Grant, Benitez and Rijkaard face uncertain future
LONDON (Reuters) - Three of the four coaches who have guided their teams to the Champions League semi-finals might soon be out of a job even if they win the European Cup next month.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, whose team face Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona in Wednesday's semi-final first leg, is the only man sure to remain in his job next season whether or not his team reach or even win the May 21 final in Moscow.
For different reasons, the pressure on Rijkaard and on Chelsea's Avram Grant and Liverpool's Rafa Benitez, whose teams meet in the other semi-final, first leg on Tuesday, could prove too much.
In years gone by, reaching the last four of Europe's elite competition would be seen as a considerable achievement and defeat rarely regarded as out-and-out failure.
However, the demands on Europe's top coaches from their bosses, fans and the media are now so intense than not only is success demanded but, as Rijkaard in particular has found out, success with a certain style is required.
In Barcelona terms, the Dutch coach's 2006 Champions League victory over Arsenal in Paris is a long time ago.
Rijkaard has watched his side whistled off the pitch in their last two games at the Nou Camp after goalless draws against Getafe and city rivals Espanyol.
Barcelona have only managed one win in their last eight league games, letting leaders Real Madrid establish a virtually unassailable lead at the top of the Primera Liga.
After going out of the King's Cup in the semi-finals, the Champions League is Rijkaard's last chance to save something from the season.
Spanish media have speculated that this will be Rijkaard's last at the helm, with the likes of Jose Mourinho and Getafe's Michael Laudrup among many being linked with the job.
Benitez, who won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005 and guided them back to the final last season when they lost to AC Milan, could probably walk into the Barcelona job or any other if he left Anfield.
A power-struggle for sole control of Liverpool between co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett has spilled out of the boardroom and into the public domain, undermining preparations for a third semi-final against Chelsea in four years.
Despite remaining hugely popular with Liverpool fans even if he has not brought them the domestic title they have craved since 1990, Benitez might think it is soon time to move on.
The situation is different at Chelsea where Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich holds total power and has so far remained a silent but steadfast supporter of his friend Grant since dispensing with Mourinho in September.
Grant could hardly have done better as far as results are concerned, losing only five of 48 matches since taking over.
However, he is disliked by Chelsea's fans who regularly boo and berate him for his tactics despite being just three points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United whom they face at Stamford Bridge next week.
Victory over Liverpool would take Chelsea into the Champions League final for the first time in what could yet be the most successful season in their 103-year history.
Even so, Abramovich's senior advisors have said their playing style could be improved and there has been no official word from the club that Grant's job is totally secure.
(Additional reporting by Mark Elkington in Spain; editing by Padraic Halpin)
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