Manchester United and Chelsea reportedly made contact with the representative of Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos regarding a £37.8 million transfer, but the hiring of Zinedine Zidane as new Blancos manager has harmed the duo's chances.
Both were willing to pay Los Blancos £37.8 million to land Kroos' services, to go with a contract worth £4.5 million per year for the former Bayern Munich man. But with Benitez now out of the picture, things have gotten more complicated.
The 26-year-old moved to Spain in 2014 and instantly became a smash hit with Los Blancos, anchoring the midfield. While he took on a more defensive role than he previously played with Bayern Munich, he hardly missed a step and ended up playing a huge role for the club.
Here's a look at some of his highlights:
Things haven't gone as smoothly in 2015-16, however. Benitez replaced Carlo Ancelotti as manager during the summer, and the Spaniard brought a new, more defensive philosophy with him that didn't suit Kroos' playing style at all.
The Germany international did his best work when he found space last season, often launching long passes with pinpoint accuracy to start the counter-attack. Under Benitez, he found himself further down the pitch, and his main task was to keep the ball flowing from sideline to sideline.
Kroos certainly didn't play badly, but he looked nothing like the dynamic midfielder we saw last season. ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan noted he looked a lot happier during Zidane's first match in charge than he has all season long:
Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan
Toni Kroos looked happy tonight too - had most passes with 83. Completed 96.4% inc all 12 of is attempted long balls [via @WhoScored ]2016-1-9 21:37:51
Real crushed Deportivo La Coruna 5-0 in Zidane's first match at the helm, and the biggest tactical change fans likely noticed was his decision to send full-backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal flying up the pitch.
The two dragged the forwards covering them along, allowing Kroos to drop into those pockets of space or play in the duo with some early passes. The tactic worked to perfection and suits Kroos' playing style like a glove, so it's likely Zidane will stick with it.
Speaking to Sport Bild (h/t Goal's Stefan Coerts), Zidane has always spoken highly of Kroos, even calling him the "missing link" for Real at one point. Meanwhile, Kroos looked almost giddy with joy when the Frenchman first entered the dressing room to meet with the players, via RMadridHome:
All of this is bad news for United and Chelsea, who probably didn't like their chances of making a deal for Kroos to begin with. The German is one of the most versatile central midfielders in the world, and luring him away from Madrid was always going to be difficult.
It seemed a little easier during Benitez's tenure, as the squad in general didn't seem to be enjoying themselves on the pitch, and there was a lot of negativity surrounding Los Blancos. But in the span of just a few days, all of that negativity has evaporated.
Zidane will take his time evaluating the squad and finding his best starting XI, which means there likely won't be much movement in and out of Madrid in January. Real have the financial means to turn down just about any offer for one of their players, so an aggressive bid in the coming weeks seems pointless.
The new Real manager is inexperienced and failed to find any real success with Real Madrid Castilla, the club's reserve team, per Will Parchman of Top Drawer Soccer. There's every chance he won't be much of an improvement on Benitez, and if he fails, Kroos may look to leave Madrid at some point in the future.
But right now, a transfer seems highly unlikely, and the Red Devils will have to look elsewhere for reinforcements.