With Sir Alexs retirement,Mancinis sacking,and Rafas CV now refined,the top three jobs in the Premier League were up for grabs this summer. The press in England has enjoyed the recent game of managerial musical chairs devoting significant coverage to the special one (Jose Mourinho) and the chosen one (David Moyes). Little though has been said about Manuel Pellegrini,who earlier this week announced that he has reached a verbal agreement to take over at Manchester City come next season.
Born in Santigao,Pelligrini,aged 17,joined Club Universidad de Chile and went on to register over 450 appearances as a centre back but not before completing his degree in civil engineering,one that has earned him the nickname El Ingeniero (The Engineer). He spent the first 15 years of his managerial career in South America winning two league titles in Argentina and one in Ecuador.
In 2004,Pellegrini moved to Spain to take over at Villareal,then,a relatively unknown and underfunded club. He guided them to four top-five finishes in his five years and transformed them to Champions League regulars (Villarreal reached the semi-finals of the competition in Pelligrinis second season). In 2007-08 Villareal sandwiched Real Madrid and Barcelona to finish second in La Liga,a feat that made current Manchester City Sporting Director (then Barcelona director of football) Txiki Begiristain take note. In 2009,he departed for Real Madrid,where in spite of guiding them to second place he was let go to make way for Mourinho. The following year he joined Málaga,in doing so he took over a team battling for relegation and led them to ninth place following that up with a fourth-place finish. In 2012-13 despite losing a number of top players in the summer the team finished sixth and came within seconds of reaching the Champions League semifinals.
So the question one must ask is why would Manchester City and Txiki Begiristain be willing to bet so heavily on a manager that is yet to deliver titles in Europe? Maybe its his coaching style and tactical know-how,the relationship he shares with his players,his interaction with the media,or maybe its a combination of all the above.
Pellegrini,more often than not,has used the 4-2-2-2 or the magic rectangle formation (made famous by Brazils 1982 squad). When asked to define his coaching style during his stint at Villarreal Pellegrini retorted,My teams always treat the ball as the priority,with plenty of mobility,blending South American football with European. This formation stresses on controlling the game down the middle and highlights the importance Pellegrini places on a strong defensive midfielder,a genuine playmaker,and strong attacking fullbacks. Pellegrini prefers that his players adapt to their opponents within the 4-2-2-2,which sometimes transforms itself into a 4-2-3-1 when up against opponents who enjoy the possession game and at times (though rarely) also capable of altering to a 4-3-3. Pellegrini demands versatility in movement with the coach himself saying,there’s no such thing as a perfect system,and telephone numbers like 4-4-2,4-2-2-2 aren’t of importance.
From Marcos Senna at Villareal to Jeremy Toulalan,Manuel Iturra and Nacho Camacho at Malaga the deep lying midfielders of Manchester City will be expected to drop back into defence to create a solid back four if the full-backs are pushing up the pitch. Both Yaya Toure and recent signing Fernandinho are expected to reprise these roles. The most important role in the 4-2-2-2 though is that of the two central players playing behind the two strikers. It is in this role that Pellegrini’s main playmaker tends to appear. Be it Juan Roman Riquelme (Villareal),Kaka (Real Madrid),Santi Carzola and last season Isco (Malaga). If at times the fullbacks (Zabaleta and Clichy) are pegged in their own half the playmakers tend to drift out wide to create the width. This system will do perfectly for David Silva who is expected to partner Isco (rumored to be arriving at City along with his footballing father,Pellegrini). Recent signing,Jesus Navas is a more orthodox winger and is likely to be used when the team switches to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. Pellegrini has always been a fan of strike partnerships and is likely to continue with two strikers up front. What transpires eventually on the pitch remains to be seen but one thing is for sure,Citys game will now have the fluidity and dynamism that they earlier lacked peppered with a touch of South American flair. Pellegrini had once commented I don’t like those who prioritise destruction through constant man-marking and fouling. It bores me,I’d never go to see that kind of football. Surely City will be more exciting to watch than they were under Mancini.
As far as his dealings with players are concerned,he is known to form a strong bond with his players. When asked about his former coach,Marcos Senna had this to say,We had some incredible years the best of my career. I always speak highly of him because the team was united and communication was good on and off the pitch. Ex Manchester United,Real Madrid,and Malaga striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy had once remarked about his former boss,He’s an architect in his profession. He constructs and he analyses things. He builds a team. While Mancini had to witness the antics of Carlito Tevez and Crazy Mario,Pellegrini is not expected to be as tolerant. He kicked out Juan Roman Riquelme (Villarreal) and Antonio Galdeano Benítez (Malaga),saying,In my team the players are with me or theyre out. As far as his interaction with the press is concerned,unlike Mancini who has had his share of outburst at the media,Pellegrini is far more reserved and speaks less.
Yes,there are many reasons why Pellegrini is likely to succeed and I wish him well. Not because of the task at hand,but because the odds are stacked against him. Pellegrini turns 60 in a few months and in the past 20 years,in Europe’s top four leagues,only five managers that age or older were appointed to clubs in nations where they had never played or coached before. . Extend the sample to coaches over 50 and just three lasted over a year with only one completing his second term. Im sure El Ingeniero will be able to construct a side that will play attractive football and challenge for the crown. But will he be able to engineer the sort of success Arab wealth now covets? More significantly will he find himself at the Etihad twelve months from now and in doing so challenge the statistical data,which presently weighs heavily against him? That is something that remains to be seen.