Madrid's galacticos look to stylish Pellegrini
After spending a fortune to sign the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, the pressure is firmly on Real Madrid and its new coach Manuel Pellegrini to return the Spanish powerhouse to its winning ways.sports Updated: Aug 25, 2009 12:07 IST
After spending a fortune to sign the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, the pressure is firmly on Real Madrid and its new coach Manuel Pellegrini to return the Spanish powerhouse to its winning ways following a disappointing campaign last season.
New club president Florentino Perez has spent a quarter of a billion Euros ($360 million), including a record €94 million ($131 million) on ex-Manchester United winger Ronaldo, in a bid to reinvigorate the Real squad following a second place finish in the league.
But the responsibility for ensuring this new galactico project lives up to the billing falls to Pellegrini.
"I'm ready," said Pellegrini, a 55-year-old Chilean who moved to the Spanish capital after five seasons at Villarreal. "I have an absolute conviction in what will happen on the field and the support of the group, the players. That is what always helps any project." Florez chose Pellegrini after he took Villarreal, a small Mediterranean club, to the Champions League twice, including a run to 2006 semifinals, with seductive football reminiscent of Premier League side Arsenal.
While Pellegrini's results are impressive, Madrid also values his approach to the game.
"Football," he said when still at Villarreal, "is not an industry, there is an aesthetic responsibility toward the fans who go to see things that they could not do themselves." Real has won two La Liga titles over the last five years, but in that time has failed to live up to the club's reputation as an exponent of beautiful football.
Just as worrisome, the record nine-time European champion hasn't reached the Champions League quarterfinals in five attempts, despite lavish spending and six coaches.
Archrival Barcelona, meanwhile, has just completed an unprecedented treble to claim the Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey titles, and its attacking play has made the club the darling of world football.
Perez expects Pellegrini to bring to Real his trademark fluid style and European experience, especially with the Champions League final being played at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in May. "We've put together a squad that now has the potential and responsibility to compete in all three competitions at the highest level and I'm sure we are going to manage that," said Pellegrini, who expects stability to follow. "Teams with a long-term project end up having greater success."
A further challenge is likely to lie in handling the egos of this team of superstars and fending off pressures from Real Madrid's executives and fans.
"That is the greatest challenge of this project. Many of the players come here after being top players at their clubs. No, no it won't be easy," Pellegrini said. "No player, however expensive, has a definite place on the team."
With new signing Karim Benzema already impressing and Gonzalo Higuain in form, the forward line will be a conundrum for the coach, particularly given veteran striker Raul Gonzalez's status as a fan favorite and Ronaldo's price tag.
"No doubt many times (Raul will) have to sit out and he'll understand that," Pellegrini said. "I'm sure he'll be the first to support this project."
The soft-spoken Pellegrini, a former civil engineering student who lists languages, painting and music among his interests, has experience of standing up to big-name players after sending Juan Roman Riquelme packing from Villarreal in 2007.
"Real Madrid won't change me," he said.