With Manuel Pellegrini in pole position for the Manchester City job, Blues fans may wonder just what they will be getting if the Chilean does finally decide to take the hot seat at the Etihad Stadium.
If they are expecting a manager in the style of previous boss Roberto Mancini then they will be sorely disappointed, as Pellegrini could not be further removed from the Italian. Not for him any touchline histrionics or outward displays of emotion. Think Sven Goran-Eriksson and you get the picture, but even then he makes the Swede look more like a Paulo Di Canio figure. So who is Pellegrini?
Born in Santiago in 1953, he was an uncompromising central defender in his playing days who was capped 28 times for his country and spent his entire career with Universidad de Chile. On hanging up his boots in 1986 he moved into coaching a year later, taking over at his one and only club prior to being appointed technical assistant with the Chilean national team. He later took charge at Palestino, O’Higgins, Universidad Catolica, Ecuadorian outfit LDU Quito and Argentine club San Lorenzo, where he won the Clausura before achieving the same feat at River Plate two years later.
His success brought him to the attention of several European clubs and in July 2004 he took over at previously unfashionable Villarreal, qualifying for the Champions League in his first season and reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. It was a marriage made in heaven and Pellegrini cemented the Yellow Submarine as one of Europe’s leading clubs over the next five years.
Unsurprisingly, the big clubs came calling and he moved to Real Madrid in 2009, although his tenure lasted just 11 months despite finishing La Liga runners-up with a record 96 points. Suggestions he was not able to handle Los Blancos’ so-called ‘Galacticos’ and a frosty relationship with club President Florentino Perez were rumoured reasons for his exit, although the Chilean maintained a dignified silence in the light of some criticism.
Nicknamed ‘The Engineer’ because of his qualification as a civil engineer, Pellegrini was installed as Malaga boss six months later with the pledge of significant investment from owner Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani. Initially making good on this promise with some big-money signings, Malaga finished fourth in La Liga and subsequently qualified for the 2012/13 Champions League. However, Al-Thani withdrew his funding of the club before the start of this season for no apparent reason, yet events since then have further enhanced Pellegrini’s reputation as one of the best Coaches and tacticians in world football.
Unpaid debts on transfers, players owed money and outstanding tax bills resulted in Malaga receiving a one-year ban from European football in December. In the meantime, Pellegrini had fostered a team spirit among the players that saw the Costa del Sol outfit reach the Champions League quarter-finals, where they were controversially knocked out by Borussia Dortmund.
There is no doubt this was down to Pellegrini’s football philosophy and the willingness of his players to carry out his instructions. While his teams are attack-minded, he also places great emphasis on the defensive side of things, resulting in Malaga having the lowest goals against total in La Primera for much of the current campaign before the recent dip in form following the Champions League exit. A manager who likes to cement a trusting relationship with his squad, Pellegrini is not an individual who prefers to wear his heart on his sleeve.
Instead, his unflappable and composed character appears to give his players the confidence to express themselves on the pitch, witnessed by the possession football that Malaga have developed over the past 18 months that has been so pleasing to observe.
On the transfer front it is debatable whether he would have the final say with City but he should get the opportunity to build a team in his own image, one that relies on patient build-up play with plenty of touches on the ball. It is a method that depends on a midfield playmaker operating behind the main striker or strikers in a free role, as evidenced by youngster Isco’s meteoric rise at Malaga this season.
If Isco follows Pellegrini to the Premier League, as has been reported, then expect him to play in the exactly the same way he does for Los Blanquiazules – if not then David Silva can anticipate even more attacking responsibility.
Pellegrini is not a Coach who will stick religiously to a tried and trusted formation and tends to adapt his tactics to fit around the squad he has to work with, although City sporting director Txiki Begiristain is rumoured to want a 4-3-3 set-up. The Blues’ inexperience in European competition over the past two seasons has been plain for all to see, but in this respect under a more flexible Pellegrini they would be hoping for less naivety, particularly away from home.
Aside from his one-season sojourns at Real Madrid and River Plate, Pellegrini’s history suggests he has overachieved at all his other clubs, so he may now be given another shot at the big-time. It is nothing more than this polite, well-spoken and unassuming man deserves.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Man City v Norwich