21 November 2009 ~ While the Premier League still awaits its first managerial casualty of the season, the sack race is well under way in Spain. In October Abel Resino become the latest victim of Atlético Madrid's electric chair, while Racing Santander dismissed Juan Carlos Mandiá last week, just five months after his appointment. The latest manager to shuffle into the firing line is Real Madrid's Manuel Pellegrini whose credibility has been undermined by a humiliating 4-1 aggregate defeat in the cup to third-tier side Alcorcón, a catastrophe dubbed the Alcorconazo by the salivating Spanish media.
Stirred into action by a mass waving of hankies and chants of "Pellegrini out" during the second leg of the tie, Real's grandees hastily convened a crisis meeting before letting it be known that the Chilean had three games to save his neck, a trial period that concludes next weekend with a trip to the Camp Nou of all places.
After featuring only fifth on Florentino Pérez's summer wish-list, Pellegrini cannot be too surprised that the stock he built up in five successful seasons with Villarreal should evaporate so quickly. After all, instability is the default setting at the Bernabéu, where 23 managerial changes have been made in the same time that Alex Ferguson has been in charge at Old Trafford. With the fickle Madrid fans having already passed judgement, and unemployed luminaries such as Roberto Mancini and Luis Aragonés recently expressing an interest in the post, the chances are that a 24th name will shortly be added to that list.
Though he did his cause little good by turning up late for training one day and was ridiculed for fielding an overly defensive side for the visit of Alcorcón, the fact that Pellegrini should have his patiently constructed reputation shredded after five months is an indictment of the capriciousness that plagues La Liga as a whole. Lacking the protection afforded to their English counterparts by the binding arbitration agreement Premier League clubs now adhere to, Spain's top-flight coaches are a vulnerable breed. The twitchy-fingered presidents they work for are reluctant to grant the independence and power enjoyed by the likes of Arsène Wenger, which were said to be the stumbling block for his proposed close-season switch to Madrid. Factor in an unwillingness to wait for success and intense media pressure generated by the need to win ratings wars and boost circulation figures, and it's easy to see why Liga coaches tend to have a short life span.
Now into his fifth straight season with Mallorca, Gregorio Manzano is the league's longest-serving manager, though the chances of him or anyone else doing a Ferguson are remote. "I doubt Ferguson would last 22 years here," noted a wry Pep Guardiola last year when the possibility of building a similar empire at Barcelona was put to him. And if the impregnable Pep can't do it, then what chance does Pellegrini have? James Calder