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What next for Manuel Pellegrini?

Few will question the logic of Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich if he, as according to agent Jesus Martinez, has sent representatives over to the Costa Del Sol to investigate the availability of Manuel Pellegrini, Malaga’s Chilean coach who is also said to be on the hit list of Manchester City. Both English clubs, for different reasons, are in the quandary of looking to a new manager and the lure of Pellegrini, with 24 years worth of experience spanning all levels, seems to be most appealing.

Pellegrini’s long career has most recently branched to Malaga where he has had to contend with the most unrelenting of uncertainties to guide the club to the Champions League for the first time in its 108 year history. He has been working with his own billionaire sugar-daddy, Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, as the spearhead of the project to turn Malaga into force that could, somewhere in the near future, intrude on the Spanish duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Having managed at Madrid, and becoming victim of the trigger happy approach to managers employed by president Florentino Perez, Pellegrini arrived at Malaga with a point to prove. He had been backed immensely to the tune of £200 million in his first summer at Madrid, signing Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso and Kaka, but with such luxuries came tremendous pressure and the constant undermining both in the press and from Perez. Pellegrini managed to tally 96 points, a points record in La Liga for Madrid, but they missed out on the title to Barcelona and the Chilean became Madrid’s eleventh managerial casualty in nine years.

So he joined Malaga and after receiving another bout of generous backing in the transfer market to sign the likes of Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal, Joaquin, Jeremy Toulalan and the supremely gifted teenager Isco, the point was proven as he guided them to 4th with a record breaking total of 58 points.

Then, over the summer, Al Thani lost interest. The investment had stopped, the money had gone and the owner remained silent as Pellegrini failed to spend a single penny in the transfer market and players failed to pick up their wages. There were problems with tax, unpaid payments to Villarreal, Osasuna and River Plate while institutional director Fernando Hierro walked away. Cazorla, Joris Mathijsen and Solomon Rondon were all sold for reduced prices while Monreal followed in January, but Pellegrini remained, negotiations took place over a pay-cut and all hope had seemed lost.

pellegrini al thani

Pellegrini with Malaga’s Qatari owner- Al Thani [Photo: mushofootball]

Yet somehow, the 59 year old coach has managed to keep a reign on all the financial disruption to lead Malaga to fourth place once again, and a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League where they trail Porto by an easily reversible one-goal deficit ahead of the second leg. Despite the miracles Pellegrini can seemingly perform at the Rosaleda however, this jolly on the continent will not be repeated next year as UEFA have banned Malaga from European competition next season for failing to pay debts.

It is likely then, with financial problems continuing to envelope the club and hinder them to the extreme, Pellegrini may be heading for the exit in the summer despite having a contract until the summer of 2015. Speaking in a Chilean newspaper, his agent Martinez said Roma had recently been in touch as they seek a replacement for Zdenek Zeman, but links to Chelsea and City have occurred after the agent claimed Pellegrini “would love to coach in the Premier League”.

Known as the “master engineer” at Villarreal, Pellegrini’s trick is to keep calm and unite the squad when it comes to negotiating choppy waters. He does the basics so effectively, emphasising an importance on keeping the ball and getting a team fit so they can win it back immediately. In a recent Copa Del Rey tie with Barcelona, they battled toe to toe with the Catalans for 165 minutes over a two-legged tie before their opponent’s class ultimately told. It is the unity that he installs into his squads that transcends into a belief that they can overcome the odds, there are not many better at the age-old art of “steadying the ship”.

Perhaps succeeding Roberto Mancini, under-fire in the hot-seat at Manchester City, would be slightly more stable than the revolving door policy in effect at Chelsea where Abramovich seems to be operating on Madrid like employment levels of eight managers in six years and is looking for life after the caretaker spell of Rafael Benitez. If Pellegrini can handle the constant storm at Malaga, he would find any turbulence put in his way at Stamford Bridge by its Russian hierarchy easy to handle right? At least his club would be debt free and with a owner in place to answer to.

His ability to work under the most intense of pressures can be wholly appealing to potential new employers, as would the series of titles, 6 in total, he won when managing in South America. His other La Liga job, with Villarreal, saw a third place league finish and an appearance in the semi-finals of the Champions League. His points gained percentage over his five year spell with the Yellow Submarine made him La Liga’s second most successful South American coach over the past 25 years, behind Vanderlei Luxemburgo. This is no one-year wonder, but an astute boss with a rich history of success who has shown he can adapt to pretty much any setting.

Martinez said his man would “make his mind up over the next few months” which would lead to the end of a season that has been utterly bizarre, but could yet prove successful. It is part of Pellegrini’s allure that he is one of the very few coaches who can do such a thing and if he chooses to come, he’d be a welcome addition to the Premier League and a huge loss to La Liga.

Featured image from skysports.com

Adam Gray

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