Saturday 25 November 2017

Stability built by Manuel labour

There's still drama but Manchester City have found calm too, writes Dion Fanning

Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City
Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City

Dion Fanning

When Manuel Pellegrini was appointed manager of Manchester City last summer, it was expected that he would bring harmony where there was discord. The three main contenders for the Premier League title had changed their managers but only Pellegrini has been able to make transition work.

In the aftermath of Roberto Mancini's departure, City's chief executive Ferran Soriano said that he wanted to win "five trophies in five years". Pellegrini could have presented the Capital One Cup at the end of the season but the Premier League trophy may be what Soriano had in mind.

Pellegrini was the man Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, the club's director of football, had in mind at that stage as well. City had lost to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup final and the mood among the players at the end of the Mancini era wasn't encouraging.

Manchester City are on the brink of their second title in three years but this time there is the feeling that the dominance that could never be established under Mancini can now be achieved.

Pellegrini offered an antidote to Mancini's ways. English football is constantly in search of adrenalin but Pellegrini has remained true to his instincts and promoted calm which is what Sheikh Mansour, Soriano and Begiristain wanted.

"He's brought a joy and happiness," David Silva said of Pellegrini last week and City will hope that he can bring stability too.

Everything changed at Manchester City when Sheikh Mansour arrived in 2008. Brendan Rodgers described City as "the richest team in the history of sport" on Friday. Without the billions, none of it would have been possible but City must be a rarity in the modern game: they have become a more stable club in the Premier League years or at least in the years of Sheikh Mansour.

Niall Quinn recalled in his autobiography that the Manchester City he joined "reeked of poverty and bad organisation".

Quinn looked back fondly on the old Maine Road where the players would spend hours engaged in games of head tennis in a small gymnasium just off the tunnel at the ground.

When Franny Lee took over and attempted a modernisation, the gym was turned into an executive lunch suite. "City wasn't an executive lunch kind of place," Quinn wrote. It "wasn't a weekend hangout of the prawn sandwich merchants. It was quintessential Manchester. People who get rained on all day every day, those people are Manchester City fans."

From 1979 to 2001, City went through 15 managers, demonstrating that they were in touch with modern methods more than 30 years ago.

Peter Swales was the man who oversaw much of that before he was replaced by Franny Lee in 1994.

When people complain about the owners in the Premier League, they forget about men like Swales, who might have understood the local community, but rarely brought any vision to the job of running a football club.

When Lee appeared on the scene, the City fans supported the removal of the old regime but the old traditions remained. In 1995, Lee appointed Alan Ball as manager In 1996, City were relegated in the calamitous way which was said to define the old City. They needed a point more than Coventry and Southampton to stay up. Somebody got a message that one of them was losing and City – who were drawing – played out time. Quinn heard differently and frantically passed on his accurate information. City couldn't score and were relegated. "It was another shambles," Quinn recalled.

Franny Lee had not brought salvation and City were sinking further. Two years later, they were relegated to England's third division.

Crucially, they were able to occupy the City of Manchester Stadium which was built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. As David Conn details in Richer Than God, the story of the club's transformation, City became tenants of the stadium at fabulously beneficial rates as they were the only viable occupants.

They would pay nothing for the building of the stadium or its conversion to a football ground. City would spend £20 million installing bars and executive suites and pay the council up to £2 million in rent on attendances over 32,000 and they now pay a flat rate to the council.

The stadium made City attractive as they made their way back to the Premier League and before it was attractive to Sheikh Mansour, it was attractive to Thaksin Shinawatra.

Many City fans welcomed Shinawatra but when he left having dismissed Sven Goran Eriksson and hired Mark Hughes, the club was in peril again. Sheikh Mansour changed everything when he bought the club in the summer of 2008.

"I would have questioned Shinawatra," says Niall Quinn who highlights the differences with the new regime. "We always have to be vigilant with owners but this is a sporting play. They have a system in place and they're doing things properly." Quinn sees the change whenever he visits the Etihad and he has noted the rise of the club's youth sides.

Two things have categorised Sheikh Mansour's time at the club which may not be expected to go together: money and patience.

The players City needed to become title winners arrived thanks to the wealth of Abu Dhabi but they have tried to give managers time and there is the sense, strengthened when Soriano and Begiristain arrived, of a club that wants method to complement the money.

They stuck with Hughes for a while before his sacking was botched. Mancini delivered City's title in 2012 but, if there were similarities with this season as the failings of others allowed them back in, the confrontations that took up time and energy were fundamentally different.

Mancini has always seen things his own way, commenting earlier this year on City's title challenge.

"I'm happy that Manchester City is one of the best teams in England because I built this team. I think Pellegrini is doing a good job but what is happening now at Manchester City, we did three years ago. It's the same."

There are plenty at City who would disagree. Edin Dzeko's two goals against Aston Villa last week were the latest demonstration of his renewed vigour. Sergio Aguero

has been missing with injury for nearly half of City's league games (although he has scored 17 times from 19 starts) and Dzeko's goals have been critical.

City have stumbled at times but those who see Steven Gerrard's slip as the moment when they were handed the title forget the nature of a league campaign. Vincent Kompany's mis-kick set up Liverpool's winner during the game at Anfield at a point when City had turned the game around. When they dropped points at home to Sunderland later that week, things looked bleak, but they have kept going knowing that others will have their dark moments too. Liverpool and Chelsea have had more than City.

Pellegrini, taunted by Mourinho at various times in their careers, will take some satisfaction from Chelsea's failures.

If City have bad news this week, it is likely to arrive tomorrow when UEFA reveal the punishments for those clubs which have breached Financial Fair Play regulations.

Arsene Wenger wants clubs who fail to be excluded from European competition, while there is a persuasive argument made by many who say that the regulations are flawed and do nothing to prevent those like the Glazers loading a club with debt and punish somebody like Sheikh Mansour who has revitalised a club and invested heavily in all areas of the community.

"This is a guy who is supposed to have done something wrong by putting no debt onto the club," Quinn says. "Are UEFA seriously stopping a club promoting women's football, football in the community and, most importantly, youth football?"

As with most of UEFA's ideas, the regulations are flawed but that's a different argument. UEFA believe that City breached the rules as they exist and the punishment may provide another hurdle in their stuttering attempts to establish a European profile.

Pellegrini received some criticism last week for being himself and not saying anything which would have distracted from the FFP headlines. That is not his way. He has worked quietly as City intended and City have, at their best, played wonderful football. Pellegrini's way is not to start an argument or create drama.

The events of the season would suggest that there is some drama left and in the past, this addiction to turmoil and adrenalin was Manchester City's way.

Next season, there will be stronger challenges from Chelsea and Manchester United but, if the title is confirmed today, the future of English football may belong to the new Manchester City that Manuel Pellegrini personifies.

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