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Cristiano Ronaldo or Rafael Benitez: Do Real Madrid have to choose?

Since the appointment of Vicente Del Bosque in 1999 Real Madrid have gone through 13 different managers

Graham Ruthven

Published: Updated:

Some clubs seek to rid themselves of turbulence. Stability is the yearning of essentially every football team the world over, regardless of ambition or stature. Real Madrid are something of an exception, though - revelling in the turmoil that comes with wholesale changes on and off the field. Barcelona might be Mes Que Un Club, but their capital rivals are a different kind of club entirely.

Since the appointment of Vicente Del Bosque in 1999 Real Madrid have gone through 13 different managers, and it might not be long before Rafael Benitez adds his name to the club’s damning list. Yet such frequent upheaval has done little to diminish their standing as one of the game’s most illustrious and successful outfits.

But with pressure mounting following Saturday’s humiliating 4-0 Clasico defeat to Barcelona Real Madrid face an existential dilemma. Something needs to change at a club which has lost its direction this season, but their predicament could come down to a fundamental question: Benitez or Cristiano Ronaldo?

Real Madrid might have to pick between the two men, with Ronaldo considered a powerbroker in the club’s dressing room tussle for influence. In fact, Spanish media believe the three-times Ballon d’Or winner has explicitly told Perez to choose between himself and the manager - and indeed it seems unlikely that the two figures will start the season at the same club next term.

Most would assume that in such a scenario Real Madrid would surely opt for Ronaldo over Benitez, given the Portuguese’s rank as the club’s all-time top goalscorer. He is the capital club’s defining star, their poster-boy and the pure embodiment of the Galacticos era.

Yet having passed his 30th birthday, showing the first signs of decline over the past few weeks and months, Ronaldo might not be so untouchable. At this peak the winger-turned-centre-forward could win games all on his own, but with every passing game he needs more and more help. His goal tally for the season still makes for relatively impressive reading, but for how much longer can Ronaldo continue to captivate European football’s most prestigious club?

With his form declining, and years advancing, Perez could feasibly spin Ronaldo’s potential exit as a positive. Both Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain have been very public in their respective pursuits of the player, offering the Portuguese winger an escape route. Either club would surely reimburse Real Madrid for the £80 million transfer fee Ronaldo commanded six years ago, too.

It’s also worth noting that while Ronaldo’s world record signing was rubber-stamped under the stewardship of Perez as Real Madrid president, the move was sanctioned for all intents and purposes by his predecessor Ramon Calderon. As far as Perez sees it, Gareth Bale - a player courted and signed entirely by the incumbent chief - epitomises the club’s future, not Ronaldo. Selling the latter over the former would only tighten Perez’s loosening grip.

Ronaldo’s sale might not prompt the public uproar that one might envisage, either. For all his achievements in the Spanish capital, Ronaldo has never been embraced by the club’s support in the way someone like Raul Gonzalez was. They respect him, but the Bernabeu has never truly been his domain.

Nonetheless, even with Ronaldo hypothetically on his way out of Real Madrid, Benitez is doomed. The former Chelsea and Liverpool boss has lost control of the Bernabeu dressing room, taking charge of what has become an insipid campaign for Los Blancos. But if Benitez goes it’s entirely possible that Ronaldo could leave with him.

Before kick-off on Saturday the Spanish capital club handed out white placards to hold aloft, forming a dramatic mosaic, but by half-time they were being used as improvised handkerchiefs for the panolada - the tissue-waving protest performed in times of trouble at the Santiago Bernabeu.

But such frustration wasn’t entirely directed at Benitez, with sections of the Real support keen to stress that Perez and the club’s hierarchy were instead the target of their objections. Others, however, believe much of the ire was directed at the under-performing, languid Meringues players on the pitch - including Ronaldo. A lot might have to change before the jeers become cheers once more.