Heat is already on at Manchester City as Manuel Pellegrini is put on the spot
New Manchester City manager largely gives guarded responses on his first day in office but is forced to defend his lack of trophies
There was a cloying, uncomfortable heat in the poky little press cabin on the edge of Manchester City's training ground which is one of the less desirable legacies of the Mark Hughes era and Manuel Pellegrini tried to maintain what froideur he could, as he characterised his succession to the most challenging job in world football as an entirely natural one.
A lot of City supporters sang "You can stick your Pellegrini up your arse" (to the tune of "She'll be Coming Round the Mountain") at May's FA Cup final and it was the subtly choreographed attempt to win these people over which presented the greatest point of interest, when the latest highly-paid manager to have his initials ironed onto a City training top sat in Roberto Mancini's old seat, parading a wrist watch even chunkier than the Italian's.
There was a distinct prickle of defensiveness from Pellegrini when his European trophy haul – one Intertoto Cup – was brought up. His willingness to divulge that both City (in 2007) and Liverpool (in 2010) had pursued him for the jobs that Sven Goran Eriksson and Roy Hodgson eventually filled was also revealing. Considering how unforthcoming Pellegrini was on pretty much every other topic yesterday, this felt like the Chilean letting it be known to City's supporters that the club had accomplished something very important by hiring him. There was a play to the gallery, too, with talk about Manchester United being of no great concern, since he'd dumped them out of the Champions League group stage, in 2005 with Villarreal.
"We passed to the last 16 and Manchester United didn't, so I have experience playing against Manchester United. I know that the most important thing for all the fans is to beat Manchester United and if I am here it is because I am sure we will do it…"
The men who hired Pellegrini will have been delighted by his ability to provide no answer whatsoever to the kind of questions which Mancini would have for breakfast, much to their distaste. He categorically refused, for example, to answer the perfectly relevant question of what he thought of the director of football model of club management, under which he has been hired.
"I think it is better not to talk about that," he said. "Why not?" he was asked. "There are a lot of different things now and I can say what I want but it is difficult to say," he replied.
It was hard to tell if this was Pellegrini having a problem with the axis of power between him and football director Txiki Begiristain, though he would have been under no illusions when he signed his three-year, £10.2m contract. There was nothing enigmatic about Pellegrini's views on Mancini, though. Asked if the supporters' relationship with the man who "comes from Italy to manage Man City" – as they always sang – made him difficult to follow, he declared that Mancini was no more special than others.
"Not only the last manager here [had a following]," Pellegrini said. "I talk about Man City fans: they are incredible. I think I will not have any problem with the loyalty."
Making the right noises about United is a sure-fire way of securing that, which may be why Pellegrini opted for something more bullish than Mancini's perennial claim that the reigning champions have a psychological edge borne of winning over and again. It is the measurement by which United are "five yards ahead," Mancini always used to say. Not so, said Pellegrini. "They have a different history maybe," he insisted. Looking to his interpreter for a rare piece of assistance, he then murmured "encortado especios" (levelling out) before continuing. "In the last three, four or five years last years, Man City have levelled the distance a lot."
But the task Pellegrini faces when football returns next month is unmistakeably greater than the one confronting either David Moyes, across the back field of Carrington, or Jose Mourinho, at Chelsea. That is because Pellegrini is the agent of another radical and fundamental overhaul at City. Despairing of Mancini's many systems – "4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 3-4-2-1 just in the course of one game," one senior executive exclaimed in the midst of last season – and desperate for the 4-3-3 model which will run through all levels of the club, City start the 2013-14 campaign not only with a new manager but an entirely new style of playing. And the club's attempts to build the global awareness which has already seen them busy from New York to Thailand this summer and broadcasting yesterday's press conference in scores of new languages, demand instant results. There can be no one season of bedding in.
Pellegrini did not dismiss the idea that targeting older players this summer – 28-year-old Fernandinho, 27-year-old Jesus Navas and 27-year-old Seville target Alvaro Negredo, with Real's 30-year-old central defender Pepe a lost cause – revealed City to be in need of instant impact players, already rich in experience. "As a coach of course we always want immediate success," he said. Last summer they were buying 21-year-olds. It feels like another tactical shift on the rocky road to world domination.
Pellegrini's near absence of trophies in Europe meant nothing, he said, reflecting his previous work with Villarreal, one unhappy season with Real Madrid and subsequent time at Malaga. "I won a lot of trophies in South America but it is impossible [in Spain]. I started with Villarreal. It is very difficult for Villarreal to win a title in Spain. It is also very difficult for Villarreal to reach the quarter, semi of the Champions League and go second in the league [as they did].
"In Real Madrid with 96 points, we played a whole year against a great Barcelona with [Pep] Guardiola. I am sure if I stayed at Real Madrid we could have won a lot of trophies.
"Malaga is the same as Villarreal. You can't win the title with Malaga. I had twice chances to arrive [in England] before. One was to Manchester City. Liverpool? I was very near, after Real Madrid, to arrive to Liverpool. It was not the right moment but now it is the right moment."
He laughed off chief executive Ferran Soriano's public target of five trophies in as many years in the Pellegrini era: "Just five?" He insisted that the fate of Mancini – sacked after coming second in the Premier League – did not worry him. "No I am not concerned about that. [My target] is not only to win trophies. I promise I will do my best here. We are not in a hurry [to sign more players.] We have people and choices."
And he left the room smiling, shaking the hands pressed into his. Just like Mancini always did, in fact, before the task of delivering City to the land United occupy, in a fraction of the time Sir Alex Ferguson required, proved too great and he found himself out of the club and on his way, leaving the hot seat in the hot room to someone else.
City host gig to start season on right note
As they go in search of regaining their Premier League crown, Manchester City’s pre-season plans are becoming ever more unconventional.
Having already played in the United States and with games coming up in South Africa, Hong Kong, Finland and Germany, City announced plans for a pre-season launch party based on the MTV Music Awards.
City Live will be held on 8 August at the Manchester Central arena and will feature music, player appearances and comedy from Jason Manford. The club have dubbed it “the mother of all parties”. Whatever happened to the time when pre-season meant running around a few cones and a friendly against Leek Town?
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