x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Mutual trust carries Pellegrini’s men to English Premier League summit

No dramatic sequel to 2012 title was needed as Manchester City calmly walk past West Ham United to secure their second English Premier League crown in three years, writes Richard Jolly.

Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, centre, lifts the English Premier League trophy after his team beat West Ham United on Sunday night at Etihad Stadium. It was the second league title in three years for Manchester City. Andy Rain / EPA
Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, centre, lifts the English Premier League trophy after his team beat West Ham United on Sunday night at Etihad Stadium. It was the second league title in three years for Manchester City. Andy Rain / EPA

Manchester City 2 West Ham United 0

Manchester City Nasri 39’, Kompany 49’

Man of the match Samir Nasri (Manchester City)

MANCHESTER // There were only eight minutes remaining when the Manchester City fans, a group conditioned to expect the unexpected, accepted the inevitable. They had sung about fighting to the end, turned their backs on a comfortable win to bounce the “Poznan” dance. Then, belatedly, they lapsed into triumphalism; this was no echo of their error-prone past. “Stand up for the champions” echoed around the Etihad Stadium.

Minutes later, they were running onto the field for the champions, embarking on a mass pitch invasion that felt rather anachronistic. The ground that had been illuminated by Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero this season was now filled by fans, holding aloft a range of banners, ranging from the professional to the homemade.

This is Manchester City, where a team of enviable talents have scored a century of goals and secured their second Premier League title in three seasons, a club where they have known few better days and yet, where there is something strangely old-fashioned amid the gleaming modernity.

Past City favourites were everywhere to be seen. There was Georgi Kinkladze, who illuminated a relegation campaign; Ali Benarbia, who lent flair to a promotion season; Ian Bishop, a teammate in a second-tier side. It is in the culture of the club to remember such men, to cherish them.

There were, too, the veterans of what was long their last title-winning team, Tony Book, Mike Summerbee and the men from 1968. Now the current class have surpassed them. They are the side who returned to the summit. They have a case to be named the greatest group in the club’s history.

More pertinently now, they are probably the most talented collective in England. Yet the same was said last season when they finished 11 points behind Manchester United. A year to the day since the FA Cup final defeat, they reclaimed the league title.

City have gone from frustration to elation, from underachievement to achievement. They have also gone from Roberto Mancini to Manuel Pellegrini, and while the sacked Italian deserves credit for signing several of the key players and instilling a winning mentality, his successor has brought unity.

“It was important to be very close, all of us: players, manager and fans,” Pellegrini said. “It was a beautiful, great season.”

He has won, and won with style, meeting his twin demands of himself. “We won with 102 [league] goals, with the record of goals [156] in all competitions in the history here in England. I think it was a season that all of us enjoy because of the way we play.”

The key, he feels, is an obstinate refusal to compromise his principles.

“We have the players to play on the counter-attack, but for me, to win titles just in that way, I will not be happy,” said Pellegrini, outlining the key qualities he required: “Determination and mainly the conviction to play in a certain style of football.”

Another word is a constant: trust. Pellegrini trusts in his players. They trust in him. That mutual belief meant there was a relaxed air to proceedings. This was no sequel to 2012, no need for a 94th-minute winner to decide the title. Instead, Samir Nasri and Vincent Kompany scored either side of half-time.

Pellegrini could allow some of his men to take a bow. Edin Dzeko, Silva and Toure, three of the galaxy of attacking talents, departed to generous ovations. Alvaro Negredo, shorn of confidence after a four-month goal drought, was afforded a final outing. Fernandinho, less than fully fit, came on for a celebratory outing, along with the underrated James Milner.

Even the substitutes are stellar now. On the sidelines, another cult hero, Niall Quinn, remembered how the City players used to take their training kit home because the club couldn’t afford to get it washed. It was only two decades ago, during a time when City were eminently capable of self-destructing. Not now.

Afterward, the beaten manager argued that he, too, had delivered.

“We are established in the Premier League for the second season on the trot,” said West Ham’s Sam Allardyce. “It is exactly where I was asked to get us.”

Pellegrini met his employers’ requests, too. Unlike Allardyce, it ought to keep him in a job.

sports@thenational.ae

Follow our sports coverage on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE