Three leagues, three managers/head coaches with a lot at stake for them next season. Manuel Pellegrini starts at Real Madrid after five relatively successful season at small Villareal, with the pleasure or burden of coaching the most expensive players in the world. Arsene Wenger begins his 14th season at Arsenal with more and more voices around him and the club about his time being up, and Claude Puel at Lyon will try to deal with the club’s new and forgotten situation – not being the champions. Plus, good chance Benzema will be leaving.
Manuel Pellegrini – Real Madrid, Spanish La Liga
Being the manager of Real Madrid always brings tons of pressure with the job, maybe more than in any other major soccer club in Europe. He is the 12th Manager at the Santiago Bernabeu in the last 20 years, not exactly a long term job it seems. Pellegrini would probably be on this list even if it wasn’t for the special circumstances. But there are special, and expensive circumstances for the Chilean manager.
Real Madrid signed Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo this past month and from the rumors that are flying around the media and web, the cheque book hasn’t been closed yet. Pellegrini, willingly or not, is now the Manager of the two most expensive players of all time. Despite being very successful in Villareal in his five year tenure with El Submarino Amarillo (The Yellow Submarine), leading the small Valencian club twice to the Champion League, reaching the Semi Final once and the Quarter Final last season, Real Madrid is a whole different story.
Real Madrid lost the Championship last year and were knocked out of the Champions League in the first knockout round for the fifth straight year. They lost twice in the Super Classico to Barcelona, including an historic 6-2 humilhiation at home to put them out of the title race, and they haven’t won the Champions League since 2002, ages for a club like Real.
Pellegrini has, has to win the league title and at least reach the Champion League Semi Final to have a chance of keeping his job, but that isn’t a given. Many managers who won only one of those at a certain year didn’t continue the next. And there’s the price tag hanging over the team, and him. Real did pay Villareal 4 million Euros to get him, and so far have spent 160 million Euros on their new galaticos. Pellegrini’s job, Florentino Perez’ job and also the financial future of Real Madrid rest on his shoulders and ability to guide the new Galacticos to immediate success next season.
Arsene Wenger – Arsenal, English Premier League
A year ago it was pretty wild to suggest Wenger in a list like this. When 2007-2008 ended, Wenger had plenty to be happy about, despite missing out on the Championship. He finished third with a bunch of youngsters led by Cesc Fabregas in Midfield and Emmanuel Adebayor up front after selling Thierry Henry to Barcelona. These youngsters weren’t given much of a chance to challenge after Henry left to Spain. They led the Premier League for a while before burning out physically and mentally late in the season and were 5 minutes and a dubious penalty call on Ryan Babel away from a Champion League Semi Final. Lots of promise for 2008-2009?
Maybe, but this past season didn’t turn out very well for Arsenal and Wenger, which left is untouchable status at the club a tad questionable. What went wrong? A lot of things – you can blame it on the injuries, with Fabregas missing most of the first half of the season, with Adebayor on and off the injury list, with Andrei Arshavin coming in mid season and not in the beginning. Above all, it seemed that Wenger has lost his touch. Maybe, despite having an amazing eye for talent and leading the team to three league titles between 1998-2004, two of them doubles and the last one (2004) coming with an undefeated record attached to it.
It seemed that Arsenal were slowly losing pace and place among the big four and they actually weren’t too far from finishing fifth and missing out on the Champions League. The way they were humiliated by Manchester United in the second leg of the Champions League semi final help. Wenger seems maybe to have fallen in love with what he heard about himself, about his youngster grooming abilities that he forgot about the need to buy players, and that it wasn’t all about youngsters when he won the league titles.
This year, although not signing anyone new yet, Arsene Wenger will have to mount a serious title challenge and probably win a trophy, FA Cup, Champions League or a League title before the ground starts shaking at the Emirates. For Wenger, that Real Madrid job that has a knack of being available almost every end of season might become pretty tempting.
Claude Puel, Olympique Lyonnais, French Ligue 1
I was actually Puel kept his job after last season ended. But maybe the directors at Lyon are a bit more patient the the typical heads of club, which explains why they won 7 straight league titles. But still, Puel can’t be feeling comfortable about his place in the organization, right?
It had to happen sometime, maybe Puel was just the wrong man and the wrong time, but he still is the first manager not to win the league title with Lyon since 2001. He got knocked out in the French Cup’s fourth round by the club he left, Lille and also got knocked out of the Champions League in the first knockout round by Barcelona, but hey, that was Barcelona.
Lyon struggled to score last season, and Karim Benzema with 17 league goals seemed to be the only scoring option many times. Lyon did lead the league about halfway into the season but lost their grip on the top spot and eventually left the championship battle between Marseille and the eventual champions, Bordeaux. Lyon finished third, their lowest since 2000.
Puel needs to pray he get some money for strengthening his offense and getting some new and hungrier players, but that might come at the cost of Benzema, who seems to be closer to leaving France to England or Spain than staying and attempting to retain the league title. A shaky start in 2009-2010 and Puel might find himself without a job before 2009 is over.