Manuel Pellegrini should know just how Roberto Mancini feels

Chilean coach was dumped at Real Madrid in circumstances similar to those experienced by Manchester City manager

"I've got a contract and no one has told me that I'm not going to fulfil it. I can't imagine that the club would have spoken to anyone behind my back; that doesn't fit their values." The phrase could have come from Roberto Mancini on the eve of his last game with Manchester City. Instead it came from the man who is set to replace him, Manuel Pellegrini, on the eve of his last game in charge of Real Madrid, in May 2010.

If Mancini dismissed the rumours as "rubbish" virtually up to the last minute, Pellegrini was a little more realistic. "I'm not so naive as to believe that all the rumours are purely a product of media speculation," he said. Deep down, he knew that Real had indeed spoken behind his back: to José Mourinho, who would replace him just days later, and to the newspaper Marca, which had relentlessly attacked him. He also knew that his was the chronicle of a death foretold.

Pellegrini has been an unqualified, if trophyless, success at Málaga and Villarreal but his one spell at a club commensurate with Manchester City, in terms of size and pressure, ended badly. Mourinho's signing was public before Pellegrini had been formally released. He probably knows how Mancini feels.

The Chilean had been in charge for just one year, the first of a new era under returning president Florentino Pérez. When Pérez arrived in 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo had already been signed for £80m, the deal closed by the former president Ramón Calderón. Kaká and Karim Benzema also arrived, costing more than €100m between them, and Xabi Alonso and Raúl Albiol came too. In total, Madrid spent €258m. "We have to do in one year what we would normally do in three," Pérez said.

It turned out that he was right, just not in the way he anticipated. In the three previous years under Pérez, Madrid had finished empty-handed; in his first season back they did, too. "Pellegrini is not a winner," Pérez moaned to board members. He failed to mention that not one of the five coaches he had chosen to employ were; perhaps he was not a winner.

Those three seasons had seen Madrid decline, not even challenging for the title. This time there was clear progress. The problem was that Madrid were beaten twice by what Pellegrini described as "the best Barcelona in history": 0-2 at home and 1-0 away, with Ronaldo missing a glorious chance. To put that result into context, the following season, Mourinho's Madrid were defeated 5-0 there.

Under Pellegrini, Madrid went into the final day with a mathematical chance of winning the title. As news filtered through that Barcelona were winning 4-0, Madrid finally surrendered, drawing 1-1. That meant they finished the campaign with 102 goals, the second-highest total ever, and on 96 points, a new club record. But Pep Guardiola's side took the title on 99 points. "I'd like to congratulate Real Madrid, fantastic opponents without whom we would never have reached 99," Guardiola said. "Pellegrini and his players have dignified our profession."

"We've created the foundations to be successful next season," Pellegrini said. But there would be no next season for him. Not only had Madrid failed to win the league, in the Copa del Rey they had been humiliated by third tier Alcorcón, who defeated them 4-0. And in the Champions League, Lyon knocked them out at the last -16 stage with a 1-1 draw at the Bernabéu. Again, there are parallels to Mancini's final season: European failure (albeit later), a cup defeat against underdogs (albeit earlier and against far lowlier opposition), and sacked with indecent haste.

Most considered Pellegrini's sacking questionable; what he had achieved at Villarreal left no one in any doubt that he was a good coach and circumstances at Madrid had been more than mitigating. There was criticism for Madrid's lack of patience. Despite the promise that this time things would be different, they had sacked another manager. Pellegrini was No6: was it really all fault? He had no say in the €258m spent, nor in the fact that Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben were sold.

In his first press conference he said he was counting on Sneijder. Eleven days later he had gone. That year the Champions League final was held at the Bernabéu: Sneijder and Robben both played.

Pellegrini had chosen Gonzalo Higuaín over Benzema; Higuaín was the team's top scorer, ahead even of Ronaldo, but he was not Pérez's signing and it did not go down well at board level. He also had to ease Raúl away from the first team at last – the striker was shifted out before Mourinho arrived, that first step taken by his predecessor – and Guti had been, well, Guti. The coach's authority had been fatally undermined yet again; his requests not met, left exposed and alone by the club, no one ever defending him against the campaign that vilified him – which is not surprising when it came from inside the club.

Runner-up is never enough at Madrid. But Pellegrini's working conditions had been far from easy, the inescapable context within which to judge his results. Besides, the progress was clear. In the league, they had challenged. The cup exit was perhaps the most embarrassing defeat in the club's history, but it was the cup – unloved and un-won for 20 years. And Higuaín had hit the post with an open goal in the Champions League game against Lyon and even here there was no regression: Madrid had gone out at the same stage that they had done for six successive seasons.

There was sympathy for Pellegrini too for the sheer viciousness of the campaign to which he had been subjected, and for its providence, for the fact that Pérez had never truly wanted him: Pellegrini was the director general Jorge Valdano's choice. Valdano defended him to the board, so too did Zinedine Zidane. They wanted stability, an idea; the very thing City seek. But it was pointless; Pérez was not for turning.

Yet few really shed tears. This, after all, is Real Madrid, where managers have been sacked after winning, where change is inevitable and stability a utopia. This is just the way it is, sackings are a way of life. The bottom line was that he had not won – and with that team.

Besides, there was the promise of someone better, a man who had seduced them all andwho could do for Madrid what Madrid could not do for themselves: prevent the humiliation of watching Barcelona winning the Champions League in their stadium. Some have changed their minds since, and it is legitimate to ask if Mourinho has been truly successful. But in the summer of 2010 few doubted the Portuguese was perfect.

Pérez had endured a fourth consecutive year without a trophy and was desperate to win the European Cup and to beat Barcelona, at any cost. Over at Internazionale, Mourinho had just done exactly that.

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