Rafael Benítez has been sacked as manager of Real Madrid, just seven months into a three-year contract at the Bernabéu. The 55-year-old Spaniard has been replaced by Real's B team coach and ex-Real player Zinedine Zidane.
Benítez’s Real Madrid future was decided at an emergency board meeting on Monday. His final act was overseeing Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Gary Neville’s Valencia at the Mestalla, in which Real were reduced to 10 men and twice threw away a lead, leaving them in third place in La Liga, four points behind the leaders Atlético Madrid.
In his 25 games into a three-year contract, Benítez led Real to 17 wins, five draws and three defeats at a win percentage of 68, the seventh-highest in the club's history. He took over from Carlo Ancelotti in the summer of 2015 after the Italian was sacked in May, and the former Valencia and Liverpool boss went unbeaten in his first 14 games in charge.
He also guided Real to the knockout stages of the Champions League, dropping just two points as they topped Group A. But Benítez's low point was Real's humiliating 4-0 defeat by rivals Barcelona in November's Clásico at the Bernabeu, adding to league defeats at Sevilla and Villarreal. Further disappointment was to follow when Real were thrown out of the Copa del Rey for fielding ineligible player Denis Cheryshev against Cadiz last month.
It was a similar story at Napoli, where Benítez won the Coppa Italia in his first season in charge, but things soured in his second and final season. Napoli failed to make the Champions League despite the big-money signings of Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Maria Callejón, Raul Albiol and Dries Mertens, and the Spaniard was criticised for his rotation policy and stubborn adherence to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Zidane, the first French manager in Real Madrid's history, a former "galáctico" and World Cup winner, said: "I'm going to do everything I can to make the best for this club. It's a very important day for me. What I can tell you is that I will give everything or this club.
"Ever since I arrived as a player I knew how great this club was. We have the best fans in the world and the best club in the world and I'll do everything to win."
Zidane, who made 225 appearances for the club, is Real Madrid's 13th manager this century and his appointment could be considered a risk because he has no top-level managerial experience, but he has long been seen as a future Real boss.
At the Bernabéu, he played alongside players such as Luis Figo, Raúl and Ronaldo, and also featured in the same midfield as England captain David Beckham. During a five-year stay, he helped the side win the Spanish league in 2003 and was named FIFA world player of the year for the third time that year.
Many were surprised to see Jose Mourinho overlooked in favour of Zidane. Mourinho guided the club to the league title in 2012 and - following his sacking by Chelsea last month - is available. He has unfinished business at the Bernabéu having failed to win the Champions League - a prize coveted perhaps more than any other by Los Blancos. But there were reports his relationship with forward Cristiano Ronaldo broke down during his last spell in charge, while he also had high-profile clashes with fan favourites Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas.