MADRID-Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has rebuffed calls from angry fans for him to step down and backed coach Rafa Benitez after Saturday’s humiliating 4-0 defeat at home to Barcelona in the La Liga ‘Clasico’.
Real’s drubbing by their arch rivals, which left them trailing Barca by six points, prompted supporters at the Bernabeu to chant for Perez to go and the construction magnate said on Monday he understood and respected their frustration.
However, he said there had been no discussion about holding new elections at a board meeting on Monday, at which it was decided that Benitez, who replaced Carlo Ancelotti at the end of last term, retained the club’s “full support and confidence”.
A clearly irritated Perez attacked the Spanish media for what he said were attempts to destabilise Real and added that an extremist fans’ group known as the “Ultras Sur” had been behind the chants for him to resign and were trying to “intimidate” him. The Spanish meadi also claims star forward Cristiano Ronaldo, whose relationship with Benítez had frayed beyond repair, has told team-mates: “Either he goes, or I go.”
“I can’t tell you what will happen in the future but what I can tell you is that we did not discuss the possibility of holding new elections for even one minute,” Perez told a news conference at the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid.
“Rafa Benitez was chosen for his professionalism, for his achievements and for his experience and he has the proven ability to get the best out of this squad which has been in gradual decline since January,” he added.
“We understand the anger of our fans after Saturday’s result but we feel it is the moment to continue working with rigour, with calm and maximum intensity.
“Rafa Benitez has just started his work. Let us allow him to continue and the triumphs will surely come.”
Perez, in his second stint in charge of the club he has transformed into the world’s richest by income, has been blamed for Real’s woes due to a perception he interferes in team selection.
Rather than give his coaches a free hand, he is believed to instruct them to deploy Real’s marquee signings instead of players who may be in better form or better suited to a particular match.
Perez denied he tells coaches what to do and said Benitez had “full powers”.
“Since I arrived in 2000 there have been a lot of coaches and none have ever said that I have suggested anything to them,” he told reporters. “They have always had autonomy.”
The last time the fans turned against him in 2006, Perez quit abruptly and he will be desperate to win back their trust.
Benitez may survive for the time being but if results do not quickly improve he is likely to fall on his sword.
The former Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Napoli manager, the 10th coach Perez has hired, could be replaced by former Real and France great Zinedine Zidane, who is currently in charge of the club’s B team, local media have reported.
Why Rafa is struggling
Regardless of the players he does play, or those he doesn’t, neither group can stand Rafa Benítez. Such is the rapport between the Real Madrid dressing room and their coach.
From the outset, Benítez was fighting a losing battle and with time things have only got worse for the Madrid-born coach. If the dressing room were to vote about whether they wanted him to remain at the helm, he’d be lucky if five or six players voted in his favour. It’d be a landslide “No” victory.
In fact, Rafa has not been able to count on the support of his players for some weeks now, and the feeling is very much as if he is on borrowed time.
Benítez has suffered from the fact he has been unable to rid the heritage left by Carlo Ancelotti at the club. This hasn’t been a problem of his own making; it was already there when he was appointed. Nevertheless, since his appointment, the 50-year-old has been unable to connect with the dressing room. The problems that he has had with several of the players have gradually seen his allies diminish in numbers. His training methods, and his comments about Ancelotti the players dearly loved, have all caused irreparable damage.
The powers that be at the Bernabéu have rallied round in support of Benítez. They are well aware of the issues between him and the dressing room, and they are prepared to support their man as they seek desperately not to have to bring a new coach in half way through the season.
‘Number 10’ is the ironic name the Real Madrid dressing room use to refer to the coach.
They hold it against him that he himself was not a top football player and yet gives lessons to players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Modric and the rest. They don’t understand his advice, and he tries to correct things which are unconnected with tactics.
They worked under Ancelotti, one of the leaders of the Milan side of the eighties, and now they do not take too easily to Benítez. Jose Mourinho did not reach the top level as a player either, though he always enjoyed the support of his squad.
Some of them prefer not to play along the wing where the bench is; they say Benítez gives orders which amount to absolutely nothing.-Reuters/Marca