Coleman's reign in Spain hangs by thread thanks to political football

With no money and little support, Fulham's former manager may be just one game from the sack
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The Independent Football

By the time the floodlights go out tonight in Real Sociedad's Anoeta Stadium, Chris Coleman's future in Spain could be a little clearer. If his team have lost, he probably does not have one... but if they have beaten Malaga – the leaders of La Liga's second tier – he will have drastically improved his chances of seeing in the new year in San Sebastian, should he still want to.

The former Fulham manager was promised time to build a young home-grown side when he took over the club in the summer, but the president who made that promise resigned just over a week ago. All notions of slow growth have been forgotten and if results do not improve markedly, the elections on 3 January will probably be won by a president who will bring in his own coach.

"It is a three-year project here," says Coleman. "We need to bring in the young players and choose carefully when to play them. Unfortunately now there is so much pressure on the players it is very difficult but we will work as hard as we can until January 3 which is another five games."

It will not be a failure if he goes unless you count "failure to work a miracle". Real Sociedad, just like Real Madrid, is a political minefield of presidents, ex-presidents and wannabe presidents all chasing votes from fans with massive expectations under a fierce media spotlight. Unfortunately, unlike Real Madrid, there is no money. Madrid have their own private plane to fly to Champions' League games whereas Sociedad take the team bus everywhere, even if that means an eight-hour road trip.

Ahead of last week's long haul back to the Basque coast after a 1-1 draw in Tarragona, Coleman admitted it was more the lack of patience than the lack of money that was grinding him down.

"We get back about four in the morning which is not great but it's not an excuse," he said. "We have only lost one game away from home so I'm even thinking if I get back to England coaching again I will insist on driving everywhere. At Fulham we had a terrible away record and we used to fly to games.

"But it's other things that I am finding really difficult. I was spoiled really with my first job being in the Premier League because although there is a lot of pressure there, here you find yourself fighting very different battles."

Those battles surround the Spanish phenomenon of the elected president. When, last summer, the 46-year-old lawyer Maria de la Peña was voted in, she installed Coleman on the advice of Sociedad legend John Toshack, who won a Spanish Cup and finished second in the league in three spells at the club.

Coleman was told there was no money but that there would be time. He said: "I came here because I wanted the opportunity to build a good young new team. I haven't had to worry about the transfer window because we haven't got any money.

"But some of the young players are not quite ready yet and it might take a season, it might take two seasons. You can't just build a team overnight."

However, after an indifferent start and De la Peña resigning, overnight success is now being demanded. The other existing board members stayed and insisted that Coleman did likewise, but the January election could mean a clean sweep. There is even talk of backing from a Chinese consortium which wants to buy 30 per cent of the club.

"I don't know where all the stories are coming from," Coleman said. "But every story that attacks the club is definitely someone who is trying to upset us. I come out and I do the press conferences before games and I get asked the same negative questions every week."

The press have not backed him and made the most of his late show for a press conference two weeks ago – Coleman doing himself no favours by first saying his washing machine had flooded his flat and later admitting it was an excuse to cover a late night out.

The club's visitor-friendly 32,000 state-of-the-art stadium is also a curse. "They should take away the running track," said Coleman. "The linesmen are so far back from the fans that if they get one wrong, it's all right because they are miles away. At the club's old ground the fans were on top of you and that made for a much better atmosphere."

That helps explain just two home wins this season. Another failure tonight against Malaga and what Coleman describes as a "fantastic learning curve" would probably be almost at an end, with a respectable clutch of ambitious English clubs ready to offer him a new challenge.

But a win and he could yet get that essential ingredient to any three-year plan – three years to carry it out. "I don't want to walk away," he said. "That would be like walking away from a fight. I don't know what is going to happen. Real Sociedad will have a good young team – whetherit is under my management I don't know."

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