Can Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini win all four trophies this season?
The Chilean equates style with substance and is visibly growing in confidence at Manchester City
Sunday 12 January 2014
There was one conundrum waiting for Manuel Pellegrini when he first arrived in Manchester. How could a man who had never won a major trophy in European football meet chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak's target of five in as many years?
He could win four in a single season – a unique achievement in English football. It is improbable, but anyone who watched City score against Bayern Munich or four against Manchester United or five against CSKA Moscow or six against Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal or seven against Norwich City might not think it impossible.
The midweek 6-0 demolition of West Ham United in rain that was intense even by Manchester standards has virtually guaranteed them a place in the League Cup final.
However, as someone who failed to win La Liga with a Real Madrid side that scored 102 goals and amassed 96 points, Pellegrini is cautious when it comes to talk of multiple trophies – but less cautious than he has been during a season that has seen City average nearly three goals a game.
He admitted that his target is to "win all four competitions" though added: "It is impossible to know because one match can decide the title," he said. "I think you have more chances if you continue playing the same way. It is not just by continuing to attack but by playing complete football – attacking, trying to defend and having possession. It is about trying to do a lot of things in 90 minutes. I won a lot of titles in my career in South America.
"In Europe, it is very difficult. I don't have any problems [with my record] in that sense. To win titles with Villarreal or Malaga is impossible but I am absolutely sure I'll be very happy here if I can win a title with Manchester City. But it is not just to win the title that is important; it is how I win it."
One of Pellegrini's managerial heroes was Rinus Michels, the man who conceived Total Football. There has been something of that in the City side this season. They have scored 57 goals in 20 League games and at this rate they will overtake Chelsea's Premier League record of 103 goals set in 2009-10.
"It is a similar way to how we played at Real Madrid," said Pellegrini. "In that season we scored 102 goals and took 96 points. It was the best record Real Madrid had at that time. How did I feel when we didn't win the League? Well, whatever I think is not important. We did pretty good work but we had an incredible Barcelona side against us."
Next month he faces a slightly less incredible Barcelona for a place in the Champions' Leauge quarter-finals. Before they met Bayern Munich, coach Pep Guardiola remarked that if City made it out of their group, they might run wild in the competition.
"If you beat Barcelona, you would like to think you are confident that anything can happen," said City's captain, Vincent Kompany. "The question is whether we will go out with six offensive players or whether we will be more contained?"
On this question of approach, Pellegrini is clear. "You can change your style, of course you can, because during a game you might not be doing things well but you cannot change your style when you have to play an important game," he said. "You must tell the players that we are not going to change."
Pellegrini sees himself at the Etihad for another five years, which is four more than he got at Madrid. There he had £234 million worth of players bought for him, including Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema but little in the way of high-quality defenders. He remarked that it was "no good having an orchestra with the 10 best guitarists if you don't have a pianist or a drummer".
The Champions' League final was to be staged at the Bernabeu and when Real got nowhere near it, losing to Lyon in the last 16, the president, Florentino Perez, stopped talking to him. His successor, Jose Mourinho, remarked that, if he had been sacked by Madrid, he wouldn't have gone off to manage in a backwater like Malaga.
However, Malaga gave Pellegrini the kind of control he did not have in Madrid but which he does have in Manchester. "I always say that when you have managed one of the important clubs in Argentina, you are able to take the pressure anywhere," said a man who had to go into hiding when losing the Buenos Aires derby with River Plate.
"The most important pressure is that which you put on yourself. In Madrid I felt the same pressure as I did at Villarreal and now in Manchester. I think here in England some years ago managers were not so easily sacked from their jobs.
"Now, the patience is not so strong as before, but I think you can establish your work here more than in other countries. Manchester City wanted me to come here.
"I had other options with other clubs in important countries but the most important reason I came here was that Manchester City wanted to play the way I wanted."
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