It’s fair to say Manuel Pellegrini isn’t the most popular man amongst the Manchester City faithful at the moment.
The Chilean will, of course, be leaving his post at the end of the season but his side’s results have been particularly poor since Pep Guardiola was announced as his successor at the beginning of February.
City are now as good as out of the Premier League title race and face a fight to finish in the top four – a rather dire situation which has recently lead to calls for the outgoing manager to be dismissed earlier than planned in an attempt to salvage something from the wreckage that has so far been his final season in charge.
In the interest of balance, we caught up with Matias Grez – a journalist who covered Chile for The Telegraph – and Victor Araneda del Canto – a City supporter and long-time Pellegrini follower from Santiago – to get their thoughts on The Engineer’s overall tenure, the timing of that announcement and more.
TC: It seems likely Pellegrini will end his tenure in Manchester having won one Premier League title and two Capital One Cups. Do you feel his three years at the club have been a success or has he under-achieved?
MG: For any manager to come in and win the Premier League once in three years, in my opinion, can’t be viewed as under-achieving. However, because of the team’s failure to compete this season — a year they should have walked the league – he’ll certainly leave with a sense of regret. Three trophies in three years – coupled with record-breaking success in the Champions League – should be viewed as a successful time in charge.
VADC: It would be easy to count trophies and claim it a success. In fact, a case could be made that winning the Premier League as a first-year manager counts as an extreme success. My opinion, from the outside looking in, is that Pellegrini helped City transition to a more solid, mature club. I don’t imagine Guardiola would be coming to City if the internal turmoil from the days past continued or grew. Instead, City have finally advanced to the latter stages of the Champions League, even showing poise despite the amount of injuries to key players. Three trophies I would say are par on the course, which is also great news when you are building something greater than a successful squad, and should only be part of the equation when you are measuring Pellegrini’s success.
TC: When it was announced Pep Guardiola will be taking over from Pellegrini at the end of this season, many people felt the Chilean had been treated unfairly and didn’t deserve to lose his job. Did you agree with that then and, if so, do you still agree with it now?
MG: I think he has been treated very unfairly. It seems extremely unprofessional for a club to tell a manager part-way through a season he won’t be continuing and that they have already found his replacement. It’s also unfair on Guardiola’s part that his mind is elsewhere while still managing Bayern, and their unconvincing performances in the Champions League since the announcement prove it has had an effect there.
VADC: Guardiola is widely considered to be the top manager in the world and you can’t blame City for attempting to galvanise their project with his signing. I also believe that City wanted Pellegrini to stay if the Guardiola agreement, for any reason, fell through. I think that’s why they renewed Pellegrini’s contract and not to protect the team from speculation. This argument is more or less confirmed by the way they treated the Guardiola signing, which was the complete opposite of “protecting the team”, frankly.
TC: Aside from a couple of good wins in the Champions League and the Capital One Cup final, City’s results have been very poor since it was confirmed that Pellegrini will be leaving at the end of the season. How much of an effect do you think the timing of that announcement has had on the manager and his team? Would it have been better to wait until the end of the season to make the announcement?
MG: They should have waited to the end of the season and the announcement has undoubtedly had an effect on the team. There has been a lot of talk of players remaining “professional” in this situation, but they’re only human and a change like that in any profession in life, not just football, would have an effect on employees.
VADC: It’s now obvious they made a mistake, particularly with City reeling from injuries, the cost of which might be finishing out of the top 4. This squad seems to struggle with motivation and drive, which was apparent as far back as the Roberto Mancini years. If you compare the Champions League and Premier League games after the Guardiola announcement, you can see a different level of confidence and focus. I think it was a blunder that made the front office look amateurish and it’s something they need to improve if they want to be in the top 3 in the world. Mind you, Real Madrid has a terrible front office and yet they can carry on because they are Madrid. City doesn’t have that level of respect yet and should be extra careful.
TC: City won the Premier League and Capital One Cup in fine style in Pellegrini’s first season at the club but the team hasn’t hit those heights since then and this season has been particularly disappointing. Do you have any idea why that might have happened?
MG: The age of this squad has been on everybody’s lips for some time now. As Chelsea found this season, the release of deadwood and the addition fresh faces each season are vital to keep a squad energised. The addition of Kevin De Bruyne clearly had a positive impact on the team and I think the lack of further youthful, but still marquee, signings each season to galvanise the squad has been the biggest downfall.
VADC: I’ve noticed a paradox there. English fans believe the Premier League to be the best league in the world yet they believe City should walk away with the trophy every year. City fans also rightly know the team is not at the same level of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. City is a flawed squad and flawed squads pay the consequences of that in one form or another during a long season unless they get lucky, which we can all agree has not been the case for City. Better teams with unbalanced rosters have gone through similar processes. Can you win the league with often-injured Vincent Kompany as your only experienced centre back?
TC: One of the tropes of Pellegrini’s tenure has been his insistence on persisting with certain systems, formations and/or players when it seems quite clear from the outside that they aren’t working. He seems like quite a stubborn man – would you agree with that?
MG: I’d certainly agree he is a stubborn and it has hindered him a few times during his tenure. I’m a believer of giving players a chance to play themselves out of bad form, but it gets to a point when a stint on the bench would do them more good than playing badly on the pitch – Yaya Toure and Jesus Navas being two examples, but both have continued to be included in the starting XI. The way he handled Joe Hart’s bad form by dropping him for Costel Pantilimon was a perfect example of this and he should have followed suit with other players.
VADC: I don’t particularly agree, but I understand why people could think that. Generally, managers are tagged as stubborn when they fail to adapt to their team or they try to change a player to play a particular way or style that doesn’t fit him. I don’t see this situation being a square peg in a round hole type of situation. Pellegrini is a manager that protects his players and the club, perhaps to a fault, and sometimes shielding others from criticism can come across as stubbornness. Even with all of that, City is filled with speculation about certain “difficult” players or that Pellegrini lost control over the changing room. Pellegrini has repeatedly said he prefers that and when you see how it pays off, you understand. I also believe he’s proven to be flexible when required. If we are to pick and choose particular times when he’s not, then you must first ask yourself, why would a perennial title candidate have to change their tactics as often as some people want? If you answered that it’s because Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis are playing, then you have to wonder why are they starters in the first place and if a team with them playing so many minutes is really a title contender in the first place.
TC: Where do you see Pellegrini going from here? Are there any other clubs you feel would be a good fit for him or is the Chile national job still a possibility?
MG: Pellegrini has always expressed his desire to manage the national team and I still think it’s a possibility, although not for his next job. His style of play isn’t suited to the high-tempo game of the current crop of players, but I can see him taking over after the 2018 World Cup when the squad is aging and to help bring through the next generation.
VADC: No, the national team I believe has never been on the cards. After the FIFA corruption scandal, the Chilean Football Association was due a make-over and it’s now transitioning. [Arturo] Salah, the President of the Chilean Association, is one of Pellegrini’s best friends so the job was his if he wanted it. After [Juan Antonio] Pizzi’s tenure is done, for one reason or another, Pellegrini will be the most likely candidate. In the meantime, he wants to stay in Europe. I always thought Arsenal was the ideal team for him, but that’s likely never happening. He loves a challenge if he believes in the project. I wouldn’t be surprised if he picks a bottom half team and takes them to the Champions League like he did at Villarreal and Malaga.
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Interview by Dan Burke