Pressure mounting on Pellegrini and Van Gaal
It was the annual Christmas jumper charity day at Manchester City yesterday, but Manuel Pellegrini was not entering into the festive spirit.
The Chilean chose to attend his weekly press conference in his usual tracksuit and training coat outfit and, when one journalist's jumper emitted a crackly "Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas" greeting from the portly Santa Claus figure on the front, Pellegrini remained stony-faced as those around him saw the funny side.
Then again, it has been one of those weeks in Manchester, both on the blue side and the red, where talk of the sack has focused on the managers of City and United rather than on Father Christmas' imminent deliveries.
The prospect of Pep Guardiola trading Bayern Munich for the Etihad Stadium next summer has once again returned to haunt City manager Pellegrini.
And over at Old Trafford, Louis van Gaal has become the bookmakers' favourite to become the next Premier League manager to lose his job, in the wake of Jose Mourinho's dismissal at Chelsea, following a run of five games without a win and a more damning sequence of just four victories in 14 outings.
Pellegrini, at least, appears safe until the summer, when his future will depend on whether Guardiola fancies City or not, but Van Gaal's position is far less secure, particularly with Mourinho now back on the market.
Although the Dutchman enjoys the backing of United's owners, the Glazer family, a failure to defeat Norwich City at Old Trafford today will leave him in a perilous position, with the patience of supporters wearing dangerously thin.
Van Gaal insisted he has seen it all before, but even the ultra-confident 64-year-old admitted the flames are beginning to burn his feet.
"I have the full confidence of my board and my players, I feel, but we have to get results," Van Gaal said.
"We have to win, we know that - the players know it, I know it and my staff know it. We have to win because when you lose too much it's the end of the world for me also.
"I don't want to finish my career with the club sacking me. That would be a great disappointment for me to say goodbye to the football world by being fired."
Mourinho's departure from Chelsea has taken away at least some of Van Gaal's protection.
Following developments at Stamford Bridge, United lurching towards crisis now claims the Premier League narrative and Van Gaal needs a victory, and a performance, from his team to reduce the volume of his detractors.
"We need that (performance) maybe, but for me it is more important that we win," Van Gaal said.
"But it is not easy to win in the Premier League. Every game has its own pressure. Every week you have to do it in different circumstances, but when you lose, fans have to prove their belief again."
The irony for Pellegrini across town at City is that there have been few grumbles from supporters about the team's style of play or even results, with the club lying third in the Premier League table, just three points adrift of surprise leaders Leicester City.
The former Real Madrid coach has guided City into the Champions League knockout stages - Van Gaal's fate may have been sealed by his failure to do likewise with United - but Guardiola is an itch that continues to be scratched at the Etihad.
When the Spaniard announces his plans to leave Bayern in the coming days, his close relationship with City's director of football, Txiki Begiristain, ensures that all bets will be on him accepting a new challenge in east Manchester. Yet Pellegrini is pragmatic about the speculation.
"I am not concerned about (Guardiola)," he said. "We don't know what Pep will do next season.
"Pep is one of the best coaches in the world, so if he doesn't continue at Bayern a lot of teams can try to have him.
"In my case, I don't have any pressure about that. Maybe there are a lot of rumours - not only this season but going back to the other seasons also - but the only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself to win.
"When you have experience and manage so many big clubs, you know every result that is not the result the club wants, the media will start with different rumours about different things. But if you are worried about that, it's impossible to work in a big team."
Despite Pellegrini's outwardly relaxed approach to the constant noise around Guardiola and City, the 62-year-old's exasperation at a lack of appreciation for his achievements is no secret within the club.
Perhaps Pellegrini's unexcitable demeanour is why City crave the stardust of Guardiola but, after almost 30 years in management, there is no likelihood of him changing now.
"Every owner has the right to see what is the best for their club," he said. "It's not my problem because I don't think for them. My thinking is to try to win and continue in a job where I am happy. After that, it's not my decision."
Pellegrini's fate appears to be out of his hands. Even if he wins the Champions League this season, City are unlikely to pass up their chance to hire Guardiola.
United may also fancy their chances of recruiting the biggest name in management, but Van Gaal enjoys the luxury of still being in control of his own destiny. If he loses the United supporters, however, the finishing line will not be far away.
"The pressure when I started as a manager was much higher because I cannot lose now that I am at the end of my career," Van Gaal said. "What can I lose? I lose the confidence of the fans and that for me would be very sad.
"I have had a career that every starting trainer wants to have, but I don't want to finish with the club sacking me. That would be a great disappointment for me to say goodbye to the football world by being fired."
Independent News Service