x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Pellegrini's Manchester City journey just beginning

The manager's nomadic career sees him begin a league campaign at a 12th club on Monday night against Newcastle United, writes Richard Jolly.

Manuel Pellegrini, centre, is likely to be without striker Sergio Aguero when Manchester City host Newcastle United on Monday. Paul Thomas / Getty Images
Manuel Pellegrini, centre, is likely to be without striker Sergio Aguero when Manchester City host Newcastle United on Monday. Paul Thomas / Getty Images

It is quite a list. Eleven clubs, spanning 26 years. It started at Universidad de Chile, before progressing to Palestino, O'Higgins, Universidad Catolica, Palestino (again), LDU Quito, San Lorenzo and River Plate. Then, in Europe, there were Villarreal, Real Madrid and Malaga. Now finally, there is Manchester City.

Manuel Pellegrini's managerial career has been a long and winding road, incorporating obscurity and poverty along with some of the game's most prestigious and powerful clubs. Now it begins in earnest in England. Four weeks shy of his 60th birthday, Pellegrini takes charge of his first English Premier League match, proclaiming himself eager, but not anxious.

"I have a very good squad, so I am not nervous," he said. "There is excitement."

There is for City, too, after an investment of almost £90 million (Dh516m) brought four pedigreed players – the midfielder Fernandinho, the winger Jesus Navas and the strikers Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic – to the Etihad Stadium. All could make competitive debuts against Newcastle United on Monday night.

And yet much of the attention will be focused on the dugout. If Jose Mourinho is the most exotic managerial import this summer, Pellegrini may be the most intriguing.

A proven expert in both South America and Spain, untried in England, he believes his status as a newcomer will prove no impediment.

"I don't think it can be a problem," he said.

"I have a lot of experience in different countries and know a lot about the Premier League."

He watched it every weekend during his nine years in Spain, the Chilean said, and he has faced daunting challenges before.

He explained: "To manage River Plate in Argentina is not easy. To manage Real Madrid in Spain is not easy."

To manage City in England was not easy for Roberto Mancini last season, either. An unhappy club underachieved.

"My target is City must improve in all aspects," said Pellegrini, who improved each of his three Spanish clubs. That incorporates a superior style of play as well, he hopes, as better results. "The targets for me and the club are always the highest," he added.

There will be a focus on the collective, rather than identifying individuals, as his predecessor was prone to do. He is the understated antidote to the explosive Mancini.

"My teams do not play by name, they play by performance," Pellegrini said. "For the whole team, the 22 players are exactly the same."

It is an egalitarian notion, if not strictly true. Were that the case, City would not have needed to be the Premier League's biggest spenders this summer. Negredo and Jovetic arrived in part because Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli are the biggest-name departures in 2013 and partly because City scored only 66 league goals last season, 27 fewer than in the previous campaign. Navas is charged with adding the width a narrow team often lacked. Fernandinho is pencilled in to partner Yaya Toure in the centre of midfield.

Gareth Barry, a regular in his four seasons in Manchester, has been displaced and could depart if he wishes.

"I have in his position also [Jack] Rodwell, [Javi] Garcia, Yaya and Fernandinho," Pellegrini said. "I spoke with Gareth, he wants to stay here. If he wants to go because has better options, it depends on what he wants to do."

For Scott Sinclair, part of last summer's late, mistaken spending spree, the exit also beckons. Matija Nastasic, the one unqualified success from the August 2012 spending spree, is missing with an ankle injury, but could return for Sunday's trip to Cardiff City. Sergio Aguero, having missed their pre-season games with a knee problem, might be involved.

Coaxing production from his four forwards, including Jovetic, Negredo and Edin Dzeko, will be one of Pellegrini's stiffest tasks. He has another quartet on his mind, however, as he targets all the trophies available for City.

"I will try to play for the four FA Cup, Capital [One], Champions League and Premier to try to win them all," Pellegrini said.

It is quite an aim. But then Pellegrini's has been quite a journey.


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