By Spain correspondent Miguel de Souza

Real Madrid sacked Rafael Benitez as manager on Monday to save £15.5million, Football Insider sources understand.

The Spanish giants dismissed Benitez before a deadline in his contract which would have secured him a bigger pay-off.

The former Liverpool and Chelsea boss was axed and replaced by club legend Zinedine Zidane in the same day after an emergency meetings of the club’s board.

A Real source has told Football Insider that a clause in Benitez’s contract stipulated that he was entitled to a year’s pay-off if he was dismissed before a specific date in January.

However, the 55-year-old would have secured three years of his £7.75million-a-year salary, a total of £23.25million, if he were sacked after the nominated date.

This explains the timing of the dismissal as, even though Benitez had received sustained criticism all season, Real had collected seven points from their last three league matches and are just four points behind leaders Atletico Madrid in the La Liga table.

Benitez’s team drew 2-2 against Gary Neville’s Valencia on Sunday despite twice going into the lead. In their previous two games, they had beaten Real Sociedad 3-1 and annihilated Rayo Vallecano 10-2.

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Madrid have also qualified for the Champions League knockout stages, where they will face Roma in the last-16 of the competition.

Zidane was unveiled as the new manager at a hastily arranged press conference on Monday evening. The Frenchman, 43, was Carlo Ancelotti’s number two during the 2013-14 season before taking over as manager of Castilla, the Real ‘B’ team.

Benitez took from Ancelotti as manager at the Bernabeu last summer but has faced sustained criticism throughout his reign.

One of the key factors in the dismissal of the former Chelsea, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Napoli and Valencia manager is that he is said to have had a fractious relationship with senior members of the Real squad, including Cristiano Ronaldo.