Real Madrid's Florentino Perez puts public support behind Rafa Benitez

MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid president Florentino Perez insisted Monday that the club remains fully behind coach Rafa Benitez despite the humiliating loss to Barcelona this weekend.

Perez pledged his full backing to Benitez in a hastily called news conference, two days after the 4-0 defeat to Barcelona prompted widespread calls for the coach's resignation.

"We analyzed the situation and I'm here to announce that Real Madrid's coach has our full and unequivocal support," Perez said. "He was the coach that we picked for his professionalism, his trajectory and his experience. He has the capacity to make this squad play up to its potential."

It was the first time Perez spoke publicly since Saturday's game, when he and Benitez were loudly jeered by the home fans at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

"I understand the disappointment of our fans after what happened," Perez said. "But Benitez just started his job and we need to let him do his work. More than ever we need the fans to show their support to the team and to the players."

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The club president said Benitez needs to be given more credit because Madrid has been dealing with a series of injuries since the coach took over the squad less than six months ago. The game against Barcelona marked only the second time that Benitez had all of his players available.

Perez also said the team's results under Benitez have not been bad apart from the last two losses in the Spanish league.

Madrid was unbeaten until a defeat to Sevilla two weeks ago, and it easily advanced to the knockout stage of the Champions League with two matches to go.

The news conference took place after a board meeting and Perez said the support for the coach was unanimous. He said the club felt the need to publicly display its support because "of all the doubts" that surfaced after the loss to Barcelona.

Perez said there was a campaign by a few members of the media to "destabilize" the club. He also said opposition was coming from the violent fan groups that he banned from the Bernabeu a long time ago but that continue to "do whatever they could" to undermine the president and his decisions.

"They will not be able to do that," Perez said.

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Saturday's loss left Madrid six points behind Barcelona after 12 rounds. The team is only third in the standings, two points behind second-place Atletico Madrid.

Pressure had been mounting since the defeat — Madrid's fourth in the last five games against its main rival. Fans waved white handkerchiefs — a gesture of goodbye aimed at Benitez — and chanted "president, resign," shortly after Luis Suarez scored the fourth goal in Barcelona's victory.

Spanish media was already discussing who could be Madrid's next coach, and the name topping the list was former France player Zinedine Zidane, who is coaching Madrid's "B'' team in the third division.

Some fans have also called for the return of Italian coach Carlos Ancelotti, who helped Madrid win its 10th European title two seasons ago. And there have been some reports that Fabio Capello, who is currently without a job, could be the next in line.

Madrid's next game is Wednesday at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League. The team has already secured a spot in the knockout stage of the tournament but is fighting Paris Saint-Germain for the top spot in its group.

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