Rafa Benitez was sacked from his role as Real Madrid boss on Monday evening just seven months after joining the Santiago Bernabeu side.
The odds were stacked against him from day one when his appointment was met with scepticism by many despite having won the Champions League, UEFA Cup, and World Cup Cup among many others.
So where did it go wrong for Rafa? Let’s have a look.
1 – Unpopular appointment
As mentioned, eyebrows were raised when Benitez was appointed in July. Benitez was up against it when replacing Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian was a hugely popular figure in the dressing room and had lead the club to the 10th Champions League crown just 12 months before he was booted out.
The fans liked Ancelotti because he unified the club after the tumultuous day of Jose Mourinho and they felt that despite not winning the major honours last season there was plenty to build on.
As for the players, compare the reaction to when Ancelotti was fired to yesterday’s news about Benitez. Plenty of players took to social media to wish Ancelotti well. Benitez was met with silence.
2 – Tactics
The 55-year-old is known for employing defensive tactics, something that goes against the style of play that Madridistas are used to watching on a regular basis. Supporters booed during a pre-season friendly against Galatasaray and the goalless draw early on with Sporting Gijon raised concerns among fans.
Real never really hit the heights all season. It seems ridiculous to write that considering they hit 10 against Rayo and 8 against Malmo. But more often than not, they looked laboured and lethargic. In the big games, they looked lost. In the seven games against their notable big opponents this season (Barcelona, Atletico de Madrid, Sevilla, Villarreal, PSG and Valencia), Real picked up just one win with three draws and three losses. That sort of form only ends up with one thing – the P45.
3 – Relationship with players
Key to success as Real Madrid manager is having the senior players onside. And Benitez failed in that regard. Cristiano Ronaldo was frosty towards him from the start and his record of 8 blanks in the opening 11 games suggested he wasn’t hitting his best form under the Spaniard. Stories of a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu appeared more frequently in the press with PSG, Manchester United and the MLS all apparent destinations.
It wasn’t just Ronaldo though. James Rodriguez and Isco are believed to have had training ground rows with Benitez and it is unsurprising both had been strongly linked with an exit prior to Benitez’s departure.
Benitez wasn’t the first and won’t be the last to fall foul of the political games that go on at the club. But it contributed to his downfall certainly.
4 – The Clasico
Madrid fans were angered in November when they were beaten away at Sevilla. But there was worse to come. The 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu was probably the biggest factor in Benitez’ sacked. So devastating was the loss that he never really won the players or fans round again.
The line up was too attacking, perhaps suggesting that it wasn’t Benitez who picked the team. Or if he did, he was under immense pressure.
And the performance itself was shambolic as the visitors, inspired by a virtuoso display from Andres Iniesta, ripped their opponents to shreds. The standing ovation afforded to the World Cup winning midfielder was reminiscent of the one given to Ronaldinho a decade ago.
The Bernabeu greeted their own team with jeers and boos. Despite winning five games in a row after that, the Clasico never really left anyone’s minds though and Benitez would be the fall guy.
5 – Copa mess
Someone has to take the fall for the Copa del Rey shenanigans right? Real beat Cadiz 3-1 on a warm autumn evening in the south of Spain only for it to emerge that the first goalscorer, Denis Cheryshev, was in fact meant to be sitting out a one-match ban for picking up three yellow cards in the competition last season.
Madrid protested and protested until it became embarrassing, but the president and his men wouldn’t admit to any wrong doing. Once that is clear, someone needs to take the fall for such a mistake. Although not directly Benitez’ fault, he picked the team that night, so is an easy enough man to scapegoat.