Thursday, May 16, 2013


The man with the Champions League halo
Time waits for no one in football. The various shades of dust are still settling on Manchester City's Retro Tribute FA Cup Final weekend, where the cup was lost against a side relegated three days later, in circumstances even Tony Soprano couldn't have made more complicated. There was no horse's head, but the blood letting has not stopped for three days and the rest of us have been left feeling like a finely sliced salami.

Outgoing manager, Roberto Mancini, leaving with the songs of thousands still ringing in his ears, has already begun to be painted in a different light, now that he has left the building. With the useful golden rule of never cross your assistant kit man added to an ever-lengthening list of things to be aware of as a football manager, tales of arrogance and autocracy now seep from the Etihad's walls like blood from a still warm corpse. He had a man, whose sole purpose in life was to wash his bicycle! He sat in restaurants in silence despite being in the company of esteemed British journalists! He forced innocent people to eat gnocci! He ignored the holistic approach and aimed at a kind of granular dictatorship of the mind. And the assistant kitman noticed all of this. The assistant kitman is now at Sunderland where his new best mate is Adam Johnson. He may well be a visionary of some kind.

With the door still swinging merrily on its battered hinges after the fulsome push it was given on Monday, we await the in-rush of air and what or indeed who might be carried in on its light yet powerful zephyrs. The Guardian, along with a sizeable and audibly chattering flock of journalistic sheep, has already chosen its man, witness the helpful little article already posted by Jamie Jackson on their website, entitled Five Things for Pellegrini to Put Right at City.

This has provoked a rash of material to be unearthed on the man himself. He can speak English, although this solely according to Graham Hunter's view through a swanky hotel's safety partition where he was seen "alone in conversation with Alex Ferguson for over an hour...". While this is certainly proof of a man's capacity to listen to what he thinks might be English, only time will give us the proper answer to this particular question. Maybe this need is an exaggerated one anyway. Whilst Luis Filipe Scolari failed at Chelsea partly owing to communication frailties, Mancini's English never progressed beyond passable and it didn't seem to hinder him too much. Although, maybe that was the reason for the pregnant silence before the gnocci were served.

Pellegrini, we are told, is not just the man, who built the fantastically entertaining Villareal side of Riquelme, Cazorla, and Forlan but also produced an excellent team and performance in his one season in charge of Real. Pep Guardiola went out of his way to emphasise how well his side had been chased to the line by Pellegrini's men. His most recent exploits at Malaga also reflect well on the man. Holding a grumbling squad of unpaid players together, he eventually got them to within seconds of knocking out the continent's new darlings, Borussia Dortmund, in that nail-chewing quarter final in the Ruhrgebiet. He is a man of tactics, a "coach", say Hunter, not a manager. This then is an individual, who can dovetail well with the "holistic" needs mentioned in the press release after Mancini's dismissal, a man more at home with the shaping of his football team than the frippery of today's massive football periphery.

Here is a man who inspires respect not through bullying but through inclusion. He appears tough. Riquelme, for all his talent, did not last at Villareal in the end, when he refused to buy into Pellegrini's vision. It was not an unwillingness to play beautiful football either. Pellegrini's teams have a fine reputation for that too. It was simply the installation of discipline and team ethic to make the vision come to fruition, which it did so spectacularly at El Madrigal. His Villareal side, packed with such talent as Ibagaza, Riquelme, Senna, a young Matias Fernandez, Capdevila and Rossi, played expansive attacking, pacy football that brought results. Often one outweighs the other, but in Pellegrini's little tactics books lie the secrets to marrying the two together and making beautiful music.

Perhaps his Malaga side's two games with FC Porto show him at his best. In the away game, a cagey defensive formation limited a powerful Porto side to 1-0. In the return, with the same players unshackled and reshaped, thrilling victory was achieved. 

In an interesting piece written in 2009, Tim Vickery likens him to a football Roger Moore, a suave urbane man, to whose head Villareal fans would be only too happy to affix the all-important halo.

Without doubt, Mancini's successor faces a big challenge to be ready for the new season, to clear out the deadwood, to reintroduce order and to have his chosen staff in place on and off the pitch in time for August. In light of the reasons given for Mancini's exit, some of the latter will be taken from the new coach's hands anyway. If that man does turn out to be Pellegrini, it will only serve to give this tactical master even more time to shape City's football style for the immediate future. Present wounds will heal fast when we see the whites of the man's eyes.

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