Manuel Pellegrini is the right manager for Manchester City
The departure of Roberto Mancini as Manchester City coach may not be welcomed by the fans, who at times during the team's FA Cup final defeat to Wigan Athletic on Saturday sang, "You can stick Pellegrini up you're a**e!" But for City's chief executive, Ferran Soriano, and sporting director Txiki Begiristain, the likely appointment of Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini in his place makes perfect sense, and is far from the risk it has been portrayed in some quarters.
As a Manchester club prepares for a second managerial change within a week, here are some thoughts on Mancini, Pellegrini and City's future.
1. Mancini was gone before the FA Cup final. City does not have the type of owner that would sack a coach on the basis of one result, so Mancini's future was not purely contingent on the result of Saturday's FA Cup final against Wigan (a 1-0 loss). That said, while missing out on a trophy this season caps a poor return following last year's dramatic Premier League title, the nature of the defeat was a microcosm of City's season. It was lethargic, sluggish, complacent and tactically bettered.
Mancini continued his unappealing habit of coming up with excuses for his team's struggles. Failing to retain the Premier League title this season was down to the poor summer recruitment of former sports administrator Brian Marwood; the Champions League struggles were because of a lack of experience in the competition (despite having two previous winners in the squad, more than Chelsea had when it won last year); and after this FA Cup loss, he moaned about the leak from Spain that Pellegrini was set to replace him in the summer.
"If it's true then I'm stupid," he said, singling out City's head of communications, Vicky Kloss, also a club director, for not getting the story -- and others in the past -- spiked. It was the act of a man who has realized his time has run out. No more excuses, and certainly no admission of weakness; nor any sense that he has been in any way responsible.
2. Some players have got away with it. It's true that City has not played with the same intensity that took it to the title last season, and Mancini has made it clear that Samir Nasri is one of the culprits who has not lived up to expectations. In a frank admission of his coach's complaints, Nasri explained the reasons for his poor season to The Times last weekend; but it is unfair to single out just the Frenchman for his dip in form this season.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart has also not escaped Mancini's wrath, as the player who looked on course to join the elite keepers in world football also dropped his level. Mario Balotelli, now at AC Milan, was a constant source of frustration, which was all too apparent when pictures leaked earlier in the season of Mancini and his striker coming to blows.
But there are other players who have somehow become impervious to fewer top performances; perhaps because of their names, their below-par displays did not register. Yaya Toure has not had the big, game-changing influence of last season (yet still managed to score a pay rise and a new four-year contract); David Silva and Sergio Aguero have been disrupted by injury; and I would suggest that captain Vincent Kompany, while his presence is crucial in City's defense, has not had a great season; his mistakes in the Champions League group games led to goals (particularly against Ajax) and in the FA Cup semifinal against Chelsea, he gave Demba Ba room to equalize and was lucky not to concede a late penalty for tugging Fernando Torres' shirt. This one is not a Mancini knock (why would he draw attention if his captain is out of form?) but worth a mention.
3. Pellegrini could have been in England by now. The anti-Pellegrini camp, which contain those fans who don't just want Mancini to stay, but others who want him replaced "the United way," with an up-and-coming British equivalent (like who, Steve Bruce?), have pointed to his lack of European trophies (not quite true -- he won the InterToto Cup with Villarreal in 2004) and failure to succeed at Real Madrid just after it signed Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema, the most expensive squad ever assembled (but sold Robben, whom Pellegrini wanted to keep).
The idea put forward by one British columnist, writing in the Daily Mail, is that Soriano and Begiristain are tapping into the flavor of the month in the league they know best; but that is a harsh simplification that suggests Pellegrini's achievements with Malaga, while sensational -- reaching the Champions League last eight with players who weren't getting paid on time and a squad that kept losing its best players -- are a flash in the pan.
Not true: at Villarreal he was a penalty kick away from reaching a Champions League final. and, two years later, was the last coach whose side came between Real Madrid and Barcelona in the league. His year at Real Madrid brought the club a record points total, 96, and it was then he had his first approach from a Premier League club. In summer 2010, he was on a short-list of two names for the job of Liverpool coach. The other name: Roy Hodgson. If it was a sliding-doors moment in the history of the club, it was also one for Pellegrini.
"I would have loved to work for Liverpool," he told Chilean paper El Mercurio. "It was a shame that they didn't hire me. What happened? The directors told me they had two options: Roy Hodgson and me. Finally, they picked him, as the directors told me they preferred to go with an English manager."
He also claimed to have been contacted by clubs in Mexico, Argentina the Japan national team and ... Chelsea. If Jose Mourinho ends up at Chelsea, it will be an intriguing matchup between the two; in Spain, Mourinho has tried to bait his predecessor about his spell in Madrid but has never ruffled the Chilean. Not much does.
4. Everything is connected. Raphael Honigstein wrote eloquently on these pages last week about how the major transfer moves in the Bundesliga were all intricately connected to one another and the same "butterfly effect" is taking shape as a result of this move. City's first choice may have been Pep Guardiola; his move to Bayern may signal the end of Robben in Munich; on Sunday, the Dutch press linked the winger with a move to City, citing the 4-3-3 system that Begiristain is keen to implement next season.
On the day that Wigan made history, Monaco, the team Mancini might have joined last summer were it not for Sergio Aguero's title-winning goal, ensured its promotion to Ligue 1; it was also reported the club had agreed to pay Atletico Madrid €60 million for striker Radamel Falcao, a player that is also on City's list of targets.
Then there is Alcorcon. The name might ring a bell. It's the second-division club that beat Pellegrini's Real Madrid 4-0 in the Spanish Cup in October 2009. That was the moment, just two months into his reign, that the campaign to get rid of him began. Marca, the newspaper seen as the mouthpiece of president Florentino Perez, ran the headline, "Go Now!" (When Madrid lost in the Champions League round of 16 to Lyon, the paper wrote, "Get Out!" and after Barcelona ensured its title success with a spring win at the Bernabeu, it wrote: "The lie that is Pellegrini is finally over.")
Anyone heard of Alcorcon lately? Yes, actually. It popped up in this video from Spanish TV show "Punto Pelota," reporting that Mourinho, who replaced Pellegrini in Madrid, had gone to that city's branch of Ikea to buy some packing boxes. And last weekend, Alcorcon lost its second-division league game 3-1 at home to Villarreal, which of course was Pellegrini's first club as coach in Spain.