MADRID • Gareth Bale is considering his future at Real Madrid after the Spanish giants' dismissal of Rafael Benitez on Monday.
The Welshman is believed to be deeply disappointed by the departure of the former Liverpool manager only seven months after he took charge at the Bernabeu.
The world's most expensive player had previously told Real president Florentino Perez that he had a good working relationship with the 55-year-old and that he felt the team, four points behind Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga, were moving in the right direction.
Quite how deep the 26-year-old's discontent runs will be of particular interest to Manchester United, his long-term suitors. The Old Trafford club have spent weeks trying to establish a framework for a deal in case Bale becomes available, most probably at the end of this season.
Any move, though, would still face significant roadblocks: As well as his £300,000 (S$626,500) weekly wages, United would have to find sufficient funds to meet Perez's asking price. Given his unwillingness to sell, that could start as high as £150 million.
The Real president took to the podium at the Bernabeu on Monday to confirm Benitez's exit, the 11th time that he has sacked a coach since he first took the reins at the club in 2000. It was, he said, "a difficult decision, particularly for me", to part company with Benitez, a lifelong Real fan and both a player and a youth coach in the Spanish capital.
Benitez had been under pressure ever since Real lost 0-4 to Barcelona in the Clasico in November. Despite winning their previous two games 10-2 and 3-1, seeing his team held to a 2-2 draw by Valencia on Sunday delivered the final blow.
The Spaniard's reputation as a detail-obsessed and excessively defensive tactician did not sit well with supporters, as he failed to consistently deliver the entertaining football they demand even though Real had more shots (360) than any other club in the top five leagues in Europe this season, scoring 47 goals.
He also appears to have been blamed for Real's expulsion from the King's Cup for fielding an ineligible player.
Perez's concerns were growing, particularly in regard to James Rodriguez, the Colombia playmaker.
Before November's Clasico, Perez suggested to Benitez that "nobody would blame him" if they lost to Barcelona with Rodriguez in the side. The coach picked the Colombian and Real duly lost.
Benitez was warned again last week that Rodriguez - signed for £57 million and a crucial part of Real's marketing strategy in Latin America - should be considered a key player. His decision to choose Mateo Kovacic, the Croat, against Valencia brought him into direct conflict with Perez.
Failing to win that game meant it was a battle he was destined to lose.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE