Football: Hiddink escapes the coach cull

ARRIGO SACCHI, who left Atletico Madrid as coach yesterday, has said he is leaving football for good.

After formally announcing his departure from the club in a press conference yesterday, the former Milan and Italy coach said: "Today I am leaving football for good. I am exhausted." It was not clear if Sacchi had been dismissed or if he had resigned.

Sacchi lasted seven months of a contract due to run until the end of next season. The newspaper El Pais said the two-year contract included a salary of 350m pesetas (pounds 1.5m) per season and a payment of 200m pesetas if he werer to be sacked. Financial terms of his departure were not disclosed.

Press reports said Carlos Aguiar, coach of the Second Division club Atletico de Madrid B, will serve as an interim coach while the team looks for a more permanent replacement.

If Sacchi was dismissed, he would have been the sixth coach to be fired from the Spanish league so far this season. His position was under threat after a run of three successive league defeats, leaving Atletico languishing in ninth place in Spain's Primera Division.

The appointment of the former Milan and Italy coach was the 21st by the club's president,Jesus Gil, in 12 years.

Sacchi bought in a host of new players over the summer including the Lazio pair, Vladimir Jugovic and Jose Antonio Chamot, but struggled to justify the sale to Lazio of Christian Vieri, last season's top scorer with 24 goals, after the two Italians had a public falling-out.

Earlier this season Sacchi announced that he planned to retire from the game at the end of the 1999/2000 season, when his contract at Atletico was to have expired.

Sacchi's situation did nothing to help the fortunes of Real Madrid's Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink. With Real unable to find consistent form this season, speculation was high that Hiddink might also be sacked should the side lose against Barcelona. But despite the embarrassing 3-0 defeat by their arch rivals, Real have given Hiddink a reprieve.

"Hiddink will continue," the Real chairman, Lorenzo Sanz, was quoted by El Pais as saying.

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