Rafa Benitez is back home in Madrid. The city of his birth and at the club where he started not only his playing career, but also his managerial career. The latter with Real Madrid B in 1993 and now he returns to La Liga after a decade globetrotting. His time filled with stints at Liverpool, Chelsea, Inter and Napoli gathering a number of domestics trophies and the Europa League when Interim Manager at Stamford Bridge. The Champions League the most memorable in Istanbul with Liverpool in 2005. An unimaginable feat that night and proving impossible to repeat so far. But no doubt the mission impossible President, Florentino Perez will be seeking from Rafa this season.
Midway through the preseason Benitez has now gone two friendly games without his team scoring a goal. Even in Oslo against local team Valenega where his side couldn’t squeeze even one past the Norwegian team. A match held in recognition of Martin Odegaard - the youngest player in history to appear in a European Championship qualifying match - and the earliest ever debutant for the senior Norway team. Odegaard was the major revelation in his country's domestic top flight. He featured in 23 of 30 league games and hit five goals. He was also the youngest player ever to make his debut and to score in the Norwegian league.
Gareth Bale continues to prove enigmatic and offering the Spanish media copious opportunities to question whether he has been worth the €100m price tag. Despite a more central role under Benitez, the welsh international has only managed one goal so far. That was against his former club, Spurs, in a friendly in the Far East. Leading to ideal speculation that given the right offer from Old Trafford Madrid might be happy to get their money back. Something far from reality as Benitez is building his midfield to support Bale, with Tony Kross now playing slightly more forward. Supported by Luka Modric and James Rodriguez. The relationship with Manchester United not at its best as David DeGea seems set to wait another year before a return to the Spanish capital.
Real Madrid will save money by waiting another 12 months to land Manchester United De Gea on a free transfer and offer a £12 million signing-on fee next summer if he sees out the final 12 months of his United contract. That would make up for the smaller contract on offer at the Bernabeu for De Gea, and also represent a far smaller pay-out of the £35m in transfer fees that United want.
For Bale the difficulty is that he's a naturally left sided layer and his success at White Hart Lane was on that flank. The same year he won both the PFA Players' Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year, and adding the FWA (Football Writer's Association) Player of the Year Award a few weeks later.
As the new season kick off approaches Sergio Ramos will announce his renewal with Real Madrid on Monday. Bringing to an end an off field battle with Perez and also see the role of the defender increase within the club. Filling the vacuum following the recent enforced departure of Iker Casillas. With a salary increase that makes Ramos the third highest earner at Real Madrid - behind Cristiano Ronaldo and bale. A deal lasting until 2020. Thus securing the centre half partnership with Rafael Varanne for another few years. The duo supported by a contract extension for Portugal international Pepe.
The only other major doubt is Karim Benzema, whose move to Arsenal is a daily story in Spanish sports press as his place upfront has slipped behind Jese. A product of the clubs youth system. Benitez though is adamant that Arsenal haven no chance. Instead has moved to sign someone he knows well and agreed a deal with Internazionale to sign Mateo Kovacic for a fee of €32m with a further €3m in add-ons.
Late on Sunday a deal was reached for the player, who had attracted Liverpool’s interest earlier in the transfer window. Inter have always maintained that the player would not leave for less than €35m, a fee the Premier League club was not prepared to pay.
The 21-year-old’s agent, Mario Mamic, has agreed a package with the Spanish club and the transfer is set to go through after the player signs his contract on Monday and has his medical this week. The midfielder, who models his game on Andrés Iniesta’s, joined Inter from Dinamo Zagreb in 2013 and has scored five goals in 80 league games for the Milan club.
The Inter manager, Roberto Mancini, said on Sunday: “We need to sell Mateo because of Financial Fair Play. We are sorry because he is a good player but those are the rules. Now we can try to sign some other players.”
Real Madrid play Galatasaray on Tuesday night at the Santiago Bernabeu and start the season in front of their home fans.