Real Madrid boss Rafa Benitez says Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player he has ever worked with.
Benitez, who took over the Madrid job in the summer, has managed the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Wesley Sneijder and Eden Hazard during a career that has seen him coach such clubs as Liverpool, Inter Milan and Chelsea.
However, the Spaniard said Ronaldo, who on Saturday surpassed Raul Gonzalez to become the club’s all-time leading goal scorer in La Liga, ranks as the biggest talent he has come across
“He’s an excellent player, the best I have coached,” Benitez, who has also previously managed Madrid’s youth team, said at a news conference. “Now he is our player and to me he is the best.
“I didn’t have the good luck to see [Madrid legend Alfredo] Di Stefano on the pitch, but he was that. Raul, yes, I coached him and he was a competitor and a winner. Cristiano has that same mentality.”
Benitez was speaking ahead of his side’s Champions League group-stage opener against Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.
And the Madrid boss hinted that he could make some changes to his starting XI following Saturday’s 6-0 thrashing of Espanyol.
“[Team] rotation is not a whim, it is a way to take advantage of the entire team,” he said. “The fact that you switch players depends upon performance, their position.
“It is not the same for a centre-back as a winger. Cristiano is offensive. He is naturally a winger, but he always cuts in to the centre. Each player has a distinct role on the field. We look at each match to see what we need on the pitch and decide whether we rotate or not.
“It is not a policy to have rotation, it is a way to think about the function of the players in their positions. There are matches in which they get more worn out than others. Beyond that I think we have a quality squad and I want to take full advantage of them.”
Benitez conceded that trying to find room for all of his attacking talents is not easy, but that those who do play are given the freedom to express themselves.
“The attack has a lot of liberty,” he said. “In training, we develop movements that they can later decide upon based on their talent. We look at which movements one makes that the others can build upon.
“Gareth [Bale] has a lot of speed and goes deep, Cristiano goes to the centre and the play of Karim [Benzema] or James [Rodriguez] or Isco does a lot of damage to our rivals.
“Finding the balance on the field between them all is not easy, but when they understand what they have to do they are a team who can demolish on the attack, and that is why they end up in positions that are not their original ones.
“I am not going to take away the possibility for Bale to run nor for Cristiano to take his shots. You can’t take it away from them, I want them to coordinate it amongst themselves and when they confuse their opponents, they can run less.”
Luka Modric played just 56 minutes of the Espanyol win following his contributions while on international duty with Croatia.
And Benitez suggested that if there was the opportunity to give the midfielder further time to rest then he would.
“Modric is coming off national team duty,” he said. “If we have to give him fewer minutes we can but if he has to play he will. If the other day I could have used fewer players to save them I would have, but one has to analyse which positions need a rest.”
Benitez, who won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005, says he is not prioritising one competition over another this season.
“I feel the challenge to win each match, not one competition or the other,” he said. “We face each match with the mentality that we are out to win titles. To avoid having to choose between one title or the other, we go out with the mentality of winning first.”