Benitez, 55, had only been in charge at Real for six months. The final nail in his coffin was reportedly Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Valencia, which left Real third in La Liga, four points behind leaders Atletico Madrid.
The sacking comes just six weeks after Real president Florentino Perez gave Benitez a vote of confidence following a 4-0 meltdown at home to Barcelona on November 21.
Benitez was unpopular with Real fans. Also, several senior players reportedly asked Perez two weeks ago to replace Benitez with Zidane.
Benitez is the 10th coach to be sacked by the controversial Perez in his stormy 13 years at the helm.
His sacking of Carlo Ancelotti to bring in Benitez last summer had been heavily criticised, and led to calls for Perez to resign.
Perez looked nervous when announcing the sacking of Benitez and refused to take questions after reading out a prepared statement.
“This is a difficult decision, especially for me, because Benitez is a great professional and a magnificent person.”
Perez said he had “total confidence” in Zidane, despite his lack of top-line coaching experience.
“For him (Zidane), the word “impossible” does not exist,” Perez said. “He is one of the great figures in the history of football … He has faced important challenges throughout his life, with dedication and talent. He has our total confidence and support.”
Zidane, who helped Real win the Champions League in 2002 and France the World Cup in 1998, is the first Frenchman to coach Real.
“Thank you for this important opportunity,” he replied to Perez. “Now we have to do our best with the team until the end of the season. I think everything will turn out well.
“The important thing is to start work with the squad tomorrow. I am very excited, even more than when I first came here as a player. I am going to put my whole heart into this job.”
Zidane, 43, who played for Real from 2001 to 2006, was the coach of the club’s Castilla nursery team from 2014 without much success after a successful season as assistant to head coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Zidane’s assistant will be Santiago Solari, 39, who played alongside Zidane for Real from 2001-05.
Zidane’s first game in charge will be at home to Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.
Local News Matters
Media diversity is under threat in Australia – nowhere more so than in South Australia. The state needs more than one voice to guide it forward and you can help with a donation of any size to InDaily. Your contribution goes directly to helping our journalists uncover the facts. Please click below to help InDaily continue to uncover the facts.