Not many soccer coaches have been fired barely two weeks after winning a match 10-2 but too many things went wrong for Rafa Benitez to stay at Real Madrid, after losing the confidence of fans at the 10-time European champion.
Club president Florentino Perez, who fired Benitez on Monday, had presented the Spaniard to supporters in June as a coach “who breathes football,” adding “he will make us strong.”
But his league debut ended in an uninspiring 0-0 draw against newly-promoted Sporting Gijon, and soon after that dismissive talk began about Benitez’s defensive style — something which is sort of a taboo to Madrid fans.
A 4-0 home loss to rival Barcelona in November fuelled disquiet at the Santiago Bernabeu, with farewell handkerchiefs being waved at Benitez’s dugout in disgust.
Even more criticism followed amid reports the coach didn’t get on with James Rodriguez, Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and Denis Cheryshev.
Benitez told journalists that Rodriguez was not “ready to play more than 30 minutes,” while Cheryshev said there was “very little communication” with the coach. Alarcon rarely got to play at all.
Then Madrid was expelled from the Copa del Rey for fielding Cheryshev in a first-leg 3-1 win over Cadiz on Dec. 2 in its opening round. The Russian was carrying a one-match suspension for yellow cards received last season while on loan at Villarreal, a fact that Madrid appeared to be unaware of until taking the player off halfway into the Cadiz match.
An ashen-faced Perez insisted Madrid had not acted improperly in fielding Cheryshev but authorities, including the country’s top sports tribunal, disagreed by heaping opprobrium on the club in successive judgments against Madrid.
Even after Madrid had routed Rayo Vallecano 10-2 in December, fans at the Bernabeu maintained their disapproval of Benitez with more jeers, more criticism and more farewell handkerchiefs.
At post-match press conferences Benitez started to look unsettled.
“The press in England never exaggerated like you do here in Spain,” said Benitez, with a selective memory of his time in the Premier League. “Here there is a campaign against Florentino Perez, Real Madrid and its coach.”
Although Benitez kept Madrid alive in this year’s Champions League — the club’s most cherished competition — continued crises in the Spanish league and growing discontent among players, the media and above all the fans proved too much for Perez to bear.