Rafael Benitez has left Real Madrid after just seven months in charge, with Zinedine Zidane immediately unveiled as the new head coach.
Benitez replaced Carlo Ancelotti in June, signing a three-year contact with his home-town club, but he has lasted only 25 competitive games in charge of the Spanish giants.
The announcement at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium comes a day after a 2-2 draw at Valencia kept Madrid from moving closer to Barcelona and leaders Atletico Madrid in the Spanish league.
Reports that Benitez was due to be sacked first emerged after the Clasico defeat to Barcelona in November – but grew in intensity earlier on Monday afternoon.
Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez did not waste time making the announcement at Monday evening’s press conference at the Bernanbeu.
“Hello and welcome. I invite you all here today to announce that we have terminated the contract of Rafa Benitez,” said Pérez.
“I would like to make it clear that he is a great professional.”
The 55-year-old found himself under increasing pressure due to some indifferent performances and damaging defeats, most notably the 4-0 home loss to Barcelona in November – and on Monday evening Madrid confirmed they had parted company with the Spaniard.
Benitez’s final game in charge was Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Valencia, a result which left Madrid in third spot in the Primera Division table, four points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid.
The 10-time European champions have now made former player Zidane – who was in charge of the club’s B side Castilla – their 14th coach in the last 13 years.
“I want to thank the club and thank the president for giving me the opportunity to train this club.
“It’s the best club in the world with the best fan-base in the world. I want to do my very best to ensure that this club at the end of the season will have a trophy.
“I will be working hard with all the players and I think it will go well. I am looking forward to working with everybody tomorrow. Tomorrow is when the work starts.
“Thank you to everyone. It is an important day for me, it’s an emotional day, even more emotional than the day I signed as a player for the club.
“I will put all the heart I have into this job for the club. Thank you very much.”
In total, former Liverpool, Chelsea and Napoli boss Benitez won 16 of his 25 games in charge, drawing five and losing four.
Three of those defeats came against Barca, Sevilla and Villarreal in La Liga, while the other was when Copa del Rey opponents Cadiz were awarded a walkover victory due to Madrid – who actually won the game itself 3-1 – fielding an ineligible player.
In the last month Madrid looked to have eased some of the heat on Benitez with an 8-0 Champions League victory over Malmo and a 10-2 Primera Division mauling of Rayo Vallecano – but the club have now decided enough is enough.
Madrid, who are through to the last 16 of the Champions League where they will face Roma, are next in action against Deportivo La Coruna at the Bernabeu on Saturday.
Zidane, who was Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant in 2014 when Madrid won the Champions League, has been coaching Madrid’s “B” team in the third division.
Perez paid tribute to the 55-year-old former Liverpool boss as “an absolute professional and a wonderful person”, before handing responsibility for reviving the club’s fortunes to Zidane.
He said: “Zinedine Zidane is a man who knows better than anyone what it means to stand at the front and lead Real Madrid.
“It is a difficult squad to lead, but he throughout his career and throughout his life also has always been able to face up to huge challenges.
“Zinedine Zidane, this is your club, this is your stadium and you have all our support.
“Zidane, you are from this moment the trainer, the manager of Real Madrid. The word ‘impossible’ does not exist for you, Zinedine Zidane.”