Sport Soccer

Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Engineer' Pellegrini giving rivals hell with his firepower

Manager perfecting 'holistic' model introduced by City's Spanish chiefs

Manchester City's manager Manuel Pellegrini
Manchester City's manager Manuel Pellegrini

Paul Hayward

Holistic is not the word they were looking for. They meant 'sadistic'.

Manchester City's mission is less about alternative medicine than causing damage to the rest of English football through Middle Eastern oil money and the Spanish aesthetic.

Manuel Pellegrini makes an unlikely tough guy, but his passive-aggressive method is starting to look more effective than the drama queenery of Roberto Mancini, who thrived on conflict.

The amateur photographers who snapped shoving matches at City's Carrington training ground have given up and returned to birds and sunsets. Reporters who covered Mancini's constant power struggles now have to make do with the lugubrious Pellegrini throwing a glass of cold water on anything contentious.

No credit should be withheld from Pellegrini for City's rampant form, which will probably see them reach 100 goals in all competitions against Cardiff City tomorrow.

Cardiff manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be reminded of Manchester United's golden age of strikers when he, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham kept the scoreboard busy at Manchester's other club.

Now, Alvaro Negredo, Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero have 56 goals between them and City have won 14 of their last 16 matches.

A sure sign that they are haunting the sleep of other Premier League managers is that Jose Mourinho is piling on psychological pressure.

"I keep saying the team with more responsibilities to win it, because their squad is quite unique, is Manchester City," Mourinho said -- stretching the very reasonable point that City are the most potent side in a compelling title race.

'The Engineer,' as Pellegrini was known in his native Chile, is not the one who built this model.

The inspiration flowed from Ferran Soriano, the chief executive, and Txiki Begiristain, the director of football, whose Barcelona-derived faith in a unifying style of play from youth through to the first team gave rise to the word 'holistic', which was widely mocked at the time.

Feelings were running high after Mancini's sacking (which many City players welcomed).

Pellegrini was routinely cast as a nearly man who had bombed at Real Madrid (not true).

FLOWING

If there was a hint of mumbo jumbo about City's statement at that time, it was because too few people were in the mood to look past the h-word and the sense it conveyed of corporate-speak gone mad. Would they also be appointing a Head of Posterity?

The idea at the heart of it turns out to be sound. They knew they wanted to play flowing football.

They knew that aim should be imposed on all City teams, as a developmental principle. And they could be sure Pellegrini would not be starting fires in the media, demanding total control, like Mancini, or grappling with a Mario Balotelli.

Pellegrini would coach the players he was given, in his long exile from his family back in Chile, a sacrifice he described -- in an interview before Christmas -- as an act of solitary devotion to his work.

Not eating Chilean food or looking at family photographs is one of Pellegrini's tactics for dousing homesickness.

There was much sadness in the interview, but also confirmation that he is no opportunist, and certainly no dilettante.

After his bad experience at Real Madrid, where he was tossed on the same scrapheap as many prematurely discarded managers, the City job has become his grail; his opportunity to add top European honours to his CV.

"If you are to do well in this job you need to be prepared to dedicate hours to it, and if your family is here that is harder," he said.

"If you do not learn the language, do your preparation, you cannot meet big challenges. There is always a cost."

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan has not denied him the tools to do the job.

So what City need from Pellegrini is good management of the squad, which means rotating the best players while also keeping them happy; and tweaking tactics in Europe to prevent a repetition of the heavy home defeat by Bayern Munich, which he avenged in Bavaria.

Above all they need him to keep the confidence of this City team where it is: sky-high, so that the play keeps flowing sweetly and freely.

Alan Pardew's verbal attack on him at Newcastle may have reflected, in part, a sense among some British coaches that foreign managers are picking up these plum jobs too easily.

Pellegrini was certainly fortunate to be handed so many brilliant players, not just up front, but in midfield, where the chances are created.

In a week when Premier League football was shut out at the FIFA Ballon d'Or gala in Zurich, this City team are something of a beacon.

You could take them to Barcelona or Bayern Munich and say: 'See if you can outscore this lot.'

For opponents, they are hell-istic.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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