The Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster will be given one match to save his job when club directors meet today, after being beaten 1-0 by modest Valladolid on Saturday – the current champions' third loss in four games.
"The defeats have come in different competitions," Schuster said afterwards as if that meant the run did not count. In the eyes of some Bernabeu power-brokers the fact that Real Madrid have spread their poor form across three tournaments only makes matters worse.
They are now out of the Spanish Cup after losing in midweek to a third division team and they have complicated their Champions League qualification by losing at home to Juventus. Not since Vicente Del Bosque, who took the job in 1999 and left in 2003, has a coach survived into his third season and Schuster looks unlikely to buck that trend. Since Del Bosque, six coaches have come and gone in five years and Schuster (right), having won the league in his first season, now appears to be on borrowed time in his second. "I don't deserve to be asked that," he said after being questioned whether he was capable of turning Madrid around.
His supporters argue that his league win last season means he deserves time. But his detractors say he only won the Spanish title on the coat-tails of now-England manager Fabio Capello, who won it the previous season. If Schuster loses next week's home match with Recreativo de Huelva his critics will get their way and he will be gone. Successors are already being lined-up. Juande Ramos might be damaged goods after his failure at Tottenham but his success at Seville means his stock is still high in Spain and he has supporters inside the club.
Others favour promoting the technical secretary Miguel Angel Portugal who played for the club and is the former youth team manager. The youth team coach and former Spain winger Michel also has his supporters.
"We are content with Schuster and we have full confidence in the coaching team," said captain Raul after the game but on the pitch the players failed their coach when he needed them most. They huffed and puffed against a side that only last week were hit for six by Barcelona but they failed to score in a league match for the first time this season. As a result Nestor Canobbio's second-half strike was enough to win the game although a point-blank save from the outstanding Sergio Asenjo to deny Raul was still needed before the home fans could celebrate a famous victory.
The former Manchester United defender Gabriel Heinze added to Real's misery by getting himself sent off with three minutes left and afterwards he did little to talk up dressing room harmony. He said: "I am just upset about the defeat. I would rather not talk about the things that are being said about the coach. There is no questioning the effort and the application of the players but nothing is going our way."
Schuster's greatest defence as he hangs on to his job might turn out to be the Cristiano Ronaldo saga. The German coach warned in August against spending too long trying to tempt one player at the expense of a viable Plan B. After the Ronaldo snub, Real made late bids for Valencia striker David Villa and Villarreal winger Santi Cazorla but both turned down the move.
Now with the winger Arjen Robben missing and the striker Ruud van Nistelrooy out for the season those failings are beginning to take their toll.
Last week Madrid enquired after the out-of-favour Internazionale striker Hernan Crespo with a view to a January move. But Jose Mourinho has suggested he will not aid a potential Champions League rival saying: "If Crespo is important for Real Madrid, then he is also important for us. The winter transfer window is nearly always for those teams who did not do their work properly in the summer."