Upon sacking Carlo Ancelotti as Real Madrid coach, club president Florentino Perez offered the solace that the 10th boss of his reign in charge will be named next week.
Moments later when questioned by the press if the new coach would be a native speaker, Perez agreed it “would be very good if he speaks Spanish.”
That confirmation has eliminated any doubt that remained among the Spanish media that the next man to face the task of living up to Perez’s highest of standards will be current Napoli boss Rafael Benitez.
The 55-year-old is expected to take charge of his final game at the Stadio San Paolo before his contract expires on Sunday when Napoli host Lazio in effectively a playoff for the third Champions League spot in Serie A.
“Rafa Benitez is 99 percent certain to be Real Madrid coach,” Ancelotti’s agent Ernesto Bronzetti told Italian television station RAI on Monday.
For a president that has based his mandate around signing the world’s biggest and most expensive stars, Perez’s decision to replace the three-time Champions League winner with Benitez has caught many by surprise.
Madrid sports daily AS mocked Perez with his own words on Tuesday on their front page as he replied “I don’t know” when questioned in what aspects Ancelotti had failed after a season without a major trophy.
Ancelotti delivered the club’s most successful ever year in 2014 with the Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup adding to the glory of ending a 12-year wait for their 10th European Cup.
Moreover, he was loved within Madrid’s star-studded dressing room with Sergio Ramos, James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos among those to demonstrate their thanks to the Italian on social media after his dismissal, whilst Cristiano Ronaldo had preempted Perez’s decision by calling for Ancelotti to stay at the weekend.
The decision has been likened to Perez’s sacking of Spain manager Vicente del Bosque in 2003 despite having won La Liga and just a year after winning the Champions League.
Ironically it was as Del Bosque’s assistant that a fledgling Benitez took his first steps in management as Real’s B team coach and assistant to Del Bosque when he took temporary charge for the final four months of the 1993-94 season.
“It is not my decision,” said Del Bosque in his usual languid style in announcing his latest Spain squad on Tuesday.
“The person that has to make that decision will bring in the best coach, but he (Benitez) is among the best.”
It is another twist of fate that Ancelotti’s sacking came 10 years to the day since arguably the most memorable match of his and Benitez’s managerial career as the latter’s Liverpool came from 3-0 down at half-time to beat Ancelotti’s AC Milan on penalties in the Champions League final in Istanbul.
Yet, Benitez’s lack of major trophies since means there are plenty of doubters as to whether he is the right man to deliver on the expectations of the world’s most expensively assembled squad.
One FA Cup with Liverpool, a Europa League in a short stint at Chelsea and a Coppa Italia with a Napoli side that has gone backwards in the past two years is not a CV that leaves most Madrid fans convinced.
However, arguably his best work came during his last job in Spain over a decade ago in winning two league titles and the UEFA Cup with Valencia.
Having angered the players and fans with Ancelotti’s dismissal, Perez now must hope Benitez is just as successful on his return home to ward off serious questions over his competency to continue leading the world’s richest club. – Agence France-Presse