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Rafa Benitez on the brink of taking Real Madrid reins

By Phil Blanche

Napoli have called an unexpected press conference for tomorrow as reports linking Rafael Benitez with the head coach vacancy at Real Madrid continue to gain strength.

The Serie A club close out their season with a home game against Lazio on Sunday, but Spaniard Benitez looks set to announce his impending departure for the Bernabeu three days earlier.

A statement published on Napoli's website last night read: "President Aurelio De Laurentiis announced this afternoon that in a few hours' time there would be some news.

"That news is that at 1.00pm (local time) on Thursday, there will be a press conference held by the club president, alongside Rafa Benitez."

Earlier in the day, the former Liverpool boss was described as being "99 per cent" certain to be the next Real coach.

After weeks of speculation about his future, Carlo Ancelotti was sacked as Real boss on Monday with club president Florentino Perez announcing the time had come for a "change of direction".

Ancelotti's representative Ernesto Bronzetti fully expects the 55-year-old Spaniard, who started his managerial career with Real's reserve side, to become the club's 13th coach since 2003.

Fifa 'super agent' Bronzetti said: "Benitez is 99 per cent sure to go to Real."

Ancelotti's departure had been anticipated since Real were knocked out of the Champions League semi-finals by Juventus earlier this month.

The former Chelsea and Paris St Germain boss won the Champions League and Copa del Rey in his first season in charge at the Bernabeu and also helped Real lift the Uefa Super Cup and Fifa Club World Cup in 2014.

However, Real could not add any more trophies this year as they finished second to Barcelona in La Liga as well as being knocked out of Europe and the Copa del Rey, and Ancelotti paid the price for that.

Before his dismissal, the Italian said he was going to have a back operation and would take a year-long sabbatical if Real decided to part company with him.

Bronzetti reiterated that, saying: "As of right now, Ancelotti wants to take a year's break. That's his intention.

"At Real Madrid you can be sacked if you don't win any trophies in a season."

Aside from Benitez, the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Unai Emery have been linked with the Real post.

The Madrid-born boss has previously spoken of his wish to manage Los Blancos, calling the club his "sweetheart" while he was in interim charge of Chelsea in 2013.

Wales boss Chris Coleman, meanwhile, expects his star man Gareth Bale to stay at Real and insists the player's relationship with the Spanish giants will not be harmed by Ancelotti's departure.

Bale, the world's most expensive player after joining Real from Tottenham in 2013 for £85.3million, enjoyed a spectacular first season in Madrid with match-winning goals in the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals.

But the Welshman's second season has proved far from plain sailing as he has been jeered by Real fans and attacked in the Spanish media, and he has lost a great ally in Ancelotti.

Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have all been linked with bringing Bale back to the Premier League this summer but Coleman - on naming a 23-man squad to take on Belgium in Euro 2016 qualifying next month - said: "I don't expect Gareth's position to change.

"You can't say Real didn't win a trophy because of Gareth and the president thinks a lot of him. Unless Gareth wants to leave, which I don't think is the case, then I don't think he'll go.

"He's worked hard enough to get to arguably the biggest club in the world, why would he want to leave?

"It (Real Madrid) is arguably the biggest club on the planet. I don't really see him wanting to move."

Coleman had built up a good relationship with Ancelotti and his number two Paul Clement to make sure that both Madrid and Wales were on the same page when it came to Bale's fitness regime.

Bale has been an ever-present in his country's Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and Coleman said the Madrid and Wales medical departments had worked closely in tandem to make sure the 25-year-old was in peak condition.

"I've known Paul for a long time from my Fulham days," Coleman said.

"It's a shame for Carlo. I think he's a great manager, but when you manage Real Madrid you know the dangers, you've got to win something."

Belfast Telegraph


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