In the 2015 book The Pellegrini Method, author Francisco Sagredo recounts the tale of Manuel Pellegrini’s WhatsApp group.
It might perhaps come as a surprise to you to learn that the 62-year-old uses the popular mobile messaging app to talk football with a group of his friends, conversations which often provide revealing insights into his tactical decisions and the way he likes to set his team up.
For example, towards the end of last season, one of his friends asked him why he’d been picking Bacary Sagna over Pablo Zabaleta, to which Pellegrini replied “Because Zabaleta has just become a father and his head is somewhere else.”
After a bad result, Pellegrini is often the subject of a bit of light-hearted ribbing from his friends, who have no qualms about telling him what they would have done in his position. According to Sagredo, one of these exchanges ended with Pellegrini asking one of his friends “What do you know about football anyway?”
In the aftermath of City’s Capital One Cup semi-final victory over Everton on Wednesday night, the Chilean might just be entitled to ask some of his club’s supporters, and possibly even his employers, the same question.
Despite signing a two-year contract extension in the summer, the Chilean is widely expected to be leaving his post at the end of this season. And when that does happen, it’s unlikely to come as the most devastating news in the world to City fans, especially if he’s replaced by Pep Guardiola.
Frustration and resentment towards Pellegrini began to materialise amongst City’s fan base during the extremely underwhelming 2014/15 season. The Blues played some wonderful attacking football in 2013/14 and Pellegrini won a league and cup double in his first season in English football, but all that good work was quickly undone and his difficult second season was littered with poor performances, bad results and naïve tactical decisions.
City may have finished runners up last season, but many of us would have been quite happy to see Pellegrini given his marching orders in the summer. He wasn’t, however, and the excellent start to this season went a long way towards the restoration of the supporters’ faith in the manager.
But in recent weeks, that faith has pretty much completely unravelled again and many of us are at the very end of our tether with the Chilean. He has acted with nothing but the utmost level of dignity and decorum in the face of speculation surrounding his future, but accusations that he’s “phoning-in” what will surely be his final season at the club haven’t always seemed completely unfair.
As recently as last Saturday, Pellegrini came under fire (from none more so than a website not a million miles from here) for making the same mistake he’s made far too often during his time in Manchester in that he selected Yaya Touré to play in a two-man midfield without making adequate provisions for the effect this would have on the team defensively.
But on Wednesday, for one night at least, he appeared to have learnt his lesson. City lined-up against Everton with a midfield of Touré, Fernandinho and Fabian Delph. It seemed like a sensible, steadfast way to approach the game and City’s social media community appeared to be unanimously in favour of the team selection.
Cut to half-time and, with things not going entirely to plan, opinions had shifted. City were defending poorly and their midfield was getting carved open time and time again. The only person to blame for this, of course, was the man who everyone said had picked the “right” team before the match.
Thankfully, that man acted. Jesús Navas replaced Delph at the interval and City set about getting the goals they’d need to win the tie.
And then, with 66 minutes on the clock and the score on the night tied at 1-1, he made a strange yet brilliant decision.
In the five years that he’s been at the club, Yaya Touré has pretty much been an institution in City’s midfield. If he’s fit and available he pretty much always starts and the occasions on which he’s been substituted during a match are as rare as purple carrots.
Yaya wasn’t having a particularly bad game on Wednesday, but City were struggling to break down Everton’s rearguard and needed some fresh impetus. In what is possibly his boldest decision yet as City manager, Pellegrini withdrew Touré and put on Kevin De Bruyne, leaving the team with just one recognised central midfielder on the pitch but a whole host of attacking options.
And boy, did it pay off. Within five minutes of coming on, De Bruyne had scored to make it 2-1 on the night. Five minutes later, he crossed the ball in for Sergio Agüero’s goal.
City will play Liverpool in the Capital One Cup final at Wembley next month, and it’s all because of Pellegrini’s clever tactical switch. He’s often been accused of having “no Plan B” but on Wednesday he proved that those allegations are unfounded, and even let us have a look at his Plan C for good measure.
It is to be hoped that the Chilean has learnt something from that game, principally that fortune favours the brave. He’ll probably fall short of the target of five trophies in three years he was set when he took the job at City, but with the club still fighting on four fronts this season, there’s every chance of him bowing out of his tenure gracefully and with one or two more trophies to stick on his CV.
And perhaps we, as fans, owe him a little more respect than he’s at times been given during the past two-and-a-half years. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Pellegrini is an incredibly intelligent man who is arguably the best coach Chile has ever produced and has been successful at every club he’s managed, earning him the loyalty of his players and the admiration of his peers.
In fact, one of his biggest admirers is none other than Mr Josep Guardiola. In an interview for The Pellegrini Method, the current Bayern Munich coach is quoted as saying:
I am a huge fan of Pellegrini. I have learned much from him and his concepts. I am lucky to be a great admirer and a colleague of him. I feel as though I am a follower of him, of his game philosophy. One can watch one of his teams without knowing who trains them and one would immediately know that this is a Pellegrini team just by the way they play.
But then, what does he know about football anyway?
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Written by Dan Burke