Zinedine Zidane has been appointed as new Real Madrid coach, with Rafa Benitez having been sacked from the position by club president Florentino Perez on Monday.
Benitez, who began his playing career with the club’s reserve sides and later held several coaching roles at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, returned to the club just last summer following the dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti.
The former Valencia, Liverpool and Napoli coach never won over a dressing-room which had been vocal supporters of Ancelotti — and has been under serious pressure since late November’s 4-0 Clasico home defeat to Barcelona.
Zidane spoke briefly during Monday’s news conference, promising to “give it all his heart to make the team successful.”
After a board meeting held on Monday afternoon, Perez told a news conference at the Bernabeu that Zidane was “one of the greatest players of all time,” and told him: “Zidane, you are from this moment, the manager of Real Madrid. This is your stadium, this is your club.”
A full news conference to unveil the 43-year-old is set for Tuesday.
Last month Perez claimed that Benitez was the “solution” not the problem at the club, and blamed a media campaign and violent ultra fans for souring the mood at the stadium where the team and their coach have been whistled regularly through recent months.
There were suggestions that some of the most senior players — having been vocal supporters of Ancelotti — did not back the former Valencia, Liverpool and Napoli coach from the outset.
He came under more serious pressure with the 4-0 home defeat to Barcelona in the Clasico on Nov. 21, while the club’s expulsion from the Copa del Rey after fielding an ineligible player has done little to calm tensions.
Madrid are currently third in La Liga, four points behind neighbours Atletico, after Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Valencia.
Benitez was the 10th different manager to lead Real Madrid under team president Florentino Perez, who has held the position two separate times for a total of 12 seasons. No manager has lasted longer than three seasons at Madrid while Perez has been in charge. Of the six permanent managers hired by Perez, four have failed to make it to their second season.
Benitez, who was born in Madrid and worked as an assistant for the club in 1994-95, has won 12 titles with five clubs since 2001, but he hasn’t won a league title since 2004.
Benitez has managed 12 different teams in his career with only two of those stops spanning more than three calendar years — 2001-04 with Valencia and 2004-10 with Liverpool. He leaves Real Madrid with a .740 win percentage, his best at any club since 2001. However, for the first time since 2001, Benitez failed to win a trophy with a team since he did not have an opportunity to play in any finals as Real Madrid manager.
Real Madrid were removed from Copa del Rey competition for fielding an ineligible player. They are worse off through 25 games this season than they were in each of the previous two seasons.
Madrid have struggled in big games under Benítez, recording just one point in three matches against the other teams in the top four of La Liga this season (Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Villarreal).
Real Madrid have not won La Liga since 2011-12. If the club fail to win the league this season, it would be their longest drought without a league title since 1990-94 (also four seasons).
Zidane, who was Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant in 2014 when Madrid won the Champions League, has been coaching Madrid’s B team in the third division. The 43-year-old’s first season in charge of Castilla ended in disappointment as they missed out on promotion. The young side are currently in second place in their Segunda B [third tier] division, having drawn 2-2 at La Roda last weekend.
Zidane was part of Perez’s Galacticos at Real Madrid who won La Liga and Champions League titles in the early 2000s, along with Luis Figo, David Beckham, and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Perez called the decision to replace Benitez “difficult.”
“I am here to say that the board has just decided, a difficult decision, especially for me, to end the contract of Rafa Benitez as first team coach.” Perez said. “He is great professional and a magnificent person and we thank him for his work during these months.
Perez said he felt confident Zidane would know how to manage the club.
“He knows more than anyone what it means to lead the Real Madrid squad, and knows how difficult it can be,” Perez said. “He also knows these players as worked with many as assistant coach and won La Decima [2014 Champions League]. Through all his life he has taken on the biggest challenges in football with bravery and talent.
“Zinedine Zidane this is your stadium, your club, you have all our confidence,madridismo is at your side. As president I am proud to have you by my side. I know for you the word impossible does not exist.”
Zidane said he was optimistic about the opportunity. His first game in charge will be on Saturday at home against Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga.
“First I want to thank the club, and you presi, for giving me a chance to coach this team,” he said. “We have the best club in the world, best fans in the world. What we must do now is try and do the most possible so that this team wins something at the end of the season. I will do everything possible with all the players, and hope it will all come out well.
“Tomorrow I will be with the team — and get to work. Thanks to everyone. This is an important day for me — like all new coaches I have emotion, more than as a player,” he said. “But from tomorrow it will be something else. I will give all the heart I have for this club. And try for everything go come out well.”