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Why Benitez is perfect Real Madrid fit - but expect FIREWORKS!

COMMENT: For Real Madrid, Rafa Benitez is a genuine Florentino Perez appointment. He's a former Real youth coach. He knows how to win the Champions League. And he'll accept the brief of winning is all that matters. The Castilla will be little more than an after thought.

Benitez leaves Napoli flailing. Defeat to Lazio yesterday left the Partenopei out of the Champions League places. But his relationship with president Aurelio de Laurentiis remains rock solid. The pair dined together last night before the Spaniard hopped on a private jet and flew to Madrid this morning.

As Jamie Carragher highlighted last week, this is the job Benitez has coveted. It's 20 years since he left for Real Valladolid. For all the European success with Valencia, Liverpool and Chelsea - and the two Liga titles at Los Che - everything achieved has been a step designed to get him closer to a Real return.

Now he has it - and will waste no time getting his feet under the table. Benitez is in Madrid today. His unveiling will be held at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday - if not tomorrow. But between now and then, Benitez and his staff will be reviewing Real's coaching structure and transfer plans. For Benitez, he wants to make this work. There's no time to lose.

Perez will be encouraged. Benitez is the president's coach. They'll be in lock step about what is required at Real.

Benitez isn't a chequebook manager, but he's pretty close. He will embrace Perez's Galacticos policy. The prospect of working with big personalities and the game's biggest names won't phase him.

It will mean the Castilla will be viewed as a first team pathway in name only. With Zinedine Zidane failing to lead them out of the Segunda B this season - and the knock-on effect of the C team being dissolved - academy development is on the rocks at Real.

But it won't be just the kids from the C squad looking for new clubs this summer.

Perez knows Real's squad needs 'renewal' and in Benitez he's found his hatchet man.

The Spaniard will have clear ideas about who should stay and who should be dumped. If a senior player finds himself on the outer, there's two options open to him: put your feet up or leave. Just ask Chelsea captain John Terry.

This summer, it's going to be whirlwind. Where Carlo Ancelotti was friendly and approachable, Benitez is rare with his praise.

"Rafa is not maybe a pat-on-the-back manager," says his former Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard.

Cristiano Ronaldo has complained to Perez about the squad's fall in quality since winning the La Decima. The summer market will be dominated by incoming transfers. But Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pepe and even Ronaldo, himself, should be looking over their shoulders.

Benitez will insist on rotations next season. How that will go down with Ronaldo is anyone's guess. It's been suggested Benitez convinced Perez when interviewing for the job by presenting his plan to bring out the best in Gareth Bale.

Just as at Chelsea with Terry, Benitez isn't afraid of taking on locker room leaders. Casillas and Ramos are obvious targets. But Ronaldo could also be in his sights. Gerrard, at his peak, was rotated out of Liverpool's starting XI by Benitez. At 30, going on 31, Ronaldo won't escape the policy under his new coach. But will he accept it?

Looking on will be Perez. The president has prided himself on his relationship with Real's major players. It was he who instigated the 'leaders group', a senior delegation from the locker room who would liaise with the president regularly through the season.

But he knows they're now coming to the end of their careers and the weight of their personalities has become a problem. There'll be no interference from the board should Benitez seek to move several heavyweights on.

Perez's words upon the dismissal of Ancelotti were telling.

"We believe the time has come for a change of direction that will allow us to win more titles and reach our peak competitive level ahead of a new era."

There will be changes this summer, Benitez will guarantee that, and not without some fireworks. This will be no smooth transition.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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