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MADRID — Real Madrid hired Rafa Benitez as its new coach on Wednesday, replacing the fired Carlo Ancelotti.

The Spanish team said in a statement that the 55-year-old Benitez has agreed to a three-year contract.

Benitez, who began his coaching career in Madrid’s youth academy, will return to the Spanish league where he led Valencia to titles in 2002 and 2004 before joining Liverpool, where he won the 2005 Champions League.

Ancelotti guided Madrid to its 10th European Cup in 2014, but was let go after the team failed to win a major trophy this season.

Benitez is Madrid’s eighth coach in 10 years. He will be tasked with ending Madrid’s dismal record of one Spanish title in seven seasons despite counting on Cristiano Ronaldo and record revenues.

The new coach, who arrived two days ago from Napoli, will be presented at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday afternoon, the club said.

This season, Madrid finished two points behind Barcelona in the Spanish league and lost to Juventus in the Champions League semifinals.

Benitez will need to grapple with three problems that dogged Ancelotti in his final season: find a way to rise above Barcelona; win the Champions League; and get the best out Madrid’s star-studded squad.

Playing second fiddle to Barcelona has always grated with club president Florentino Perez and Madrid’s board of directors. The club’s last Spanish league title came in 2012 under Jose Mourinho, while Barcelona has won five titles in seven seasons, the other one going to Atletico Madrid in 2014.

Apart from being considered a hard-working disciplinarian who believes in player rotation, Benitez is regarded as one of the games thinkers.

Benitez left Naples early Monday, a day after coaching Napoli’s last game, a 4-2 home loss to Lazio.

Had Napoli won, it would have finished third and secured a Champions League spot. Napoli finished fifth.

The Associated Press

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