Florentino Perez backs under-pressure Rafa Benitez

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez last night offered his backing to under-pressure coach Rafa Benitez, while stating reports he was considering selling out-of-form galactico Cristiano Ronaldo were “lies”.

Perez was speaking at a specially called press conference to plead for “unity” around the club, in the wake of Saturday’s embarrassing 0-4 La Liga Clasico defeat at home to Barcelona.

During that game an angry Estadio Santiago Bernabeu crowd carried out a traditional ‘white hankie’ protest calling for Perez to resign, and Ronaldo was loudly whistled by his own team’s supporters.

Afterwards local media reports claimed senior Madrid players including the Portuguese attacker were fed up with Benitez’s managerial style, and there was further speculation that reserve coach Zinedine Zidane was standing by to take over the first team.

The Blancos club chief told a snap press event at the Bernabeu on Monday evening that Benitez had the full backing of the club’s boardroom and dressing room.

“The solution to this is Rafa Benitez,” Perez said. “We think he is the right person. But we must let him work - not listen to those making up lies that board doesn’t want him, or the players don’t want him. He has a good relationship with the players, with the board, and me in particular. We understand the anger of fans after Saturday, but ask for support for our players.”

Saturday’s debacle came in the wake of a startlingly poor run by Ronaldo, who has scored just three goals in his last nine games, while openly flirting with super-rich Ligue 1 side Paris Saint Germain. It was also claimed last week that Florentino had met with superagent Jorge Mendes and PSG president Nasser El-Khelaifi at a Madrid restaurant to discuss a potential mega transfer next summer.

“It is not habitual for us to be permanently denying things,” Perez said. “But some journalists just want to destabilise us. There are people who make lying their reason to be. They want to damage Real Madrid. Never has Cristiano Ronaldo said to me ‘with this coach, or this club, we will win nothing’. He has never said anything about anyone, he is a good guy, all that comes out about me wanting to sell him, meeting with people, is people wanting to destabilise the club. It happens every day.”

Perez also called similar press conferences in recent seasons to back previous coaches Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti when they were under pressure - and both then left the club the following summer. Asked to speak about Benitez’s long term prospects, Perez declined to speculate.

“I talk about this moment,” he said. “I cannot say what will happen in the future. Nobody knows what will happen in six months. But at the moment Rafa has the full support of everyone.”

Perez was clearer when claiming repeatedly that there was a long-term issue in the Madrid side which began last January, when Ancelotti was on the bench and around the time of Ronaldo’s infamous 30th birthday party.

“Since last January we have suffered a deterioration in the team, that is obvious,” he said. “We chose Rafa with confidence he could turn it around. It is still very early, he cannot resolve everything overnight, but we have confidence he will sort it out. That’s why we signed him.”

The construction magnate also appeared to suggest that Saturday’s chants for him to resign at the Bernabeu had been started by the radical right-wing Ultras Sur group he has personally tried to ban from the stadium.

“The socios are those who run this club, I respect them a lot, of course,” he said. “They have a very high level of demands, I understand that. Those shouting ‘Florentino resign’ - there were a lot, I accept that, but it began with the same as always. Two years ago we tried to get the Ultras Sur out of this club, in the meantime they have tried to intimidate me, but they will not succeed.”

Madrid’s next game is at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Wednesday night, when a win will secure Benitez’s team qualify for the last 16 as group winners.

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