Rafael Benitez could never have imagined that nine months after landing his dream job at Real Madrid he’d be at St James’ Park desperately trying to keep Newcastle United in the Premier League.
Few expected the Spanish coach to last the season under Florentino Perez, Real Madrid’s controversial president, and those who feared the worse for Rafa were ultimately proved right.
Benitez was sacked in January after he failed to convince the Real Madrid dressing room - not to mention the club’s demanding supporters - and found himself replaced by the inexperienced Zinedine Zidane.
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Fast-forward five months and Perez’s decision, in fairness to him, actually looks a pretty good one with the benefit of hindsight.
Real Madrid are still in contention to win La Liga and will compete for their 11th European Cup in the Champions League final on May 28 after beating Manchester City in the semi-final second leg at the Bernabeu earlier this week.
Most of Real Madrid’s players - if not all of them - appear to be much happier working under Zidane, who achieved everything in the game during his illustrious playing career.
Pepe: Benitez told me I wasn't needed
And one of those players is Pepe, who has revealed that Benitez told him he wasn’t needed at the Bernabeu back in August.
"It is a matter of hard work. At the beginning of the year Benitez told me he did not need me, that I was third choice," the Portuguese defender told Cadena Cope, per Goal.
"But I worked hard and today I have been here nine years and people know what you can expect from me.
"It's normal, you have Sergio and Raphael, who are younger than me. But if you work and you give something in every workout, you will have the opportunity."
Zidane has put his trust in Pepe
Pepe may have feared that Zidane would have opted for his compatriot Raphael Varane for the big matches, but that hasn’t been the case.
The French coach has put his faith in Pepe, who has started in Real Madrid’s previous five Champions League knockout stage matches.
Pepe: Zidane will become a top coach
Unsurprisingly, then, Pepe is convinced that Zidane will eventually establish his status as one of the sport’s best managers.
"When Zidane came in people had doubts," the centre-back added. "But he has led us to a Champions League final. I hope he continues because in time I think he will be one of the best coaches.
"Zidane for me is a very good coach. He is young. I could be wrong but I think he is the first coach who can win the Champions League in his first [season]."
Is Pepe still one of the world’s best defenders? Have your say by leaving a comment below.
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