Rafa Benitez has chosen his side in the rumoured battle between Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale at Real Madrid, saying the former Manchester United icon is the only "indisputable" player in the squad. The former Liverpool and Chelsea gaffer claims he is not playing favourites, but that the Welshman has to understand Ronaldo is the only player capable of scoring goals at that level.
Ronaldo has been the centrifuge for the La Liga giants since his £80m ($122m) move from Manchester United in the summer of 2009, scoring 321 goals in 305 appearances for Los Blancos. But his role looked under threat after Benitez handed Bale a spot in the number 10 role, with reports suggesting Ronaldo was expected to move to the number nine role as Rafa was unsure if the 30 year old could continue playing on the flanks.
Benitez fuelled this conversation in pre-season, refusing to go on record if he thought Ronaldo was "the best player in the world".
"To say that he is one of the best in the world I believe is sufficient. It is like asking my daughter if she prefers my wife or me. The father or the mother. It's not easy. Ronaldo, Bale, all of them – they are so good. For me it's not a problem. James [Rodriguez], Isco, [Karim] Benzema, Ronaldo or Bale, we have an option with all of them," Benitez said in July.
Ronaldo voiced later his anger with Benitez during a training session, sparking suggestions he was not happy with the Spaniard's methods. Benitez has since tried to massage the ego of the Portuguese star by lavishing praise on him in press conferences, even going as far to call him a better player than Lionel Messi.
Speaking before the upcoming match against Athletic Bilbao, Benitez has said that Ronaldo is the only untouchable player at Real Madrid – suggesting he will be immune to any forthcoming rotations.
"He was one of the players that ran the most in our game against Espanyol and he was our fastest player. That means that he will tire, so we have to carefully manage his stamina. But right now he's in perfect condition. Here, there is only one player who is indisputable and that's Cristiano, the rest of the squad are good players," he said, as quoted by AS.
Asked what Bale thinks about that, he replied: "I talk to him in English and he understands what he has to do to be competitive.
"The squad is special and they know that Cristiano promises 60 goals a season and that is added value for the team. When I compared Ronaldo to [Spanish basketball player] Pau Gasol what I meant was that we have a brilliant team and a player who makes a difference.
"It's not about favouring anyone. I've never shown favouritism towards any player, it's about enabling someone who can score 60 goals a season. Benzema is also scoring regularly."