Manuel Pellegrini lost both of his parents in a three-month span between April and July of this year — a fact that should make observers’ level of appreciation for his work at Manchester City soar.
Since taking charge of City in mid-July, Pellegrini has already fixed what was broken at the club last season, integrated new signings into the fabric of the team, got the team playing his style of soccer and positioned City to contend for this season’s Premier League title.
In doing so, he has propelled himself to the highest echelon of managers currently working in English soccer. In fact, any “best manager in England” discussion which excludes Pellegrini isn’t worthy of time or attention. Such is the quality of the job he has done at City to date.
Recent victories against Manchester United and Wigan Athletic (by a combined score of 9-1) are apt symbols of the Pellegrini effect. After all, it was United who took the league title away from City, and Wigan’s upset victory in the FA Cup final consigned City to a trophy-less 2012-13 campaign. Like City, both United and Wigan have new managers this season, but neither club can match the on-field strides City has taken under its new regime.
The atmosphere at City had become poisonous in the final months of former City manager Roberto Mancini‘s reign. Low morale was a principal reason why City stalled last season, and Pellegrini’s first task was to correct the situation. It took one week of practice for City captain Vincent Kompany to praise the effect the new manager had on the squad.
“This is probably the sharpest I’ve seen the team in a long time,” Kompany said in July. “There’s a certain flair to Pellegrini’s methods. He looks like a very decent human being. We’ve trained really hard and adapted to a new style. What he’s done so far he’s done it with a lot of class. For a group that wants to push itself, it’s a good thing. We’re hungry and we have to learn.”
Five weeks later, Pellegrini’s boss, sporting director Txiki Begiristain, also noted a changed mood in the City camp.
“Now the atmosphere is very good,” he told the Telegraph. “There’s a lot of confidence.
“This kind of manager gives a lot of confidence to the players, and we are recovering the confidence of the players who were really down last season. That was really important.”
Hitting his first target so quickly gave Pellegrini the time, space and credibility he needed to attack other, more difficult ones. The first was to transmit his ideas to City players and make them play how he wants them to play. When he took the job, I wrote: “Pellegrini’s teams are usually well-organized, intelligent and play with purpose. They strike a delicate balance between attack and defense, which makes them hard to beat on an off day and frightening when everything clicks.”
Pellegrini insists that his players show “respect, commitment and performance” on the field at all times. City wants him to produce an entertaining team, which plays with “bravery, maturity and commitment,” according to the Mirror. Judging by what we have seen so far this season, particularly in City’s routs of United and Wigan, it’s safe to conclude that City is playing like a Pellegrini team and satisfying any and all demands.
City spent almost £100 million ($160 million) on five new players — Martin Demichelis, Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho, Stevan Jovetic and Jesus Navas — during the summer transfer window. Buying new players is easy for England’s richest club. Making good use of them is much trickier. Navas and Negredo were central to City’s win over United. The former tormented United’s Patrice Evra and Ashley Young, while Negredo had two assists. Meanwhile, Fernandinho (and midfield mainstay Yaya Toure) made United’s Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick, two standout performers with Everton and United last season, look ordinary during the Manchester derby.
After orchestrating United’s destruction Sunday, Pellegrini made 10 changes to the starting lineup for Tuesday’s game against Wigan. Yet, City delivered another commanding performance, which was highlighted by two Jovetic goals. Afterwards, Pellegrini told the BBC that he won’t accept a drop in performance when he rotates his team.
“I spoke with the players before we started the game, telling them we must always try to play the same way,” he said. “We can change names but for me it was very important to see the same team we saw last Sunday, the same philosophy of football and the same high performance.”
The season is only six weeks old, but City is already displaying a team spirit and winning mentality from which champions are made. There is intense competition within Pellegrini’s squad, as players fight to satisfy the new manager’s demands and meet their own ambitions. City can build on its fast start as it takes aim it its next targets, namely progress in the UEFA Champions League and winning trophies.
Pelligrini is part of a trio of new managers at England’s top three finishers last season. While David Moyes (United) and Jose Mourinho took their jobs with great fanfare and dominated headlines over the summer, Pellegrini got to work at City in his typically calm and understated manner. This approach is yielding early success, which sets City on the path to greater glories. That Pellegrini has managed this turnaround while grieving over the deaths of his mother and father speaks volumes about his professional abilities and personal qualities.
Other managers often attempt to copy the model and methods of “The Godfather” (Mourinho) and “The Professor” (Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger) — England’s two managerial titans. They should do the same for Pellegrini, the man known as “The Engineer,” since he is in the same class of Wenger and Mourinho.
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