Prior to Thursday’s sacking of Jose Mourinho, headlines in the English paper were centered around Pep Guardiola’s long rumored move to Manchester City. The Bayern boss will reportedly announce next week that he will not return to the club after the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.
Guardiola’s relationships with Manchester City’s top executives — CEO Ferran Soriano, who promoted him to head coach at Barcelona in 2008 over Mourinho, and Director of Football Txiki Begiristain, with whom he worked closely with at the Catalan club — have been cited as reasons why the Blues lead the chase for the Bayern manager. But it is often forgotten that Manchester City have a proven manager in Manuel Pellegrini, one that fits the club’s philosophy while also bringing an element of calm and purpose to a dressing room full of egos.
Pellegrini has been assumed to be a dead man walking since the beginning of his tenure, with rumors constantly circulating that the club seeks to bring Guardiola on board as soon as possible. Yet the club has continued to have success and seen its global profile elevated during Pellegrini’s tenure.
It is no secret that the Blues brass craves for the club to be considered one of Europe’s elite powers. Guardiola potentially gives that credibility in a way that Pellegrini never will. But sometimes clubs should be weary of what they crave.
Being a “big club” seems to require sides hire a manager from the rotation of those who have done the job at bigger places. Soriano and Begiristain have twice proven they will buck that narrative. With Guardiola, they hired a man who’d been running the club’s youth team. With Pellegrini, they chose a man that had famously never claimed a major piece of silverware in European soccer.
Guardiola, who implemented Soriano’s desired “holistic” approach at Barcelona, has now essentially become a mercenary whose footballing philosophy has clashed with those in power at Bayern’s conservative yet established powerhouse. Pellegrini has been criticized for being hired to implement the “holistic” approach but instead going to the well time and again with veteran players and even relying on bruised warriors. He relied on Frank Lampard and James Milner last season (both set to leave the club at the end of the campaign), but he did so to get maximum results and finish second in the league at a time when qualification for the UEFA Champions League seemed in doubt.
We need look no further than Jose Mourinho’s end as Chelsea manager to understand that this game, especially at the highest level, is largely about psychology and interpersonal relationships. Pellegrini has been often criticized for being stubborn and not getting the most out of his teams. But time and again we have seen a rallying effect when the Blues’ backs are against the wall. Both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 season saw City finish the year atop the form table, putting the drama with other clubs aside and mitigating anything internally, including Yaya Toure’s frequent eruptions.
Manchester City are again in a bad patch, much like they were for large portions of the previous two seasons. Each time they eventually came good, pulling out of the funk and ending the season playing some entertaining and successful soccer. While Guardiola has been remarkably successful, no guarantee exists that in the hyper-competitive world of English football, where away matches are far generally filled with far more peril than in Spain, he will adjust as quickly as Pellegrini, who lost four of his first six league matches away from home then lost just one of the next 18.
In Germany, Guardiola has had far and away the deepest and most talented squad in the league. He will have no such luxury in England. Without having been through the wars of the Premier League, much of year one might end up being a baptism by fire.
In addition, City still have a feel good factor about them despite the hundreds of millions spent. Neutral fans often don’t feel the way about Manchester City’s spending that they do about Chelsea. The drama-less Pellegrini and the likable disposition of the players he selects have stood in stark contrast to Mourinho’s Blues, both from a player and managerial perspective. The hiring of Guardiola will make City look more ruthless than ever and link the club to someone who in certain circles is growing the reputation of being a bit of a coaching mercenary.
For all of Guardiola’s enlightenment in terms of playing style, I doubt he would craft a side that maintains possession and yet keep some needed pragmatic qualities, the way Pellegrini has. The potential upside of a Guardiola appointment is without question fantastic. However, to move Pellegrini out of the way for the former Barcelona great would not only be cruel, it might be highly unwise.
More Manchester City:
- City say Aguero will be available to face Arsenal.
- Toure voted BBC African Player of the Year.
- CFG stake is part of China’s dream of being a soccer power.
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