Real Madrid centre-back Pepe claims former coach Rafael Benitez told him he was not needed at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Benitez endured an unhappy seven-month spell in the Spanish capital before he was replaced by club great Zinedine Zidane in January.
During Benitez’s tenure, defender Pepe was often overlooked in favour of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.
However, the 33-year-old, who has been at Madrid since 2007, has been an integral player in the team’s renaissance over the past few months and played a crucial role as they beat Manchester City 1-0 on Wednesday to set up a Champions League final versus city rivals Atletico Madrid.
“It is a matter of hard work. At the beginning of the year Benitez told me he did not need me, that I was third choice,” he told Cadena Cope.
“But I worked hard and today I have been here nine years and people know what you can expect from me.
“It’s normal, you have Sergio and Raphael, who are younger than me. But if you work and you give something in every workout, you will have the opportunity.”
As well as reaching the Champions League final, Madrid have won 10 straight La Liga matches and are just one point adrift of leaders Barcelona with two games remaining in a thrilling title race.
And Pepe hopes Zidane is allowed to continue as head coach next season.
“When Zidane came in people had doubts,” he added. “But he has led us to a Champions League final. I hope he continues because in time I think he will be one of the best coaches.
“Zidane for me is a very good coach. He is young. I could be wrong but I think he is the first coach who can win the Champions League in his first [season].”
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