Potential Problems for Rafa Benitez in 1st Season at Real Madrid

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistAugust 8, 2015

New Real Madrid coach Rafael Benitez, left, and Real Madrid's President Florentino Perez, right,  pose for a picture during his official presentation at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, June 3, 2015, after signing for Real Madrid. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

"Rafa doesn’t have any sentiment. He’s not interested in social skills. He tries to come across as a warm person, but he is as harsh a guy as you will ever come across."

Craig Bellamy wrote that about Rafa Benitez in his autobiography, GoodFella, having played under the Spanish coach at Liverpool.

It gives an insight into the coach's personality and perhaps reveals what his biggest problem might be at Real Madrid: himself.

When you are manager of what many consider to be the biggest club in the world, you will always have problems.

Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press

There are always issues to deal with. From the squad to the fans and the media to the board, every detail is scrutinised.

On paper, things have been going well for Real Madrid in Rafa's short reign so far.

Pre-season results have been good, with Los Blancos winning both International Champions Cup tournaments in which they competed, in Australia and China. That included a 4-1 win over Manchester City, and they only conceded two goals in six games.

The defence was a weak point for Real Madrid last season, and Benitez has already gone about fixing it.

Theo Karanikos/Associated Press

Madrid conceded 17 goals more than champions Barcelona and also more than Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Villarreal, who finished sixth.

But sooner or later at Madrid, problems appear, and we will look at what Benitez may have to contend with.

As demonstrated by Bellamy's comments, Benitez isn't a people person. He has upset several key players at his previous teams.

He fell out with Xabi Alonso and Albert Riera at Liverpool, with the latter making some scathing remarks about his former boss, per the Daily Mail:

When you stop being important for the coach it has to be something personal. If I am doing things badly and you are my boss and you value me, you are going to tell me what I have to do to get back playing. That is what hurts me. It is a lack of tact. It seems strange that being Spanish there should be a problem with communication.

I have been here two years and he has never sorted out a situation with a player by talking to him. He thinks that it is him in charge and he is deaf to everything else. The dialogue is practically nil. This year has been difficult and he has changed nothing. When you see that the boat is sinking and you don't change anything.

John Terry and Marco Materazzi are two other high-profile players who fell out with Benitez. You wonder what will happen at Madrid, where there is the notoriously hard-to-please Cristiano Ronaldo.

There have already been signs of danger, with the Portuguese spotted mouthing off in displeasure when the team were asked to finish training by playing crossbar challenge. Per Sport, he was also unhappy with Benitez's refereeing during the session:

Cristiano Ronaldo got angry during a Real Madrid training session in Australia on Wednesday. During a mini-game, Madrid's new boss ruled out a goal by the club's No.7, a decision which did not go down too well at all. 'F---, man... you only see offences against the Portuguese players,' Ronaldo stropped.

Real Madrid's coach Rafa Benitez (L) watches forward Cristiano Ronaldo (R) during a team training session during the International Champions Cup tournament in Melbourne on July 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Paul CROCK -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICT
PAUL CROCK/Getty Images

This is the biggest job Benitez has ever had, and he is working with more star names than he has previously handled. A new form of pressure.

As well as interacting well with his team, he also needs to keep them happy on the pitch. If he gives players specific roles they don't enjoy, there may be trouble.

Ronaldo may be upset if Gareth Bale becomes the main focus for the team, which looks like it may happen if some of the pre-season tactics are anything to go by.

The Welshman, at least, is happy with Benitez. He told Sport: "I am confident anyway, but it's great to have the support of the manager and the president and, hopefully, I can repay them now with goals and trophies. I have spoken to the manager about playing through the middle."

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 18: Gareth Bale of Real Madrid and Real Madrid coach Rafa Benitez walk from the dressing rooms after the half time break during the International Champions Cup friendly match between Real Madrid and AS Roma at the Melbourne Cri
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Let's say Benitez can keep from upsetting any of the Madrid squad. What other problems could he face at the Santiago Bernabeu?

One is Barcelona. Madrid's eternal rivals are in an extremely strong moment, having won the treble, and Benitez's job is to take them on without significant reinforcement to his squad.

The likes of Denis Cheryshev and Lucas Vazquez offer different options, but barring the signing of Danilo it's hard to argue Madrid's team is any stronger than last season.

What might prove to be a nice problem to have, if it doesn't become a divisive issue, is how to fit Ronaldo, Bale, Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, James Rodriguez and Isco into six places.

All seven of those players will believe they have earned the right to start every game, but they can't all fit in. As Tim Collins explained on Bleacher Report:

Stars like Ronaldo want to be stars, not rotating components. What's more, their stature sees them exert an implied influence over a coach, which means that rotating them to accommodate Isco won't be easy. And Benitez needs only to look at Luis Enrique's predicament at Barcelona in January for evidence that the rotation of stars at this level is fraught with peril.

And that's before you get to the likes of Jese, who has been explosive in pre-season, and Casemiro, who could add extra defensive balance and stability in the midfield.

As explained above, Benitez is already improving in that department, but if it comes at the cost of goals and exciting football, Madrid fans may not be too happy.

There are also the media battles he faces, with other managers, such as Jose Mourinho, and also with the press.

Benitez is often made fun of for his weight, and the Chelsea manager has already taken a jibe at both the coach and his wife over this issue, saying: "If she takes care of her husband's diet, she will not have any time to talk about me."

Liverpool, UNITED KINGDOM: Liverpool's Spanish manager Rafael Benitez (L) and Chelsea's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho give instructions to their players during their European Champions League semi final second leg football match at Anfield, Liverpool,
CARL DE SOUZA/Getty Images

According to AS (h/t the Independent), Madrid have told Benitez to slim down to avoid jokes at his expense.

Rafa's stock has sunk over the past decade, failing miserably at Inter Milan, being reviled at Chelsea and mediocre with Napoli. Long gone are his glory days of Valencia and his Champions League win with Liverpool.

When he was appointed by Madrid in the summer, it felt like it was only because Florentino Perez wanted to get rid of Carlo Ancelotti and there were no better options.

Perez could be another problem for Benitez, with the president having a notoriously quick trigger finger. If things don't go well it would be no surprise to see the Spaniard depart at the end of the season, which puts extra pressure on Rafa's back.

This is his dream job, as he showed at his presentation, during which when he cried with happiness. Benitez must stay on top of these problems to prevent his dream turning into a nightmare.


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