Real Madrid replace coach Benitez with Zidane

Madrid, Jan 5 (IANS) Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has announced that French football great Zinedine Zidane will replace Rafa Benitez as the head coach.

Perez said the club on Monday made the “difficult” decision to dismiss Spaniard Benitez after Real Madrid were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw against Valencia in a match where the Los Blancos enjoyed the lead on two separate occasions.

Under Benitez, who succeeded Italian Carlo Ancelotti in the job just seven months ago, the Blancos have won 11 of 18 La Liga matches and tied four others to amass 37 points, four behind leaders Atletico Madrid and two behind Barcelona.

“Today we have made the difficult decision, particularly for me, to terminate the contract of Rafa Benítez as first-team coach,” Ancelotti said in a statement.

“I would also like to announce that the Real Madrid Board of Directors have decided to name Zinedine Zidane as the new coach of the first team,” the president of the club with the most number of European titles — 10, declared.

He called Benitez a “magnificent coach and a great person” and thanked him for his service to the team.

Zidane, who played for Real Madrid between 2001-2006, worked as an assistant to Ancelotti before taking charge of the organization’s B team, Real Madrid Castilla.

The 43-year-old, regarded as one of the best European playmakers of the last 50 years, led France to victory in the 1998 World Cup and the European title in 2000. He was also part of Real Madrid sides that won La Liga and the Champions League.

“There can be no doubt that Zidane is one of the game’s all-time great figures. He knows better than anyone just what it means to lead the Real Madrid first-team squad,” Perez said of his new chief tactician.

“He’s fully aware of how tough and at the same time how exciting this demanding position is. You (Zidane) have our complete confidence and our support in the task of bringing excitement and entertainment to the supporters in each and every game, and the fans will be right by your side.”

Zidane said: “Firstly, I’d like to express my gratitude to the club and to you, president, for giving me the opportunity to coach this team. We’re the best club in the world, with the best fans in the world.

“What we have to do, and what I’m going to try to do, is make every possible effort to see this team win something this season. I’m going to work as hard as I can and to the best of my ability with all the players, and I believe that everything will turn out well. The most important thing is to get down to work with the team tomorrow.”

Zidane felt that the day marked an important day in his life and he was more excited on the moment as compared to his signing with Real as a player.

“Many thanks to everyone. It’s an important day for me, as I’m sure is the case for everyone, and I’m excited, even more so than when I signed as a player; but that’s to be expected. All I can say is that I’m going to put my heart and soul into this club to try to ensure everything turns out well,” the former Juventus star said.

Real Madrid’s first practice under Zidane is set for Tuesday morning.

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