Man City land brightest, most interesting coach in football
There was something characteristically understated about Manuel Pellergini’s announcement of his parting from Manchester City. His press-conference had been typically uneventful. The official City Twitter account had led on the news that, because of home-grown quotas, the forward Kelechi Iheanacho would not be named in their squad for the Champions League knockouts. And then, just before he left, Pellegrini cleared his throat and, drifting through a sea of sub-clauses about timing and contracts, announced that he would be leaving the club on June 30.
The news itself was not unexpected, but the timing was. And it raised an immediate question that was answered almost immediately. A sheaf of statements was produced and distributed. In dry, precise language, it confirmed that Pep Guardiola will be taking over in the summer. The most exciting news on deadline day was revealed with the least possible fanfare.
The statement, intriguingly, also included confirmation that City had begun negotiating with Guardiola in 2012, the year he left Barcelona before taking a sabbatical and, in 2013, moving to Bayern. That means that they were talking to him long before Robert Mancini left the club in May 2013.
In itself, that isn’t especially revelatory. The club’s director of football, Txiki Begiristain, who joined in October 2012, worked with Guardiola at Barcelona. The CEO Ferran Soriano, who also worked with Guardiola at Barca, has spoken of a “holistic approach” to management, which was always seen as meaning that City should be made more like Barca, with a unified set of footballing principles running from the first team to the youths. And who better to implement that than Guardiola, who had such success in the sort of environment City is trying to create? Mancini, though, has a right to feel aggrieved those negotiations were on-going while he was still in a job.
That makes City look ruthless, even underhand, but Pellegrini was adamant that he has been kept fully in the picture. The deal, he said, was done a month ago. That, in turn, makes the timing interesting. “I don’t think it’s good to have rumor or speculation about these things, so I prefer to finish today, which is why I have told the players and I have told the press,” Pellegrini said, while the club said it was acting “out of respect”. Perhaps it simply makes sense to make the announcement on their own terms and doing so on transfer deadline day just before a full midweek round of fixtures is a way of guaranteeing the reaction doesn’t go too overboard.
The danger is that Pellegrini is left as a lame duck but, while there certainly are cases of managers who have been undermined by the players’ knowledge they are leaving – Alex Ferguson as Manchester United in 2002, perhaps most famously, before he reversed his decision to retire – it’s also true that Bayern know Jupp Heynckes was leaving to be replaced by Guardiola in 2013 and ended up winning the treble.
At the end of last season, after leading Chelsea to the title, Jose Mourinho taunted Guardiola with his comment that he could have gone to a league where even the kitman could win the league, a reference to Bayern’s financial superiority over the rest of the Bundesliga. It may be that City has access to greater resources than any other club in England, but the gulf is nothing like so vast and part of the fascination of next season will be Guardiola trying to impose his tactical schema amid the relentless attrition of the Premier League, where there is no respite and where clubs are expected to compete in two domestic cup competitions.
There’s also the question of what Pellegrini does next. Over his two and a half seasons in England, he has won a league title and a League Cup, and his side remains in all four competitions this season. He has never been the most charismatic or exciting of coaches, but he has conducted himself with a quiet dignity and intelligence and it would be a surprise if he weren’t at least considered for the Chelsea job.
How he’s remembered at City will probably be determined by what happens over the next four months. City is three points off the top of the Premier League, in the final of the League Cup and the fifth round of the FA Cup, and is in the last 16 of the Champions League. A Heynckes-style farewell rush of silverware remains possible.
There’s also the tantalizing possibility of City meeting Bayern in the Champions League and, perhaps even more tantalizing, the thought that if Louis van Gaal leaves Manchester United in the summer, Mourinho or Pellegrini could arrive at Old Trafford to replace him.
None of which will matter to City right now. It’s felt since Mancini left (and, it turns out , before) as if it was treading water waiting for Guardiola. It’s been a four-year plan for a three-year contract, but it has, at last, landed the brightest, most interesting coach in world football.