Zinedine Zidane becomes Real Madrid manager as Rafa Benítez sacked

World Cup winner is a hero at Bernabéu but has only managed the reserve team

Real Madrid sack Rafa Benitez after less than half a season and replace him with France great Zinedine Zidane who steps up from B team coach. Video: Reuters

 

Zinedine Zidane has become the manager of Real Madrid after the club’s president, Florentino Pérez, announced the sacking of Rafael Benítez at the Bernabéu yesterday after exactly seven months in charge.

Zidane was briefly presented after Pérez offered a two-sentence statement confirming the board had agreed to “resolve” Benítez’s contract that had two more seasons left to run. The Spaniard was not at the stadium and sources close to him claimed he had not been informed of the decision.

Sources close to Benítez say that he was not informed of the decision and only yesterday morning was still being assured by the club’s chief executive, José Ángel Sánchez, that his job was safe.

It was only 13 days ago that Pérez told a Spanish radio station Benítez was not a “problem” but the “solution” and six weeks since he called a press conference to deny reports he was planning to sack the manager, instead blaming the media for seeking to “destabilise” the club. “Rafa has just started his work; let him work. He needs time,” Pérez said then.

“We have taken a difficult decision, especially for me, to resolve Rafa Benítez’s contract,” Pérez said yesterday. “He is a great professional and a magnificent person and we wish to express our gratitude for the work he has done over these months.”

Intrigue

Rarely will a coach begin a career amid such intrigue. If Gary Neville’s appointment at Valencia caused a stir, Zinedine Zidane’s at Real Madrid is a seismic, if not entirely unexpected, development.

The man who could do things with a football that others only dream of has been fast-tracked to the coaching zenith, replacing Rafa Benítez as Madrid manager despite a lack of experience. It is certainly a risk, for both club and coach, but one too enticing for each to ignore.

A hero at Real, Zidane is accustomed to pressure, used to carrying the hopes of thousands and delivering when it counts. The art of getting others to deliver for you, though, is something else altogether.

It is a significant risk in that things may not work out as intended. What if Zidane struggles to bring success to the Bernabéu and rein in Barcelona and Atlético Madrid? It would be sad to see this titan felled by Florentino Pérez, but perhaps he is held in such high regard by the club that his reverential status will remain intact whatever happens under his watch. He has already targeted one trophy this season.

Zidane was at the peak of his club powers in a white shirt – winning the Spanish title and Champions League between 2001 and 2006, even if the Galacticos were not an entirely dominant force – and has spent much of his life in Madrid, five years as a player and later as a director, assistant and reserve coach.

It appears that he has been primed to take this role for some time. When Zidane retired from playing after leading France to the World Cup final in 2006 – player of the tournament in Germany despite his infamous denouement – the midfielder did not intend to move into coaching. Now, however, he finds himself in one of the biggest jobs there is.

Special adviser

His desire to coach manifested itself only years later but, since becoming a special adviser to Madrid’s first team in 2010, his influence at the club has grown. He became the director of football and later an assistant under Carlo Ancelotti, as Madrid won the Champions League – La Décima – under the Italian.

Zidane was then appointed coach of Real Madrid’s Casilla ‘B’ team, gaining his Uefa Pro Licence in May 2015. The side are currently second in Segunda B.

Although he will undoubtedly have to learn quickly, Zidane has certainly not received a hospital pass of the sort he used to kill dead without a second thought.

Madrid are third in La Liga, four points off top, and have scored comfortably more goals than anyone in the division. Last month they beat Rayo Vallecano 10-2.

They also have a last-16 tie in the Champions League next month against Roma.

However, whereas his three predecessors in the position – Benítez, José Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti – have six European Cups between them as coaches, Zidane has his reputation, a romantic allure and the brief experience he has garnered with the reserves. Guardian Service

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