x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Pellegrini calms once-roiled waters at Manchester City

Players hope to bring home silverware to complement revamped style, writes Richard Jolly.

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini reacts during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first-leg match against Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium on February 18, 2014. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini reacts during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first-leg match against Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium on February 18, 2014. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

Manchester City were at Wembley, intent on securing a third major trophy in as many years.

Their supporters, fearing their beloved manager would be replaced by a coach whose personal drought dated back a decade, made their feelings known about his prospective successor in no uncertain terms. It was scarcely a warm welcome.

Two days after last May’s FA Cup final defeat, Roberto Mancini was sacked. One month later, Manuel Pellegrini was appointed.

Now as City return to England’s national stadium for the League Cup final on Sunday, it is with Pellegrini at the helm and with the scent of at least three more honours this season.

Now there is no dissent against Pellegrini’s regime. Mancini retains a place in the fans’ hearts, but his name is rarely heard on their lips. Yet while the Chilean has proved a popular replacement, a maiden major honour would silence any remaining critics outside the club.

Apart from the 2004 Intertoto Cup, Pellegrini’s last silverware came in the Argentine championship in 2003. Now there is a determination to end the Chilean’s wait among a squad of players with sizeable medal collections.

“We have a good relationship so I want to win this title for him,” said midfielder Fernandinho, who won 14 trophies in his time at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Samir Nasri concurred, arguing Pellegrini had stood little chance of beating Spain’s wealthiest clubs to the prizes. “He came here to win trophies as well and it is always difficult to win trophies as the manager of a team like Malaga,” he said.

“You have to fight against Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. Even with those teams [Villarreal and Malaga] he did really well but it is too hard. It is like you give West Brom a manager and you expect him to win trophies in the Premier League, it will be very difficult. Now he is with a bigger club, with Manchester City.”

It has been a smooth succession. Jose Mourinho in 2005 and Juande Ramos with Tottenham in 2008 a rare cases of when a foreign manager come to England and won the first available trophy.

“He has just arrived,” Nasri said. “He has come after a manager who was really loved by the fans and he did well. He can win four trophies and we are still in the race for the four trophies so we have to congratulate him anyway.”

If many City players, Nasri included, endured fractious relationships with Mancini, they are altogether fonder of Pellegrini. His man-management skills are a reason why they wish him well.

“We had a discussion and he told me exactly what he wanted from me,” said the Frenchman.

“After that, we just talk all the time together, when everything is OK, when something is wrong and that’s why I like the manager a lot. I go out on the pitch and try everything for him. As a player, my confidence is up.”

If Mancini was temperamental to the point of being melodramatic, the softly spoken Pellegrini is his antithesis.

“The manager is calm, he is quiet, like me,” said Fernandinho, who is as laid back off the pitch as he is hyperactive on it. “He is a very good person. He knows the way to do everything in the week: the training, the game. He knows his players.”

The seeming contradiction in Pellegrini’s character is how such an austere, unexcitable individual can produce teams with such flamboyance and flair. Fernandinho is a key part of it: whereas his counterparts at other clubs focus on protecting the back four, he has a licence to raid forward.

His central-midfield sidekick Yaya Toure has already contributed 16 goals. The team have 118. It is all part of Pellegrini’s bold blueprint.

“I think he analyses the team very well,” Fernandinho said. “He has a good sensation about the players and he knows the way we need to play and the way we need to defend as well.

“Yaya and I try to do our best. He is an amazing player, an experienced player and I learn a lot from him.”

Even the engine room contains entertainers in a Pellegrini team. It is why his players hope there is some silverware to accompany the style. As Nasri said: “The way he wants his team to play is something I like.”


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