MADRID • Florentino Perez, the Real Madrid president, has offered the football club's embattled coach, Rafael Benitez, his "full confidence and full support" despite a 4-0 defeat by Barcelona on Saturday that prompted calls for the 55-year-old to be sacked.
Perez is believed to have advised Benitez last week that he would not be dismissed if he named what the president felt was his strongest available side in El Clasico.
After a meeting of the club's board on Monday - a day marked by suggestions of a rift between star forward Cristiano Ronaldo, the rest of the dressing room and his coach - Perez stayed true to his word, insisting that he believes Benitez is the man to "fix" Real.
"We analysed the sporting situation, and I want to inform you that our coach Rafa Benitez has our full support and our full confidence," Perez said.
"Since January, we deteriorated, that is obvious.
"We chose Rafa in the confidence that he could sort it out. He has only been here a little while and you can't fix everything overnight."
REAL'S WARRING FACTIONS
Florentino Perez is the man responsible for the club's 'Galactico' policy and has made it clear that he expects his purchases to play. His stock with the fans is falling, partly because of a feud with some of the club's ultras. He and Ronaldo's agent, Jorge Mendes, are at loggerheads too.
Although relations between coach Rafael Benitez
and the players have not yet reached the point of full mutiny, they are strained over his style and training methods. He retains the support of Perez, for now, but whether the fans can be won over remains unclear.
Real's dressing room is notoriously political.
Ronaldo wields considerable power - particularly with a group of players controlled by Mendes - and so does Sergio Ramos, the club captain and their longest-serving player. Both are intent on protecting their own interests.
Perez insisted the team, who play at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League today, had suffered a "deterioration" that dates back to January, when Carlo Ancelotti was in charge. He said Benitez had been brought in to remedy that and he had to be "given time" and be "left alone to work".
"Success will follow, for sure," Perez said. He also denied he had ever suggested a line-up to any of the 10 managers he had employed.
Perez also did what he could to quash suggestions that Ronaldo had told the club that he would leave if Benitez were not dismissed.
"Cristiano has never, ever said anything like 'with this coach we won't win anything'. No one has said anything against him.
"Ronaldo is a good guy; he's never said anything," Perez said.
The suspicion that the club are suffering from a battle of wills between president and player, though, continues to linger.
It was suggested in Spain yesterday that the president had empowered Benitez to drop the player who has served as Real's talisman since he joined from Manchester United for a then world-record £80 million (S$172.2 million) in 2009, a sign that the close relationship between the two is at breaking point.
Ronaldo's unhappiness stems from the fact that he was asked to play as a striker when France player Karim Benzema, the club's only recognised forward, was out injured.
Simmering beneath the surface too is the issue of the Portuguese's contract - which has 21/2 years left and thought to be worth about £660,000 a week before tax.
He expects similar terms when negotiations start on an extension in the new year. If not, he may move out, most likely to Paris Saint-Germain. According to some reports, Real's bombastic president has decided that dispensing with Ronaldo's services may be in the best interests of the club.
There are other complications.
The Bernabeu dressing room remains as factionalised between a Spanish core - led by Sergio Ramos, the captain, and a group of players who in Jorge Mendes share the same agent as Ronaldo.
Gareth Bale, the world's most expensive player (£86 million), fits in neither camp.
Benitez finds himself short of natural allies. One squad member told Marca that "neither the ones who are playing nor the ones who aren't support the coach".
Under Ancelotti, the players grew used to a laid-back training regime, and have not taken kindly to Benitez's more methodical ways.
Real have already qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League. They are three points above second-place Paris Saint-German (seven points), going into their penultimate clash of the group stage.
Benitez will be hoping for a win to restore faith with the fans following Saturday's humiliation.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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