Rafa Benitez causes, then plays down tension with Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo

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Don’t look now, but Rafael Benitez’s time as manager of Real Madrid isn’t off to the most promising of starts.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup ]

The former Liverpool and Napoli manager, who took over at the Santiago Bernabeu following the firing of Carlo Ancelotti this summer, has reportedly already irked his best and most important player, Cristiano Ronaldo, just two weeks into his first preseason in charge of the team.

Not only did Benitez spring a bit of tactical news on the rest of the world without first telling Ronaldo — he’ll be playing as a striker this season, apparently — but during a recent training session, the Portuguese superstar reportedly blew up on his new manager not once, but twice.

Upon Benitez’s departure, Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik recently hit out at the Spaniard’s unorthodox and lax training standards. If only someone had warned Florentino Perez that getting rid of Ancelotti in order to hire Benitez wasn’t the smartest of plays for Real Madrid.

As reports of the tension between Benitez and Ronaldo ran roughshod over the Internet the last 36 hours, Benitez attempted on Thursday to downplay the severity of the situation. He did so with lots of unsolicited praise for the world’s second-best player.

Benitez, on Ronaldo, from Soccerly:

“Luckily, I have had the opportunity this week to spend quite a few days with him.

“And I can say that he’s competitive, he likes to win, and for that reason he is the best in the world.

“I would like all players to have that desire to win and to compete. You’ve all seen him train today and I think his performance will be up to scratch.

“I talk to all the players a lot. I have had the opportunity to talk to him, too. We talked about football and yes, he is competitive.

“Seeing Ronaldo up close training, I can see that he’s doing very well.”

If Madrid are to challenge what looks to be an increasingly untouchable Barcelona side for the La Liga title this season, Benitez is going to need the very best from Ronaldo. In order to get the very best from Ronaldo, he’s going to need him on his side and buying into every word that comes out of his mouth.

As things presently stand, that doesn’t seem to be the case.