Six players who fell out with Rafa Benitez: Alonso, Ronaldo, Terry…

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Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso with manager Rafael Benitez, press conference, April 2005.

Rafa Benitez was sacked as Everton manager after an abysmal run of form, winning just once in the last 13 league games.

The Spaniard has a long record of falling out with his players and reportedly forced left-back Lucas Digne out of the club just three days before his departure.

Here are some of the big names Benitez has fallen out with during his managerial career.

Xabi Alonso

Benitez’s six-year spell at Anfield will always be remembered for their Champions League miracle in Istanbul, but Rafa still managed to upset some of Liverpool’s players during his time there.

Alonso was one of his first big signings at the club, signing the Spain international for £10.5million from Real Sociedad in the summer of 2004.

Incredibly, Benitez fell out with his star midfielder over the birth of Alonso’s son prior to a Champions League quarter-final in 2009.

“It was for the Champions League quarter-final squad against Inter,” Alonso told El Pais in 2017. “We were going into labour, and I told Rafa that I could not go. I would go when everything was fine.

“[I said I would] take a plane and meet them there. He didn’t accept it. I had to make a decision and I decided to be with my family.

“It wasn’t easy, my job isn’t a normal job and it was not an ordinary game, however I never have any regrets.”

Ultimately, Alonso was sold to Real Madrid for £30million in the same year and went on to win a La Liga title, a Champions League and two Copa Del Reys at the Bernabeu.

Djibril Cisse

Cisse became Liverpool’s record signing when he was bought for £14million in 2004 but it was Gerard Houllier rather than Benitez who sanctioned the deal. 

After a leg break in October 2004, the striker only featured occasionally under the Spaniard and scored 13 goals in 49 Premier League appearances.

The former France international was forced out of the club by Benitez while he was away with his national side during the 2006 World Cup after a heated phone exchange.

“I keep a fantastic memory of England, even if I still hold a grudge on the coach,” he told L’Equipe in 2006. “I have still not swallowed it. Maybe I will never swallow it. I am still very upset.

“Liverpool remains the place where I have suffered the most as a footballer, above all during the last season. I scored 19 goals and I never played! The coach and myself were not compatible.

“On a psychological level, it was very hard because I restrained myself a lot. Don’t do or say anything. Frankly, I am proud of that.

“Apart from that, I loved everything at Liverpool – the players, the people, the fans, everything was great. I miss all that a little.”

READ: Djibril Cisse: A wonderful striker denied Liverpool greatness by injury

John Terry

The former Chelsea captain’s relationship with the Spaniard was reportedly strained from the start of Benitez’s interim spell during the 2012-13 season.

Terry admitted they had repeated disagreements over Benitez’s tactics and his tendency to talk about his time at Liverpool.

“I’d seen tactically how he’d set up against us previously and stuff,” Terry told Sky Sports in 2020. “Like everything, you give everyone a fair chance and it’s down to them to prove to you otherwise.

“We just didn’t get on from day one personally, to be honest. Every meeting we had it was, ‘Oh we used to do this at Liverpool and we did this’.

“You laugh but that’s what he used to be like, ‘Just move a yard here’. ‘I actually had to have a few conversations and say, ‘Gaffer, you have to forget Liverpool, you can’t keep saying ‘we’, you’re at Chelsea now, it’s not going down well with the lads’.

“I was injured when he arrived, and then I struggled to be fair. I was out for probably six weeks, but then I was working back towards fitness, I played in a couple of games, away at Fulham, scored two, he dropped me for the next game. It was all those little bits that added up.”

Cristiano Ronaldo

Benitez’s spell at Real Madrid in the 2015-16 season lasted just six months.

The manager was sacked following allegations of unpopularity with supporters, conflict with players and a failure to get good results against top sides.

During his time there he managed to fall out with Madrid’s main-man Cristiano Ronaldo, unbelievably… over a pen drive.

Benitez sent him a USB with videos and tips on how to lose his marker during games, despite the fact Ronaldo scored 35 league goals that season.

Reportedly, not only did Ronaldo decline the pen drive but responded with a message of his own.

“Tell Benitez that I’ll send him a USB drive with all my goals on it for him to study,” Ronaldo reportedly replied.

Take that, Rafa.

Their poor relationship is often cited as one of the main reasons for his failed tenure at Madrid.

Lucas Digne

It’s safe to say that they didn’t have a great relationship…

Lucas Digne and Rafael Benitez, Everton vs Leeds, Elland Road, August 21, 2021.

READ: Every word of Rafa Benitez and Lucas Digne’s breakdown at Everton

James Rodriguez

Carlo Ancelotti was key in attracting Rodriquez to Everton in 2020, and given Benitez’s history with the player, it’s unsurprising that he never played a competitive match under the Spaniard at Goodison Park.

Following the Copa America in 2015, Benitez asked Rodriguez to come home early from his vacation for Real Madrid’s pre-season tour of Australia.

The Colombia international declined and instead joined up with the Madrid team in China, where he scored a free-kick in a friendly against Inter Milan.

Despite this, Benitez dropped him for the first game of the La Liga season, claiming he was not up to match fitness.

Later in the season, after picking up an injury, Rodriguez had not featured for over a month. But he still played for Colombia in the November international break… and he scored.

“[This is] for those who are saying I’m not in good shape,” Rodriquez told the media after the game.

At Everton, it was much of the same story with Benitez citing his lack of availability as a reason for his departure.

“When you have a player, the situation we have, that he can be available for 50% of the games overall in the Premier League, it’s not something we can manage easily,” Benitez said.

“As a manager you try and put a team on the pitch that can win games. I am not checking the name of the player, the popularity or how many followers they have on social media.”

Rodriguez left Everton for Qatari club Al Rayyan in September 2021.


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