Rafael Benitez insists it is not true he tried to teach Cristiano Ronaldo how to take free-kicks while head coach of Real Madrid.

Benitez was in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu for an ill-fated seven months between June 2015 and January 2016 before he was replaced by Zinedine Zidane.

The former Liverpool manager struggled to win over the fans and reportedly had a difficult relationship with some of Madrid's first-team stars, most notably Ronaldo.

Benitez is said to have encouraged the Portugal star to review footage of his own past performances in order to improve and, according to some reports, even attempted to instruct Madrid's record goalscorer how best to shoot from dead-ball situations.

However, Benitez, now coach of Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang, has offered his side of the story.

"That's a lie. At no time did I tell him how he had to take them," Benitez told Marca.

"The only conversation I had with Cristiano about free-kicks was in Australia, during pre-season. I told him we had analysed, together with my goalkeeper coach, the free-kicks he took when he was at Manchester United and the trajectory of the ball in relation to the position of the wall.

"Our idea then, as Liverpool coaches, was to try to counter their [United's] free-kicks. But that's it. At no time, as coach of Madrid, did I tell CR7 how free-kicks should be taken."

Benitez also denied trying to persuade Luka Modric to stop passing the ball with the outside of his right foot, insisting he merely encouraged the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner to use his instep for short, simple passes.

"I only told him that, of course, when you have a simple pass, you have to hit it with the inside [of your foot] because then it's easier for your team-mate," Benitez said. "When I played, I also used the outside, but in 10-15-metre passes.

"Anyone who knows me knows this is a lie [that I told Modric to stop]. However, it's very easy to release lies and make them appear true."

Benitez remains reluctant to talk publicly about his short-lived spell in charge of Madrid, which ended with a 2-2 draw at Valencia on January 3.

"I went a long time without talking about the club. In one moment, it occurred to me to say something... and it seemed as though I couldn't say what I thought," Benitez said.

"Therefore, what I do is not talk about Madrid. I focus on the future, which is Dalian.

"We were able to sign Lucas [Vazquez], Casemiro and [Mateo] Kovacic. Two of them are still there, and at a good level, but I don't want to talk about that.

"In six months, they let me do what they let me do. For whatever reason, there wasn't interest to do more. And that's it. I don't want to say more."

Benitez was a far more popular figure during his three years in charge of Newcastle United before he moved to China.

The 59-year-old says he turned down several offers from other lucrative leagues before taking the Dalian role, as he felt the other clubs did not represent the same meaningful challenge, although he is not discounting a return to Europe.

"I'm not thinking of coming back now," he said. "We want to develop this Chinese project. Before coming here, I had offers from different places, but they didn't meet the conditions we were looking for.

"We could have gone to other countries. There was a lot of money from several leagues where they pay a lot. But they were teams that didn't have the capacity to compete, to win.

"Here, in addition to a good contract, there's a project where nobody demands that you win titles, but to improve and leave something for the future, a legacy. And we're doing that."

He added: "The important leagues always attract me. The essential thing is that people know we are up-to-date with everything. We never stop, my team and I."

Paul Pogba remains on the sidelines but his club future is at the centre of the rumour mill.

According to a new report, Zinedine Zidane wants the Manchester United midfielder "at all costs".

Links between Pogba and Real Madrid have long been established, but it seems not all in the Spanish capital are keen on the move.

 

TOP STORY – ZIDANE WANTS TO POACH POGBA

Zidane views compatriot Pogba as "the final piece of the puzzle" for Madrid and has implored the club to secure his signature, reports Marca.

The Los Blancos boss reportedly made Pogba's arrival his only demand when he returned to the Santiago Bernabeu in March for a second stint as head coach.

However, Madrid executives are said to be sceptical about splashing at least €120million for a player who would potentially take a first-team spot from the improving Federico Valverde.

Zidane and Pogba had a "chance" encounter in Dubai in October, where the 26-year-old was undergoing warm-weather rehabilitation on his injured ankle.

ROUND-UP

- Paris Saint-Germain have been impressed with Mauro Icardi and will look to tie the on-loan striker to a permanent deal, claims CalcioMercato. The Ligue 1 champions can reportedly land the Inter outcast for €70m.

- Arsenal, West Ham and any other Premier League teams aiming to appoint Rafael Benitez would have to pay £20m to release him from his Dalian Yifang contract, says the Daily Mail.

- Copa Libertadores champions Flamengo could pull the plug on a bid for Gabriel Barbosa after growing frustrated with the forward's reluctance to finalise the arrangement, according to Fox Sports Brazil. 'Gabigol' is on loan from Inter and reportedly coverts a second chance in Europe.

- CalcioMercato reports Milan are plotting to sign PSG left-back Layvin Kurzawa when his contract expires at the end of the season.

- Jose Mourinho's Tottenham hope to capture Norwich City centre-back Ben Godfrey in January for around £25m, reports Football Insider.

The battle for Jadon Sancho's signature looks set to begin.

Four high-profile clubs in England and Spain are reportedly monitoring the teenager, one of Europe's brightest prospects.

Aggrieved with recent events at Borussia Dortmund, Sancho could now seek a new home for next season.

 

TOP STORY – CLUBS QUEUE UP FOR 'SCAPEGOAT' SANCHO

Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester United and Real Madrid are the "leading quartet" of suitors for Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, according to The Athletic.

Former club Manchester City have also asked to be "kept informed" following a string of events that have upset the 19-year-old England winger, notably his first-half substitution in the 4-0 Klassiker loss to Bayern Munich earlier this month.

Sancho's representatives are said to have deemed that move "disgraceful", paving the way for his Dortmund departure at the end of the Bundesliga season.

 

ROUND-UP

Paul Pogba's prolonged absence for Manchester United is part of a concerted effort to force through a January transfer to LaLiga giants Madrid, claims Spanish journalist Paco Gonzalez. Pogba, not sighted since September, is recovering from an ankle injury.

- According to Calciomercato, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is weighing up a move to AC Milan. The 38-year-old is available on a free transfer after leaving MLS outfit LA Galaxy. Ibrahimovic has been linked to Bologna, Tottenham, Napoli and Perth Glory.

West Ham are considering replacing Manuel Pellegrini with Chris Wilder, reports The Mirror. The Hammers are languishing 16th in the Premier League after 13 games, while Wilder's Sheffield United are riding high in sixth. Chris HughtonDavid Moyes and Rafael Benitez are reportedly among the other candidates should West Ham lose patience with Pellegrini.

- Wolves defender Owen Otasowie is wanted by Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Bundesliga team Schalke, reports The Sun. 18-year-old centre-back has also been watched by Liverpool and Arsenal.

- The Mirror reports Aston Villa are leading the race to sign Rhian Brewster on loan in January. Brewster, 19, has been unable to break his way into Liverpool's Premier League plans this term. The report states Villa face competition from Crystal PalaceLeeds United and Swansea City.

Jose Mourinho has proven a successful, and controversial figure, during his long managerial career.

Trophies have been plentiful, as have confrontations with rival managers.

There have been clashes in Italy, Spain and England as the former Porto, Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid and Manchester United has made waves throughout Europe.

Here, we look back at five of Mourinho's most heated moments.


"Demenza senile"

Premier League managers having a go at each other is nothing new, but it felt like Antonio Conte and Mourinho crossed a line in the 2017-18 season. Mourinho appeared to implicate Conte when he suggested counterparts act like "clowns" on the touchline, with the Italian often running into the crowd to celebrate Chelsea goals.

From there, the row quickly escalated. Conte hit back, suggesting Mourinho was suffering from "demenza senile", which translates as senile dementia. Mourinho famously ran down the touchline at Old Trafford when Porto scored a key Champions League winner, but Conte had gone too far and Chelsea quickly clarified that he meant "amnesia".

Having successfully provoked Conte, Mourinho blamed the media for the whole affair and referenced match-fixing allegations made against Siena during Conte's time in charge. The former Italy boss served a ban but was later cleared of any wrongdoing. 

Conte then called Mourinho a "little man" and suggested he would seek to meet his rival "in a room" to sort out their difficulties.

Poking Tito Vilanova in the eye

It was assumed that Pep Guardiola and Mourinho would renew their old rivalry when the pair were appointed by Manchester City and United respectively in 2016, but the row never boiled over.

The closest they have come to fireworks was a clash in the Old Trafford tunnel following City's 2-1 win in the Manchester derby in December 2017. Mourinho allegedly went to the away dressing room to complain over the volume of City's celebrations, only for a melee to ensue. Guardiola was not present at the time and Mourinho later blamed a "diversity in education" between the two Manchester squads for the fracas.

Mourinho and Guardiola go way back, with the Portuguese believing he should have been appointed by Barcelona before they moved for their former player. Later, while in charge of Real Madrid, Mourinho saw his side thrashed 5-0 at Camp Nou, while he was sent off for gouging the eye of Guardiola's assistant, Tito Vilanova, during the 2011 Supercopa de Espana. Mourinho also suggested Guardiola's Barcelona won the 2010-11 Champions League by virtue of generous refereeing.

Wenger a 'specialist in failure'

That Mourinho seemingly lost interest in rowing with former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was probably a sign of how far the Gunners eventually fell under the veteran Frenchman. Mourinho no longer saw Wenger as a rival. It was not always the case, though, as Wenger was the subject of one of the 56-year-old's most famous rants, when he called the Arsenal manager a "specialist in failure".

Mourinho's Chelsea were a point clear of the Gunners atop the Premier League table in February 2014 when the Portuguese hit out at a long trophy-less wait for the Gunners. "If I do that in Chelsea, eight years, I leave and don't come back," Mourinho said.

Back in 2005, Wenger was called a "voyeur" by Mourinho. "He likes to watch other people," he said. "There are some guys who, when they are at home, have a big telescope to see what happens in other families. He speaks, speaks, speaks about Chelsea."

"I don't want to win the Europa League"

Mourinho has often had a problem with managers who succeeded him at clubs, with Rafael Benitez drawing his ire on multiple occasions. 

After Mourinho left Inter, Benitez took over and claimed the Club World Cup with the Serie A side. "I thought he was going to thank me for the title I gave him," said the ex-Porto boss.

Benitez took charge of Chelsea briefly between Mourinho's two spells at Stamford Bridge, leading the Blues to Europa League glory. "I don't want to win the Europa League," Mourinho said. "It would be a big disappointment for me."

Mourinho had obviously changed his tune by 2017, when winning the Europa League earned Manchester United a route into the Champions League.

Parking the bus

At United, Mourinho's team were often accused of 'parking the bus', which is ironic as he is credited with introducing the phrase to English football.

After a 0-0 draw against Tottenham in 2004 during his first Chelsea spell, Mourinho said: "As we say in Portugal, they brought the bus and they left the bus in front of the goal."

And after Inter knocked out Barca on the way to the Champions League title in 2010, Mourinho extended the metaphor further.

"We won the tie in Barcelona, but everyone talks about Barcelona winning and says we parked the bus in front of the goal," said Mourinho. "We didn't park the bus, we parked the plane."

Jaap Stam has claimed Newcastle United approached him about replacing Rafael Benitez as manager three months before the Spaniard's contract expired.

Benitez officially left Newcastle at the end of June after failing to agree an extension for the new season.

Steve Bruce stepped into the role the following month but the Magpies were canvassing options for a new boss as early as March, according to former Manchester United defender Stam.

The Dutchman, who managed Reading for close to two seasons, could not enter into talks as he had already committed to Eredivisie side Feyenoord, who announced his appointment on March 6.

"Newcastle United called me a few days after I signed my contract at Feyenoord," Stam told Voetbal International.

"So it wasn't an option straight away. I'm a man of my word.

"It was beautiful and honourable, because people in England apparently know what I stand for as a trainer."

Stam's contract at Feyenoord took effect on June 1.

His team have won three of 10 games in the Eredivisie this term, while Newcastle are 18th in the Premier League after nine matches under Bruce.

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