Former Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has criticised club president Florentino Perez for his decision to sack Rafa Benitez, saying he "cannot understand the decision."
Three-time Champions League-winning coach Ancelotti recently spoke to Chinese outlet Sina Sports and described his incredulity after hearing Benitez was fired just six months into his Blancos contract (h/t ESPN FC):
After many games this season, Real Madrid are still fighting for the titles in La Liga and the Champions League, but the president Florentino Perez decided to say goodbye to Benitez. I know the job of a coach is always about getting results.
I also know our work is subject to debate, but this time I really cannot understand the decision. It's only half-way through the season.
Ancelotti was handed his marching orders at the Bernabeu in May 2015, just 12 months after bringing Los Merengues La Decima, their long-awaited 10th European Cup triumph.
Benitez's replacement, ex-Real Madrid superstar Zinedine Zidane, clinched a 5-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday to make a positive start to his tenure, and Ancelotti admitted the Frenchman has what it takes to lead the club:
Zidane is the fifth coach of Real since 2009, and there are questions that need to be raised. Is it always the coach's fault? Everyone can draw their own conclusions. But without doubt, Zidane has the sufficient capacity to lead Real Madrid. I sincerely wish him the best.
Zidane served as assistant to Ancelotti during the Champions League win of 2014 before being appointed coach of the club's reserve side, Castilla, and making the eventual rise to first-team manager 18 months later.
The 2-2 draw against Valencia on January 3 was Benitez's last match in charge of the team, and Sky Sports Statto pointed out the frequency with which Perez has chopped and changed helmsmen during his two presidencies:
Zinedine Zidane is the 11th coach in Florentino Perez's 2 terms as Real Madrid president pic.twitter.com/4OPrPtvbYp— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) January 9, 2016
Real Madrid have had 21 managers during Arsene Wenger's reign at Arsenal 😯#mmlove— Mario Melchiot (@MarioMelchiot) January 6, 2016
The sky-high expectations at the Bernabeu come part and parcel with the job, with fans and the club's board alike liable to scrutinising team selection, playing style and, most of all, results.
Winger Gareth Bale has as much reason as any to be pleased with Zidane's appointment after netting a hat-trick in the coach's managerial debut. However, while acknowledging it was a positive start, Bale called it a "big disappointment" to see Benitez leave, per ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan:
I had a very good relationship with Rafa, obviously it was a big disappointment to see him go. But things like this happen in football, you're professional and you get on with it and carry on. I feel good at the moment, I feel fit and I'm just trying to enjoy my football.
I watched [Zidane] a lot when he was playing and as a player he was incredible. I didn't really have a favourite to be honest at the time. They were all superstars and I just loved watching Real Madrid, it was a great team to watch. I don't feel I need to make a statement to anyone. I know what I'm capable of and I just want to keep enjoying my football. When I do that I play my best football.
Just as Ancelotti feels Benitez wasn't afforded enough time at Real, many might feel the Italian himself was axed prematurely. That's especially pertinent because he won four trophies in 2014: the Champions League, Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.
Real Madrid sit third in La Liga and are four points behind league leaders Barcelona, who have made sterling progress under Luis Enrique while Los Blancos have stuttered of late. BreatheSport compared the recent successes of the two clubs:
The last 18 months: Barcelona - Trophies 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆 Real Madrid - Managers 👤👤👤 pic.twitter.com/Esa8SjQcHk— BreatheSport (@BreatheSport) January 5, 2016
Zidane is under pressure to ensure things quickly improve, a task that's made no simpler by the fact this is his first senior position in management, and it comes at the very pinnacle of European football.
Benitez's sacking suggests Perez has a little tolerance in his lust for glory, and the pressure placed upon Zidane to bring Real Madrid success could see another high-profile figure sacked should he fall short.