Xabi Alonso was nearly sold after skipping a game for his son’s birth while Cristiano Ronaldo cost him his Real Madrid job… what happens when Rafa Benitez falls out with his men after a bust-up with Lucas Digne
- Rafa Benitez has a long history of falling out with his own players over the years
- Everton left-back Lucas Digne joins a list of players to have fallen out with Rafa
- At Liverpool, he suspended Albert Riera after he labelled the club a ‘sinking ship’
- Benitez almost sold Xabi Alonso after he missed a game to attend his son’s birth
- Cristiano Ronaldo disliked his ‘negative tactics’, which cost Benitez his Real job
It’s starting to feel like déjà vu for Rafa Benitez.
At nearly every club he has managed, Benitez has fallen out with several of his prominent players and it appears Lucas Digne is the latest star to have locked horns with the Spaniard.
The French left-back was nowhere to be seen when the Toffees pulled off an impressive comeback to beat Arsenal 2-1 on Monday night, with Ben Godfrey being played out of position to fill the gap left by Digne.
According to The Athletic, the reason for Digne’s absence was due to an argument he had with Benitez, leaving the Everton boss to discipline the squad’s only-recognised left-back before their crucial game at Goodison Park.
Lucas Digne (left) has become the latest player to have fallen out with Rafa Benitez (right)
While the decision to omit Digne from the Toffees’ 18-man squad didn’t impact the result against Arsenal, it could be a worrying sign for Digne and his future at the club.
The Athletic also claimed that Digne’s relationship with Benitez has declined in recent months with the pair disagreeing over tactics, while trust on both sides is said to have eroded.
It has led to speculation that the former Barcelona man could be sold in the January transfer window with Benitez willing to wield the axe and send Digne packing.
The Frenchman’s future at Everton is in doubt and could be heading for the exit at Goodison
And this isn’t the first time this has happened on the Spanish manager’s watch.
History dictates that it’s never a good sign if a player falls out with Benitez but there has been the odd occasion where he may have picked the wrong battle.
Here Sportsmail looks at all the times Benitez has fallen out with his players and what happened once the dust had settled.
Alonso no-shows a game to be at his son’s birth
One of Benitez’s first bust-ups proved to be one of the most baffling.
In 2008, Liverpool were 90 minutes away from booking their spot in the Champions League semi-finals after beating Inter Milan 2-0 at home in the first leg.
Ahead of their trip to the San Siro, Xabi Alonso was expecting the birth of his son after his wife went into labour.
Alonso explained that he would not be able to play in the second leg and would be instead by his wife’s side. However, Benitez ruthlessly denied his request, resulting in Alonso disobeying his orders.
‘It was for the Champions League quarter-final squad against Inter,’ Alonso told El Pais.
Xabi Alonso revealed Benitez denied his request to be at the birth of his son back in 2008
‘We were going into labour, and I told Rafa that I could not go. I would go when everything was fine.
‘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.
‘If I hadn’t have done it then I wouldn’t have been present for the labour. By the way, we won 0-1 with a goal from [Fernando] Torres.’
Despite being one of Benitez’s key players at Anfield, Alonso was linked with a move away that summer with Gareth Barry seen as his replacement.
While a move never came to fruition, Liverpool would agree to sell Alonso a year later with Real Madrid paying £30million for the midfielder.
Riera sinks after hitting out at Rafa
After being largely frozen out by Benitez at Liverpool, it’s no wonder Albert Riera had a chip on his shoulder.
Riera found chances hard to come by at Anfield and he only made matters worse when he claimed Benitez was in charge of a ‘sinking ship’ at Liverpool.
Riera went on to claim that Benitez’s ‘dialogue with the players is practically nil’ and that there ‘must be something personal’ with regards to his absence from the team.
The winger was later fined and suspended by Benitez for his comments and was transfer listed in 2010 for his scathing attack on his manager.
Riera joined Olympiacos later that summer and his time at the club came to a disappointing end.
The 39-year-old insists it was the media’s fault for his falling out with Benitez and that he has a ‘normal relationship’ with the Everton boss. When asked about their relationship, Riera told Anfield HQ: ‘The only problem was the media.
Albert Riera (pictured) hit out at Benitez claiming he was in charge of a ‘sinking ship’ at Anfield
‘I was frustrated when I was not included in the Spain squad for the World Cup in 2010 because I hadn’t had a lot of playing time in the Premier League for like two months.
‘So (journalists) put some words in my mouth saying that the person who was responsible for me not being included in the Spain squad was Rafa.
‘After that I did another interview and said that I have to be my first critic. But the media was not interested anymore.
‘I have a normal relationship with Rafa. I meet him from time to time like at Pepe Reina’s wedding, or some family parties. Rafa and Pepe also share the same agent.
‘I had signed with him, too, when I was 18, but I’ve never had an agent since then because I was scared of them. I’m the one who manages my career with the help of my lawyer.’
Terry didn’t get on with Rafa ‘from day one’
After enjoying Champions League success at Liverpool and cementing himself as a club legend, things didn’t quite go to plan in his next few ventures.
While a short stint at Inter Milan ended in Club World Cup success, Benitez was shown the exit at the San Siro and took a two-year break from management before he took over Chelsea on an interim basis.
His appointment at Stamford Bridge was a largely unpopular one with the fans and it didn’t take long for Benitez to come to blows with some of the biggest personalities in the dressing room.
While Benitez did win the Europa League at the end of his six-month spell at the end of the 2012-13 season, Blues legend John Terry took issue with how the Spaniard did things.
John Terry (left) revealed he didn’t go on with Benitez ‘from day one’ during his stint at Chelsea
Terry was club captain at the time and admitted that he didn’t get on with Benitez from the very start.
‘It was tough, I have to be honest. When he first came, I was really looking forward to working with Rafa initially,’ Terry told Sky Sports last year.
‘The supporters never took to him and wanted him out from day one. You could say he was quite successful, we won the Europa League under him of course, but for me personally you want to develop and learn.
‘I’d seen tactically how he’d set up against us previously. You give everyone a fair chance and it’s down to them to prove to you otherwise, but we just didn’t get on from day one.’
Terry went on to explain exactly why, with Benitez’s insistence on bringing up his previous spell at Liverpool a big contributing factor.
He spent six years at Anfield, winning the Champions League and FA Cup along the way, and Terry says he would regularly bring up his Merseyside success stories.
Terry revealed Benitez would regularly bring up his Merseyside success stories at Chelsea
‘Every meeting we had it was, “We used to do this at Liverpool”,’ the Chelsea legend said. ‘I had to have a few conversations with him and say, “Gaffer, you have to forget Liverpool, you can’t keep saying we this, we that, 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.’
While Benitez did add another European trophy to the Blues’ cabinet, he was not kept on as Chelsea’s permanent manager, which saw Jose Mourinho return to the club for his second stint in charge.
Benitez loses to Bernabeu dressing room
Benitez should have seen his falling out with Terry as a sign of things to come when he was appointed as the new Real Madrid boss in 2015.
Seen as an underwhelming appointment by the Madristas at the time, Benitez looked to stamp his authority early on.
However, when it came to Cristiano Ronaldo – one of the biggest egos in the dressing room – it didn’t get off to the best of starts.
According to reports in Spain after Benitez’s arrival, the Spaniard reportedly sent one of his coaches to Ronaldo with a USB pen drive that included videos and images that he would be able to study to improve.
Benitez reportedly angered Cristiano Ronaldo (right) during his spell as Real Madrid manager
But Ronaldo, who had scored a staggering 61 goals in 54 games for Real the season prior to his appointment, responded by declining the pen drive and sent a message in reply, which apparently read: ‘Tell Benitez that I’ll send him a USB drive with all my goals on it for him to study.’
While Ronaldo and Benitez appeared to show each other respect at first, it didn’t take long for cracks to appear.
In a press conference, Benitez would upset Ronaldo by not stroking the star’s ego and saying he was the best player in the world. Benitez even refused to say that the winger was the best player at Real.
And Ronaldo wasn’t the only big-name player he upset at the Bernabeu.
Reports in Spain claimed Benitez had received criticism from the likes of Sergio Ramos, James Rodriguez, Jese Rodriguez and Karim Benzema over his style of play.
Sergio Ramos (left) also said he ‘wouldn’t lose any sleep’ over Benitez’s criticism in 2015
During his short stint in charge, Ramos responded to criticism made by Benitez, saying he wouldn’t be ‘losing sleep’ over what he had to say. Benitez criticised Ramos after he gave away a spot-kick during a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid in October 2015, which was later saved by Keylor Navas.
Ramos told Marca: ‘It [the penalty] was a childish mistake, but I won’t lose any sleep over it. Anything that Benitez has to say he can say when he sees me. I’m not concerned or bothered.
‘We all make mistakes and we don’t do it on purpose. Luckily Keylor was on hand and it didn’t affect the final result. Just as people talk about my mistake, they’ll talk about the substitutions.’
Benzema also lashed out at Benitez, insisting that he would have all the answers for why he was constantly being brought off during games.
Karim Benzema (No 9) also took issue with Benitez before the Spaniard was sacked as boss
‘It’s true I’m fed up of being taken off,’ Benzema told AS. ‘It’s true that the electronic board always shows the No 9. Ask Benitez why that is.
‘I’m calm and will continue to work so I’m not always substituted. He took me off to get a result, for defensive reasons.
‘Substitutions are what the coach decides, I’m just there to help my team-mates.’
Benitez would only last six months in the job at Real before being given his marching orders in January 2016.
Lascelles dropped after disagreement over his new role
Unlike his appointments at Chelsea and Real Madrid, Benitez was welcomed with open arms by the Newcastle faithful just two months after being sacked by Los Blancos.
While he was relegated in his first season as Magpies boss, Benitez would return to the Premier League at the first time of asking and would become a cult legend for voicing his disapproval of the club’s vilified former owner Mike Ashley.
However, while the Spaniard had the fans onside, he still managed to come to blows with his own club captain, Jamaal Lascelles.
Sportsmail revealed that the defender is thought to have voiced his disapproval at Benitez’s decision to play three at the back for a Premier League clash with Chelsea in 2018.
Benitez dropped Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles after a disagreement during training
Benitez responded by sensationally axing Lascelles from the squad and instead played Fabian Schar, Federico Fernandez and Ciaran Clark in his three-man backline.
It was revealed that the Spaniard trialled three at the back in a training session days before Chelsea’s visit and Lascelles was not happy when he was placed on the right of the three. It was thought he wanted to be in the centre.
The following day Lascelles was not involved at all and Benitez stuck to his guns for the game. Lascelles was later pictured in the stands at St James’ Park for the game against the Blues.
Lascelles was welcomed back into the squad after it was reported that his absence was due to an ankle injury, and would skipper the side to a 13th-place finish.
What does this mean for Digne?
While Lascelles proved you can return to favour under Benitez, the scenario surrounding Digne at Everton is considerably different.
Should the Frenchman not be able to patch things up with his boss, then an exit in January looks set.
Marcel Brands’ departure this week – who was influential in selling Everton to Digne – has also been a huge blow for the full-back, given how the Dutchman helped convince him to swap the Nou Camp for Goodison.
Digne still has a future under Benitez if he manages to patch things up with the Toffees boss
While Lascelles was made captain at St James’ Park, Digne is finding himself on the outskirts of Benitez’s plans and is now wanting to test himself in the Champions League once again.
History dictates that Digne could be welcomed back into the fold if the two set aside their differences, but even if you’re viewed as an important cog in the machine like Alonso was, then Benitez will not hesistate in replacing a player he may see as disruptive.
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