RAFA BENITEZ: Race Against Time

It is the question on everyone’s lips at the moment. Ever since Real Madrid’s 0-4 defeat at the hands of a rampant F.C. Barcelona side, speculation over the future of the man at the helm has been incessant.

Was he ever the right man for the job? Can he truly get such a talented group of individuals to work as a cohesive unit and regularly produce the sort of football that saw them win an unprecedented tenth Champions League title under the tutelage of the universally adored Carlo Ancelotti?

The questions persist, but only time will have the answer. However, the clock is ticking, and while it may be to a tune that most Madridistas are used to, there may yet be an added casualty on this occasion.

As the managerial merry-go-round in Madrid continues to rear its ugly head, there is an air of dissatisfaction at the inevitability of what is to come for yet another manager in Madrid.

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Rafa Benitez boasts the distinction of having won a trophy or achieved promotion with every team he has managed since 1997, as well as the only coach to have won the UEFA Cup, UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup. He is a product of the Real Madrid system, having joined the ranks at the age of 26 as a youth team manager, and eventually earning the position as assistant manager for the senior team.

Benitez would eventually move away from Madrid for a managing position at Tenerife in which he achieved promotion to the first division in his only season there. An astonishing achievement. He then went on to have successful spells at Valencia, a top La Liga side, and then Liverpool where he won a Champions League title in one of the most dramatic finales of all time. His Liverpool team had gone 3 goals down in the first half against a dominant A.C. Milan side, but clawed their way back miraculously to equalize in the second half, and eventually win during the penalty shootout. It was to be the biggest success of Benitez’s career to date, and one that marked him as one of the top managers in world football.

Today, the man who is at the helm for the biggest football club in the world does not command quite the same respect as he once did. He joined Real Madrid on the back of a rather underwhelming stint at Napoli in the Serie A, and was heavily linked with a job in London with West Ham United before a surprising move to the Spanish capital. His time at Madrid, while seemingly relatively successful on paper, has been largely unconvincing on the pitch. Defeats at the hands of Barcelona and Villarreal, as well as uninspiring displays against lesser opposition have cast massive clouds over Benitez’s future.

The statistics don’t tell the full story. While Benitez’s side may be faring well on paper, the football is lackluster, and the morale of the squad as a whole seems to be at an all-time low.

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Cristiano Ronaldo is not at his prolific best, and general belief is that the Tendinosis he suffers in his right knee may finally be hindering his play. He currently sits at 3rd top scorer in the league, but the majority of his goals have come against lesser opposition, and his failure to produce in the bigger matches this season has not gone unnoticed. Karim Benzema is dealing with legal issues, and the squad as a whole has been plagued with injuries from top to bottom.

At the weekend, in the league match against Rayo Vallecano, the pre-match announcement of Benitez’s name was met with discord from the Bernabeu faithful who then followed with chants of “Florentino dimisión” directed at Club President Florentino Perez. Real Madrid fell behind by 2 goals to 1 in the first 15 minutes of the match, but a massively controversial penalty and eventual second red card decision against the visitors from Vallecas turned the match on its head and set the home side on course for an absurd 10-2 victory.

A glance at the score line may tell us that Benitez’s side is flying high and scoring at will, but a closer analysis shows a side that may have otherwise struggled to comeback against a terrific Rayo side. It proved to be one of the least satisfying victories of all for the fans and players alike, as each goal was hardly celebrated by fans and players alike.

It doesn’t bode well for Benitez, despite the fact that he has been dealt a very difficult hand. Ultimately, it may prove to be the end of his turn on Real Madrid’s managerial merry-go-round, but such a decision would may have some collateral damage and Club President Perez may feel the effects. Perez already came under massive pressure after his dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti over the summer after his failure to win any of the 3 major trophies, despite producing the highly coveted ‘Decima’ just the summer before.

A decision to dismiss Benitez after a poor run of form would essentially be a concession of a mistake on Perez’s part, making it all the more unlikely. In the past however, his decisions have not exactly reflected rhyme or reason, and those hoping for Perez’s dismissal may hope his is so rash as to rid Benitez of his position as well.

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