Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure as Manchester City manager has been called into question after a series of indifferent performances that culminated in a 1-0 loss against Burnley on Saturday. The Chilean manager’s position, depending on what source you consider, is either safe or in terminal crisis.
Ironically at Turf Moor on Saturday, it could be argued that the two best players on the pitch that had ever suited up for Manchester City were Ben Mee and Kieran Trippier, two defenders the Blues gave up on several years ago. Both players have been instrumental in bringing Burnley back to the top flight and to the Clarets survival fight this year. This is no small irony. Manchester City last brought through a regular from the Academy when Sven Goran-Eriksson was manager and Thaskin Shinawatra owned the club. While a “holistic” approach has been promised by the club’s top brass, nothing remotely resembling it has been on display as of yet.
The Blues top brass led by Ferran Soriano and ‘Txiki’ Begiristain have made one mistake after another since assuming control of the club in late 2012. The sacking of Roberto Mancini as City manager ushered in an era of less drama but also of consistently bad transfer buys and ultimately less competitive soccer. Pellegrini inherited a good squad from Mancini and was able to get footballers to play with a collective spirit last season. He also benefitted from Liverpool’s late season collapse and Chelsea’s unlikely dropping of points to multiple relegation contenders in the last two months of the season. Had things gone according to form last season, Manchester City would have finished third in the league, but Pellegrini can be credited with keeping the drama out of the dressing room and being the fortunate recipient of others’ bad luck.
This season, however, the bad transfer policies and lack of understanding of English soccer demonstrated by Soriano and Begiristain have been fully exposed. It can be argued that Manchester City has not made a value buy in the transfer market since Roberto Mancini was manager and Brian Marwood was largely responsible for player dealings.
The last several transfer windows have seen the Blues overpay for several players based on the continent while giving up on some of Mancini’s later buys.
Take the cases of Matija Nastasić and Scott Sinclair. During Nastasić’s first season with the club in 2012-13, he was outstanding and considered one of the brightest young talents in the English game. A single mistake against Chelsea in October 2013 lost him a place in the side. And without any league starts in a year, he was shipped off to Schalke on loan. This week that loan was made permanent. Currently, the Blues central defense is a complete mess whose only reliable performer is 34 year-old Martín Demichelis.
In Sinclair’s case, Manchester City has virtually no game-changing attacking options on the bench except for 36 year-old Frank Lampard who will move to Major League Soccer in the summer. Yet Sinclair was never afforded the opportunity to play a critical late-game role until weeks before he was loaned to Aston Villa, where he started out well, scoring 3 goals in his last 5 games for the Midlands club.
Manchester City has taken a different approach than Chelsea in the transfer market. The West London club has bought young players and either loaned them out consistently, or played them for a season or two, watched their value peak and then sell them. City’s approach has often been to buy older, more established players, give them big contracts and keep them together as a core of the team. This leaves the Citizens with very few good sellable parts in an era where Financial Fair Play (FFP) makes creativity in the transfer market a must.
At the same time, the club has failed to forward an acceptable contract offer to arguably its hardest-working player, James Milner. The utility of Milner would be obvious to those grounded in the finer points of English soccer – but City’s brass, obsessive about being a global brand and committed to continental style, has at least from the outside not given the Leeds-born midfielder the respect he deserves or the respect perhaps he would have gotten were he from somewhere else.
The club’s hierarchy has been focused largely in recent months on the launch of a sister club in MLS, NYCFC and the opening of the City Academy for Excellence in East Manchester. Both are worthwhile projects, but neither solves any of the immediate concerns that very well could see the Citizens slide out of contention for honors over the next several seasons.
So while Pellegrini’s position is in question, the very soul of Manchester City has ripped apart and the sacking of a manager might only give a temporary respite. Bigger questions must be asked of those making the decisions above Pellegrini, as to why a club that looked poised to potentially dominate the English game for many years is so off course.
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