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Reflections on Rafa Benítez's time with Real Madrid

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Sometimes in football a job just doesn't work out and that certainly appears to have been true of Rafa Benitez' time with Real Madrid.

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Coming in to any club as head coach can be difficult if the person you are replacing is a highly experienced (and popular) individual although popularity isn't necessarily included in the job description.  Rafa brought his own staff with him (as did Carlo), hoping to simply move the template they had used elsewhere to fit Real Madrid.  It was never going to be that simple though and the challenges weren't too hard to find.

It was a time of change at the club and being appointed in the close season meant there were few players around to greet him.  Rafa inherited a squad which had been the subject of a lot of speculation in the weeks beforehand.  Iker Casillas was on the way to Porto.  Rumours abounded that Sergio Ramos was heading for Manchester United.  David de Gea was coming - and maybe still is - as first-choice goalkeeper and everyone was asking how Rafa would handle Madrid's front three.  The ‘BBC' reportedly didn't even see eye to eye with each other at times so what were they going to think about Rafa Benitez?  Judgements were quickly made and Rafa's suitability was questioned in many quarters right from the start.

A pre-season tour of Australia and China arranged by the club before his appointment led to concerns being raised by the new fitness staff over the amount of travelling involved which they felt would be detrimental to their initial preparations.  Trips to Germany and Norway were added to this with the result being that a great deal of the pre-season preparation and planning was carried out ‘on the road'.  Once the season proper kicked off, Madrid started well and things weren't as bad as everyone expected.  Then as time passed and results began to vary, the personal issues started to come to the fore.  Comments began to appear in the media suggesting that there was an issue with some of the players' relationships with the coach; issues that had been predicted at the time of his appointment.  It wasn't long before people were saying not only that Rafa would be going, but the only question was when.

From the club aspect, choosing a coach with a Real Madrid background appeared good business at the time.  In his leaving letter on his website published earlier this week on www.managingmadrid.com Rafa talks about how honoured he was to have been given the first team job at all.  On reflection, though, it could be argued that he may have been appointed simply to fill a gap; and on reflection Rafa himself might agree. The trouble is that you don't see things in that context at the time and quickly get wrapped up in the events of the moment.  Being passionate about Real Madrid and being even more passionate about returning to the club in charge of the first team tends to block out everything that's going on in the outside world; including the media comments.  Nobody can blame him for not reading the situation correctly if indeed that's what the situation was.

On the other hand, if players and others have conflicting ideas of how the game should be played or how a club should be run, then the potential for dissenting voices to be heard will be ever present.   Carlo Ancelotti leaving wasn't a popular choice among the players; and to some extent the odds were always going to be stacked against whoever was appointed in his place.  In the dressing room, strong personalities will have strong opinions, but the fact that it hasn't worked out doesn't make Rafa Benitez a bad coach or even a bad person.  Publicity was given at the time to the new coach's training ideas; his philosophy of working 80% of the time with the ball and 20% on fitness without it appeared popular in pre-season.  Injuries, though, took their toll on who was actually available to train at all; and sessions were often marked by the absence of key individuals making any kind of continuity difficult.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing though and it's easy to sit back today and weigh things up, look at the situation from all angles, and come to the conclusion that Rafa's appointment was never going to work.  Yet in the early days and in the first quarter of the season in particular, the potential was there for him to succeed.  Defensively Madrid were sound; and everyone says that the good teams don't give much away to the opposition.  The reasons why success never materialised for Real under Rafa have been discussed and analysed over and over again.  The bottom line remains that it just didn't happen.  At the very least you need a united dressing room and support from within; people need to do what's asked of them and you need the crowd on your side.  It looks as though Rafa never really had any of these, and if he did then he certainly didn't have them all at the same time.

No matter how strong his feelings were for the club, real life takes over and the game at that level can be cruel.  No doubt Rafa will bounce back, but it can be incredibly difficult to convince people that you have the right credentials if you have had a talented squad to work with and yet the results still haven't come.  Rafa's tenure at the Bernabeu will continue to be scrutinised and discussed.  We're never really going to get to know the full story of his six months in charge of Real Madrid; at least not for a while anyway.  However, as in life, things will move on and I personally wish him well for the future.