If there’s one thing that upsets me about the arrival of Pep Guardiola, it’s the likely departure of Manuel Pellegrini from the club. He’s already confirmed he’s leaving his post as manager, moments before the club announced the arrival of the new manager from this season. Now, with him looking almost certain to not remain in any capacity, it is time to pay tribute to one of the men who will, decades from now, still be remembered as a vital stabilising influence on Manchester City in one of the most hectic times in its history.
One of my best memories of Pellegrini is perhaps his first league game, against Newcastle. Jesus Navas and Fernandinho both made their debuts, while Alvaro Negredo came on and netted a (wrongly) disallowed goal in a 4-0 victory that seemed so far removed from some of the trials and tribulations we had seen in the previous season. But what struck me was the sheer emotion Pellegrini showed as each of the goals flew past a 10-man Toon side. He cheered each with the passion of the fans, and to an extent I felt we hadn’t seen for a while. Of course, saying this at the time made me sound like any number of four letter words – and it probably still does.
That entire first season under Pellegrini is one which will live in my memory for years to come, regardless of how well Guardiola and subsequent head coaches do. The largest criticism was “well it’s Mancini’s team”, which it largely was. Aguero, Yaya, Silva, and more, were all Mancini buys. But he didn’t get them to the point where they were scoring 154 goals in a season. Pellegrini did, and did it almost effortlessly.
Of course, there were bad patches in that season – Typical City patches I like to call them. After we lost at Liverpool during the second half of the season, it looked all over, and we all felt it. But, with the win from Chelsea at Anfield, we were dealt a huge stroke of luck. We capitalised on it in a fashion which in the past would have been entirely alien to us, and won the title along with that League Cup trip to Wembley two months prior. The resilience we showed to stay on Liverpool’s tail and strike when we had our chance was down to both Pellegrini and a fierce squad of players, and it made for a fantastic final few weeks of the year.
After such a fantastic season in terms of success in 2013-14, we were always going to struggle more the following year. The signings we made didn’t really work out – Fernando and Mangala being prime examples – and then we failed to properly strengthen in January when we could have done. Of course, you can’t blame Pellegrini for a Chelsea side which was at times brilliant. Mourinho made some great signings that summer, and they did what they were bought for. In the end, it was always going to be a huge struggle for us.
But what did we do? We decided that we were too good for last season to repeat itself, this time, round. We went out and had our best transfer window in years. Sterling. Delph. Otamendi. De Bruyne. These are the players we’ve been crying out for, and the majority have been met with largely positive responses during their first few months at City. De Bruyne is showing all the hallmarks of being a club legend.
And a lot of their success is down to Pellegrini. I could have set this article up as a big rant about why this season has been sh*t and why the Chilean has to be sacked. I would have been entirely wrong to do so, but I could have done it. You can call into questions aspects of his management – the urgency of his teams, the seeming unwillingness to make subs when they’re needed, his record against top teams – but when he gets it right, it’s a joy to behold, and it’s why we’re still fighting on four fronts this season.
In the back of my mind, I’ve always felt Pellegrini was just steadying the ship before Guardiola could arrive this year. But he’s done a great job of it. He’s ensured we remain competitive in the Premier League and won us our first League Cup since 1976 (he could bring us another one in just under four weeks). He’s managed to get us Champions League knockout football for three consecutive years now, and we should progress past Dynamo Kyiv.
His achievements here, which are clear to see, are why I hope we can keep him on in some capacity. I’m not quite sure what that’d be – maybe that’s why I don’t work for the club – but I’m convinced the Blues could find something meaningful for him if he wanted it. Of course, he may want a new challenge, domestically or internationally.
His resignation gives us the chance to celebrate him over his last few months here. We know he’s going, so we can spur him on to ensure he ends his managerial spell here on the best terms he can, maybe with a double, or a treble (if he really loves us, maybe he’ll even get us a quadruple). There’s no uncertainty about his future, so we can reflect on some of his greatest games before he departs in the summer.
I’m glad we’re able to start a new era at City with Pep Guardiola, who may become the greatest manager we’ve ever had. But I’m still in mourning for the end of The Engineer.