The worst-kept secret in football was finally revealed this week as Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini signed a three-year deal as Roberto Mancini’s replacement at Manchester City. With Sevilla midfielder Jesus Navas also arriving at the Etihad and striker Iago Aspas joining Liverpool from Celta Vigo, what can Premier League fans expect next season from the new arrivals from La Liga?
At 59 years of age, the man known as the Engineer will be the second oldest manager in England’s top flight, after Arsene Wenger. Pellegrini is a vastly experienced coach but has never managed in England before. After 450 games in a one-club career as a central defender with Universidad Chile, he cut his managerial teeth in Argentina before a five-year spell in Spain with Villarreal.
Moving to Real Madrid in 2009, Pellegrini brought Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso to the Bernabeu at a combined cost of around €200m, but after his expensive team crashed out of the Champions League and came second to Barcelona in La Liga, the Chilean was fired.
Replacing Jesualdo Ferreira after Malaga’s disastrous start to 2010-11, Pellegrini steered the Costa del Sol outfit to an 11th place finish before taking them to fourth in La Liga in his first full season in charge and securing a Champions League slot. In addition to reaching the Champions League quarter-finals last season, Pellegrini guided Malaga to sixth, good enough for a Europa League place next term.
As a coach, Pellegrini is noted for his ability to mould successful teams playing attacking and entertaining football. While initial success at Malaga was built on significant investment in players, a financial crisis at the club meant last season’s achievements were achieved, contrary to the expectations of many, on a much-reduced budget. He will not face similar problems at City but, apart from handling a collection of highly-paid egos more effectively than Mancini did, Pellegrini will be expected to deliver success.
Spanish international winger Jesus Navas has joined City for a reported €17.5m. His signature was secured before Pellegrini’s arrival but the attack-minded player, who has 24 caps for his country, will fit the Chilean’s attacking style. With 336 appearances for Sevilla under his belt, he was a key figure in his club’s UEFA Cup winning run in 2005-06 and for a number of years was ever-present in the Andalusians’ line-up, scoring 31 goals and providing assists for many more.
The 27-year-old says he is excited at the prospect of linking up with Pellegrini, and believes the new coach will get the most out of his team and achieve great things at the Etihad. “Everything I know about him is positive. Every team he coaches plays well, and everyone in the city will support him,” Navas told City’s official website following the coach’s appointment. “He’s important because he will help the team and we all know the importance of a good manager and a good person who we trust.”
City fans will be looking forward to the prospect of Navas linking up with fellow Spanish international David Silva at City but, with Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal, Pepe Reina, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata all with Premier League sides, Navas himself is also relishing the chance to pitch his wits against his countrymen.
With 12 goals in 36 appearances last season for a struggling Celta Vigo side, and 50 in 153 games overall for the Galicians, striker Iago Aspas is no stranger to controversy, but denies his move to Liverpool is to either replace or replicate Luis Suarez. With the Anfield future of the brilliant but enigmatic Uruguayan still the subject of contention, coach Brendan Rodgers has moved quickly to bring in the lively front man from Celta, who only escaped relegation from La Liga with a 1-0 win over Espanyol on the final day of the season. Liverpool are reported to have paid around €9m for the 25-year-old striker, who can play either in the centre or out wide.
Like Suarez, Galician-born Aspas wears his heart on his sleeve and has been known to allow his emotions to get the better of him. In March last season, in a lively and highly-charged encounter away to despised local rivals Deportivo La Coruna, and with both clubs mired in the relegation zone, the red mist descended for Aspas, who head-butted Carlos Marchena and received his marching orders. Celta were beaten and Aspas was banned for four games. No sooner had he returned, then he was booked for diving and was suspended once again.
With the English national team continuing to be exposed to criticism at senior and Under 21 levels, many will lament the arrival of yet more overseas talent, but the entertainment value of the latest batch of imports from La Liga is unlikely to be denied.