Comparing the relationship between Florentino Perez and former Sporting Director Jorge Valdano to Mr. Burns and Smithers from The Simpsons is all too tempting. Especially when reflecting on the goings-on of the cash-splashed summer of 2009 when the Real Madrid president was beginning his second tenure in charge of the club.
Perez had been through his sticker album of famous footballers and signed Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema in a huge splurge. The poor sap who had to manage this gaggle of Galacticos was a decision left up to the assistant, considering it seems unlikely that the Real Madrid president was familiar with any names aside from the then-unavailable Jose Mourinho.
“Who is this Manuel Pellegrini? Never heard of him,” is how the question is imagined from Perez to his Argentinean underling, when the former Villarreal boss was unveiled, with considerably less fuss and attention than his three star signings who were paraded at the Santiago Bernabeu.
As it turned out, Pellegrini was an astute selection by the Sporting Director with the serious, experienced, thoughtful, dignified South American having turned Villarreal from a small town club into Champions League semifinalists in 2006 over five years in charge. The constant problem that current Malaga manager had during a tumultuous spell at Madrid, is that Pellegrini was not a certain Portuguese coach, and therefore an irritating stopgap for Perez to endure.
This attitude explains why his coach was shut out of the tactical planning at the club in terms of squad selection. Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, two key parts of Pellegrini’s strategy for the season, were sold off shortly before the start of the campaign, to help fund the pricey new arrivals.
“I missed having a debate on sporting issues with the coach included,” was the reflection from Pellegrini to Spanish radio station, Cadena Ser, in May 2010 soon after being sacked just one season into a two-year deal. From that point on, communication seemed to worsen with the trainer revealing that he had not spoken to his club president since August of the previous year.
The feeling was while Real Madrid’s performances in La Liga were quite acceptable with the side finishing on 96 points, behind a truly outstanding Barcelona, the trainer was doomed from the off with two many enemies within the club and outside, too. The biggest of those was leading influential sports daily, Marca, a paper that ran a vicious campaign against an undeserving figure.
The Madrid manager certainly did not help himself in the face of such slings and arrows when his side were defeated over two legs by lower league Alcorcon in the Copa del Rey, with headlines calling for an instant dismissal.
Matters worsened with a defeat in the last 16 stages to Lyon in the Champions League at the beginning of 2010. Pellegrini appeared to be without a single friend in the local media. Conspiracies suggested that this was because the Chilean had no friends in the boardroom of Real Madrid either, to offer protection from increasingly personal attacks.
When Mourinho became available, fresh from winning the Champions League with Inter Milan, Pellegrini’s number was up and the Chilean was sacked at the start of what was supposed to be a long-term project. “I came here with high hopes and great pride. Unfortunately, I was not able to do what I wanted and I had differences from the beginning of the season,” he said.
Detractors will say that Pellegrini was not dynamic enough to handle the job of Real Madrid manager, and that the poor performances in the Copa del Rey and Champions League reflect a coach that was not at the level of one of the world’s biggest jobs. However, the 59-year-old had built the foundations of the team that Mourinho went on to manage to a league title two seasons later.
His players enjoyed a sense of peace and tranquility in the dressing room that was to be lost during the spell of the South American’s successor. “He is a coach that should have stayed at Real Madrid,” stated Guti, the former Real Madrid midfielder, after Pellegrini’s dismissal. Only speculation can say what would have happened had Guti had his way.
Sadly, that was never going to happen with his boss not wanting Pellegrini on the Santiago Bernabeu bench in the first place.