, by the time he exited in 2013.
There are others who perhaps should be considered. The future of Jorge Sampaoli, who last summer led Chile to their first ever senior international title at the Copa America, is currently in doubt, Italy coach Antonio Conte’s contract only runs through to Euro 2016, while Mauricio Pochettino is making quite the impact at Tottenham. Yet it appears that Perez can wait no longer to turn to Zidane, and try to give Real Madrid their very own Guardiola.