TFN’s resident Manuel Pellegrini enthusiast Greg Johnson believes that the Chilean would be a major upgrade on Roberto Mancini. Here’s why Manchester City fans should drink in and savour the prospect of him taking charge at Eastlands…
Zest has been severely lacking from Manchester City this season. Just over 12 months on from Sergio Aguero’s larynx shredding title-winner and the taste of sky blue triumph has been replaced by sour disappointment. Their Premier League winning manager has been sacked, with a surprise FA Cup final defeat to Wigan Athletic and a 2-3 home loss to Norwich City adding a bitter finish to their year.
While Roberto Mancini laid the blame on the club’s failure to add Robin van Persie to their squad, the Dutchman’s absence felt more like a smokescreen than a valid excuse given the attacking talent already at his disposal. In reality, standards have slipped while the team’s enthusiasm has waned. Having accomplished their mission of winning the league, City have regressed.
The abilities of Mancini as a coach and tactician have been exposed as wanting, with his tactical plans unraveling into impotency without the title-winning form of individuals to smooth over the structural cracks. His mangled efforts to establish a credible three-at-the-back alternative produced confusion and dissent rather than a functioning plan B and his favoured narrow yet fluid corridor of creative brilliance that saw City romp to the title last term was consistently nuzzled due to its lack of width, floundering again for similar reasons in Europe.
If Manchester City’s thirst for progress is to be quenched then the dismissal of Mancini is a necessary step in the right direction. Sheik Mansour needs a tonic to refresh and refine his club; a man with the vision and assured, all-encompassing approach to deliver the sugar rush of prestigious trophies he craves. As his oil-rich coinage rolls through the innards of the managerial vending machine, it seems like only a matter of time before a can of Manuel Pellegrini drops into the Eastlands dispenser.
Although the hiss of anticipation elicited by each false report on the tugging of the San Pellegrini ring pull may inspire column inches of reassurance, fans hooked on their favourite flavour of “Bobby Manc” have instead fixed their gaze on the nutritional information on the back of the pack and its worrying lack of silverware.
Though Mancini will forever be a cult hero to Manchester City fans, having delivered them their first league title in 44 years, the fizz was already disappearing from his reign last year before the comical collapse of Manchester United’s run-in handed back the initiative to his team. Reports of strained relationships with his superiors and backroom staff, however, suggest things may have fallen flat behind the scenes some time ago.
By contrast, Manuel Pellegrini has been a beacon of light without the murky chaos of Malaga’s implosion over the last two years. Amid the turmoil of unpaid tax bills, disqualification from next year’s Champions League, and threats from the playing staff to walk out over missed wage packets, he was somehow able to galvanise the dressing room and shake up his gaggle of mercenaries and Spanish almost-greats into reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League – the furthest a team have ever progressed in their debut season in the competition.
Similarly, at Villarreal he turned an un-fancied and unfashionable provincial club into one of the most attractive teams in Europe, revitalising dejected talents such as Diego Forlan and Juan Roman Riquelme into an exhilarating yet defensively sound unit of sparkling, attacking football. In 2006 they came within a single penalty kick of taking Arsenal into extra-time in their Champions League semi-final and remain the last team to split the Real-Barca La Liga duopoly, having finished second in 2008.
Neither at Internazionale or Manchester City has Roberto Mancini overachieved in comparison to his budget or expectations, or delivered attacking football of the same thought-out quality and consistency as Manuel Pellegrini.
Well-adjusted to the big club mentality, in 2009 he took over at Real Madrid, establishing a confident, proactive system of play befitting of their status and prestige. Amassing a record-breaking 96 points, his team pursued Pep Guardiola’s team all the way to season’s end, forcing them to better their La Liga benchmark in order to become champions.
Once more he overcame compromising factors outside of his control. Real’s domineering president Florentino Perez sold players Pellegrini had specifically requested be kept as he blindly pursued his unbalanced policy of instating a second Galactios era at Madrid. While Jose Mourinho may have eventually halted the Barcelona juggernaut, he did so at great cost to his own reputation and that of Real and his players, in contrast to the dignified manner in which Pellegrini conducted himself as he attempted to see off the likes of Xavi and co at their trophy amassing peak.
When it comes to delivering the “holistic” approach espoused by Mansour and his two ex-Barcelona lieutenants, CEO Ferran Soriano and Director of Football Txiki Begiristain, Pellegrini is well-suited to the task. Nicknamed “the Engineer”, he is respected for his rigorous yet diplomatic management style, through which the talents of individuals are enhanced rather than subjugated through his team-focused ethos.
His teams play attacking football without resorting to reckless self-endangerment, with smart defending as key to his tactics as his team’s goal threat. With Pellegrini balance is everything, something that Roberto Mancini often struggled with, both on and off the field. The heated rows and antagonisms the Italian’s apologists explained away as staples of life within a football team rarely seem to simmer up through the ranks of Pellegrini’s teams.
Manchester City didn’t need a back-three or a glitzy new striker to retain the Premier League this year or push on in Europe, but an evolution of their methods, audited and tweaked with a clear head and tactical clarity. Mancini instead hid behind easy answers and the fortune of a domestic league ill-adjusted to his team’s shape. Once a year’s worth of lessons and learning were assimilated into the Premier League mindset it was never going to work as well again without further workings. Buying more men – especially when seeming to place all hope in transfer targets beyond the reaches of mere money when it comes to the likes of Danielle De Rossi – only added more pieces to the puzzle waiting to be solved.
Replacing Lescott with Nastasic may have improved the quality of the individuals at the back, but it shattered a partnership with Vincent Kompany that had looked indomitable at times the previous season, and reeked of a manger trying to look to be doing something as deeper issues ate away at his plans that he had no hope of diagnosing or curing.
That’s not to say Pellegrini won’t be interested in improving some of the softer parts of the City squad after such a deflating season – with Isco touted as a likely candidate to replace Samir Nasri in the starting line up – but it’s what he can offer to the existing stars that should excite City’s admirers the most, and pour cold dread into the hearts of their rivals.
David Silva has long been the key to making Manchester City’s concoction taste so sweet, and few managers know how to make the most of their playmakers than Manuel Pellegrini. From Andrés D’Alessandro during his time at River Plate and Riquelme at Villarreal, to Santi Cazorla at Villarreal and Malaga, Pellegrini appreciates the subtleties in the benefits and needs of such players within a comprehensive style of play beyond any other coach currently in the Premier League. That alone will give him a potent starting point from which to articulate City’s technical and individual superiority into the decisive cutting edge it should be.
Ultimately, Manchester City remain a club with the talent to win more titles, and soon they will have a coach with the experience and talent to realise their squad’s quality. Having run out of gas as Mancini ran out of ideas, the cool, sparkling taste of Manuel San Pellegerini will be the refreshment the Eastlands faithful have been waiting for to re-cabronate their team and make them pop once more.