Of a reserved and disciplined nature, Manuel Luis Pellegrini Ripamonti joined the Chilean sports pantheon in 2009 when Real Madrid, the most important club of the 20th century signed him to coach its multimillion dollar team, including stars like Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo, the most expensive player transfer in football history.
With his characteristic restraint, at the moment of his presentation as the new coach for the Madrid team the 55-year-old civil engineer from Santiago joked that it was a “dream,” as he had said to his friends when he began his career 23 years earlier that he would end up coaching the men in white uniforms from Chamartín.
The fifth of eight children and married to Carmen Gloria Pucci, with whom he had Manuel, Juan Ignacio and Nicolas, he comes from an accommodated family that, while it never prevented him from pursuing his main passion, always demanded that he study. That is why he had to make his classes at the Catholic University fit in with sports in the Universidad de Chile football club, where he played professionally between 1973 and 1986.
The coach, whose philosophy combines defensive discipline with freedom of attack, coached Chilean clubs like Palestino, O’Higgins, and Universidad de Chile, the second most popular in the country, which he led to relegation in 1988, one of his main setbacks in an otherwise successful career. He obtained his first revenge with Universidad Católica, coming in second place twice and winning the Chile and Inter-American cups.
He won a local tournament while in charge of Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito (Ecuador), in addition to reaching the third round of the Copa Libertadores (1999), and then began to obtain victories in the major leagues of football by winning the Argentine Closing Tournament and a Mercosur Cup with San Lorenzo, the first international tournament that the popular club from Buenos Aires had ever won.
In 2002, Pellegrini’s success allowed him to sign on with River Plate, one of the most prestigious institutions in the Americas and one of the two largest in Argentina, where he came in second in a South American Cup and won a closing tournament (2003).
In 2004 Pellegrini caused surprise by being hired to coach Spanish football for Villareal, a small club in the Valencia Community that had only spent six seasons in the first division since 1923. With the Chilean as its coach in over 200 games, the team won the Intertoto Cup (2004), reached the semifinals of the Champions League (2006), and came in second place in the Spanish league (2008), among other achievements.