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Pellegrini's future still in the balance

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Phil Minshull | 19:19 UK time, Monday, 2 November 2009

Real Madrid won their first game in four on Saturday - a 2-0 victory over modest Getafe -to put them just one point behind league leaders Barcelona, but it would be naive to think that The Sword of Damocles no longer hangs over the head of coach Manuel Pellegrini.

The Chilean got the dreaded vote of confidence from Real president Florentino Perez on Sunday and while it doesn't have the same connotations in Spain that it does in Britain, Pellegrini will be hoping and praying that his men produce a good performance in Milan on Tuesday after they went down 3-2 to the Rossoneri in the Santiago Bernabeu two weeks ago.

Speculation about Pellegrini's future was doing the rounds even before the Champions League loss to Milan.

Unappealing football, uncharacteristic mistakes by the top players, people asking just how €270 million's worth of talent could be so boring, all contributed to the cultured but uncharismatic Pellegrini being under the cosh from the Spanish public and the media.

pellegrini_san_siro_afp.jpgPellegrini's Real are a point behind leaders Barcelona in the Spanish league

Since then, the noise has reached a crescendo. The Milan loss was followed by a dismal 0-0 draw at Sporting Gijon in La Liga and then the catastrophic 4-0 drubbing by third tier Alcorcon in a Spanish Cup first leg tie.

By last Friday, the Spanish sports newspaper Marca had got nearly 70,000 responses to the question, "If Real Madrid sack Pellegrini, who do you think should be his substitute?"

Michael Laudrup lead the way with 27% of the people plumping for the Dane, his profile and appeal having been boosted by the fact that he'd turned down the Atletico Madrid job the week before and was available to start work straight away. Former Spain boss Luis Aragones came in second with 24%.

The rumour mill went into overdrive later on Friday with the additional news that former Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini had stopped taking his salary from the Italian club, leaving him free to take up another job.

Spanish betting firm Sportium contributed to Pellegrini's potential paranoia by opening a book on who would be the next Real coach.

"There have appeared the names of great coaches in the papers, but we are happy with Pellegrini and we are sure that he will finish the season positively," said Perez, speaking on Italian television in an interview.

"There needs to be patience. I'm sure we are going to experience a great season."

Can Perez be believed and will Pellegrini be breathing a sigh of relief?

Probably not, on both counts.

Perez, after all, was the man who went through six coaches in three years during the latter half of his previous stint as Real Madrid president, which ended in 2006.

Coincidently, less than four years ago in December 2005, Perez still gave Wanderley Luxemburgo the heave-ho after a 1-0 win at home to Getafe, although on that occasion Real were lying in fourth place.

At the moment, all the fingers point to November 29 as being the day which will decide Pellegrini's future, when Real visit Barcelona for El Clasico.

The match is looking like it will be a top-of-the-table clash despite the consistent piling up of points by third-placed Sevilla.

real_ap.jpgReal's defeat by minnows Alcarcon was a huge embarrassment to the nine-time European Cup winners

A good result in the Camp Nou and qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League could mean that Pellegrini still has a job a Christmas.

However, if Real suffer a meltdown in the San Siro stadium similar to the one that occurred in Alcorcon, then all bets are off about even whether he will be in charge for the Barcelona game.

Pellegrini is possibly unfamiliar with Brian Clough, but he might soon appreciate one of Old Big 'Ead's better known sayings.

"If a chairman sacks the manager he initially appointed, he should go as well," said Clough, sentiments that Pellegrini could have some thoughts about in weeks to come.

And finally...Last week, I wrote about Mallorca's Borja Valero and many of you took me to task for my suggestion that he might be, "the next great European midfielder".

In my further defence, after responding to various comments last week, I hope some people saw Mallorca's 1-0 win over Racing Santander on Sunday. The former West Brom flop was outstanding.

Valero's deft chip set up the only goal of the game and he displayed many of the qualities which I eulogised about last week.

The two main Spanish sports newspapers Marca and As both gave him three stars, the only player on either side to get top marks, and many other media made him their Man Of The Match.

Marca wrote, "Borja Valero was the rudder. His great play contributed decisively to the host's win." As added, "Immense. He's come back from the Premier (League) with more tenacity, quality and strength. He was a total nuisance (to the opposition)."

OK, that's my last words on him for quite a while as there are another 499 La Liga players to write about.

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