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Real defeat leaves Pellegrini doomed

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Phil Minshull | 11:30 UK time, Thursday, 11 March 2010

"Adios Madrid, Adios Pellegrini" - that was the headline that flashed on the home page of the Spanish sports newspaper Marca a minute or so after the Spanish giants were eliminated from the Champions League.

In the electronic information age, the writing for Real's urbane Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini was not so much on the wall but on the computer screen and the message could not have been any clearer.

The words were slightly modified this morning but the meaning remained the same and Pellegrini knows now that, regardless of anything else that may have been said in public, he will not have a job at the club by the end of June.

The dream of club president Florentino Perez that Real Madrid would be chasing a record 10th European crown in front of their own fans when the Santiago Bernabeu acts hosts this season's Champions League final on 22 May has ended prematurely.

The club's fans passed silent judgement on their team's ineptitude at the end of the match after seeing Real squander a series of chances.

After an initial roar of support following Lyon's equaliser by Bosnian teenager Miralem Pjanic, with many in the 80,000 capacity crowd still believing that Real could get two goals back in the last 15 minutes, the historic stadium gradually went quieter and quieter as the minutes ticked by.

There was no fightback akin to Saturday's performance against Sevilla, when Real recovered from 2-0 down to win 3-2, thanks to Rafael Van de Vaart's injury-time goal.

Instead, an eery hush had descended by the time the Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli blew his whistle, the silence only punctured by a jubilant and joyous contingent of around 2,000 Lyon fans squashed into an upper corner of the Fondo Norte stand.

Manuel Pellegrini
Many believe the defeat to Lyon will cost Manuel Pellegrini his job

Perez has made it obvious, not in the wild bombastic way of some of his predecessors but in his own conservative manner, that only a good run in the Champions League and winning La Liga would be enough to save Pellegrini's job for next season.

Crashing out at the last 16 stage for an astonishing sixth successive year, a streak that covers both of Perez's terms as president, having resigned in 2006 before making his return last summer, is not good enough.

Perez's sidekick Jorge Valdano was pushed in front of the media on Wednesday night to give the expected answer to the obvious question.

"Yes, he (Pellegrini) has a contract, which is why the club's plans are for Manuel to continue being the coach of Real Madrid.

"Pellegrini is the coach of Real Madrid, we respect him, of course, and we trust in his work. There is still a lot to be done," said the former Real Madrid coach, whose official title is now Director General and Presidential Aide.

But the phrase 'dead man walking' was one that immediately came to mind upon hearing those words being uttered.

The two questions now being asked are: "Will Pellegrini even make it to the end of the season?" and "Who will replace him?"

The answer to the first will depend on the result of the Real Madrid v Barcelona match on 11 April. The second 'El Clasico' encounter of the season is starting to look like the match that could decide the title.

As far as possible replacements are concerned, Jose Mourinho is the name that was regularly mentioned when Pellegrini appeared to be in trouble last November and remains the favoured option of most fans.

I have a feeling, however, that Perez will be looking for someone more malleable.

I'm sure also that Perez will also put in his customary phone call to Arsene Wenger's representatives, probably to get his customary polite refusal.

Some would argue that Perez has every right to demand that heads should roll after a result that could cost Real up to €100 million in the next 12 months, and potentially more in the long run.

I wrote on Tuesday about the financial affairs of Real - the club is at least €300 million in debt, and it is not money they can easily afford to squander.

Real will probably pocket €16 million for their run in the Champions League - the exact figure is not known yet because they will also get some money from the TV market pool monies as well as the published match bonuses - but that is only a quarter of the amount that they could have got had they lifted the trophy.

Perez will have also have seen tens of millions of euros worth of ticket sales, merchandise sales, money from sponsorship deals as well as future contract negotiations evaporate before his eyes.

Rather than spend time talking to Real players after the game, not that many were in the mood to talk according to my colleagues, I hung around the exit to the Palco de Honor, the directors' box as it would be called at British grounds. I didn't see Perez but the mood was grim among the majority of the other members of Real's board.

They knew that the next few days and weeks will be spent readjusting their spreadsheet forecasts and talking to their allies in the banks about the club's outstanding loans.

One thing is for sure, Real's next coach will not witness Perez spending €260 million on his behalf this coming summer.

Finally, here's a bit of priceless trivia which may interest you.

Tuesday night was only the second time in a European competition that Real Madrid failed to overturn a first leg 1-0 defeat when the second leg has been in the Santiago Bernabeu. The first? When Ipswich ground out a 0-0 draw there in the 1973-74 UEFA Cup.


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