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Pellegrini drops his guard to reveal club's inner turmoil

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Manuel Pellegrini

Manuel Pellegrini

AFP/Getty Images

Manuel Pellegrini

Manuel PELLEGRINI thinks his job is safe, but the timing and content of the interview suggest otherwise, with 'This Charming Man' very much in fear of "going out tonight" and not wanting his players to escape responsibility.

The big words in football could do with a little simplifying. 'Philosophy' really means 'plan' and 'mentality' is a posh term for 'cojones' in Pellegrini's native tongue.

So when Manchester City's manager lays the ground for his team's Champions League second leg against Barcelona by defending his own "calm" approach and doubting the club's winning "tradition", he is really telling the dressing room: "I will survive this, but you may not."

In an interview this week, Pellegrini stopped stonewalling and showed us who he really is.

In his press conferences he tends to wear the air of a well-dressed man trying to walk across a badly dog-soiled park at night. A few more twinkle steps and he will be back on the concrete path.

But, with Barcelona, leading 2-1 from the first leg, he stopped swerving and told it straight: "This is an absolutely solid project, carried out the right way. I've never felt that if I don't win I'm out."

A personal theory is that there are about five managers worldwide capable of extracting the best from 23 multi-millionaires who could engineer a way out with pretty much one call to their agent.

Alienated

Roberto Mancini's martinet routine worked at City until he alienated a critical mass of players.

Pellegrini was the opposite, the antidote: an emotionally stable coach from the tier below Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.

The City manager made sure he played the decency card in this week's interview, revealing how guilty he felt after a rare outburst against a referee.

"I've changed my character 100 per cent; if not, I could never have become a manager," Pellegrini said, pushing aside, for a day, his familiar platitudes and evasions.

"At first, I made decisions based on emotion, when you have to take them calmly. When I made the transition from player to coach I evaluated myself and saw that I needed to improve my personality.

"I would fight with players - literally. I was 35 and you can't be like that; you have young players to guide.

"You have to transmit calm. It's not easy to slow your heart rate and maybe some see it as a flaw, passivity, but it's among the best things I've done.

"I've had confrontations when players don't have my three non-negotiable qualities - respect, commitment and performance level. But it's better to convince (than impose), better to be calm."

Ah, passivity. Pellegrini knows the charge sheet against him, and a lack of animation is near the top.

In England, grappling with fellow managers in the coaching zone and anger-bombing press conferences equates to passion, or spirit, which then transmits through the walls to players, who then perk up, sense danger, resolve to fight for their leader. Or so we have convinced ourselves.

Shifting

There is plenty of cod psychology in all this, but it should not blind us to the big issues being played out in Catalonia.

Is Pellegrini now subtly shifting blame to his players and to Financial Fair Play, and can he survive if City crash out in Barcelona and then fail to defend the Premier League title for the second time in a four-season cycle?

First, to all those who said City lack the ability to win title after title and build a dynasty, the manager himself confirms it: "When you win something, if you don't have that mentality that comes from a tradition of always winning, the built-in demands of a big club, there's always a small dip."

It was his job to guard against the "small dips' in motivation, and so far he has had no more joy than Mancini.

Pellegrini went on to announce that City need another "crack" (superstar) to complement Sergio Aguero, to lend City "a kind of ascendancy, status" and made the highly reasonable point that losing a big Champions League knockout tie to a fellow heavyweight on a tiny margin can "distort everything".

But by defending his own style of management he also sheds a little too much light on how City have settled on the wrong side of the line between stability and stagnation. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent