Rafa remains – for now

Rafa Benitez’ position at Real Madrid is safe according to the latest pronouncement from club President Florentino Perez, who reiterated his confidence in the Coach following Saturday’s 4-0 capitulation to Barcelona at Santiago Bernabeu. Los Blancos trail Barca by six points following the defeat.

Faced with a choice to back or sack Benitez, Perez has opted for the former. Speaking to the Press after a board meeting at the Bernabeu on Monday evening, Perez said the club’s “full trust and support” was with the Coach, who has come under increasing pressure following Saturday’s loss in El Clasico.

Speculation has been rife that Benitez has lost the dressing room, with several of the club’s most high-profile stars – including Cristiano Ronaldo – said to be profoundly unhappy with the Coach, openly criticising his tactics and training methods and demanding his removal.

Perhaps the only consolation for Benitez is that much of the criticism following Madrid’s Clasico debacle has been aimed at Perez, who fans accuse of meddling in team selection and pursuing an incoherent transfer policy.

Some of the Bernabeu faithful directed their ire at the President’s box as their side were humbled by Barca. At his Press conference on Monday, Perez apologised to the club’s fans for their poor showing in the Clasico but admitted: “There is a campaign against me – I know it, we all know it.”

The knives were out for Benitez as soon as he was appointed in the summer, with aficionados of Los Blancos averse to what they saw as his negative methods, an approach to the game they consider anathema at a club with Madrid’s rich tradition of winning trophies by playing scintillating football.

The tenor of those protests quickly increased as Benitez opted to park the bus after his men had taken a ninth-minute lead at city rivals Atletico Madrid in October. Atleti equalised late on as Los Blancos were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw.   

A 3-2 defeat at Sevilla, Madrid’s first loss of the current campaign, compounded matters for the besieged Benitez, who then saw his men buried beneath a Barcelona avalanche on Saturday. Many Madrid fans waved white handkerchiefs at half-time and were beset with rage at the final whistle.

Perez is reluctant to sack Benitez so early in his tenure of the Madrid hot seat, partly because he was responsible for the appointment of the former Liverpool, Chelsea and Napoli boss and partly because no obvious successor is currently available.

Carlo Ancelotti led Los Blancos to La Decima in 2014 and has not ruled out a return to the Bernabeu but seems unlikely to accept a mid-season appointment. The Italian, who was sacked in May, is enjoying a sabbatical in Vancouver too much to re-enter the cauldron of management yet and has backed Benitez to turn matters round at the Bernabeu.

“It’s still early days and I think his players have the quality and ability to resolve such a situation, which is very complicated,” Ancelotti told RAI radio. “It [the Clasico defeat] was a nightmare for all the Real fans, who saw an extremely strong Barcelona side make their team suffer.”

While the fallout from the Clasico continues to descend, Benitez must prepare his side for a tricky game against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday and a trip to Eibar next Sunday. Defeat in Ukraine or a slip-up against the over-achieving Basque minnows will only serve to strengthen the case for an early exit for Benitez.