It was 35 years ago that a rather bewildered Osvaldo Ardiles, grateful to have brought his fellow Argentinian World Cup-winner Ricky Villa with him, arrived in north London as the first of the foreign superstars who would gravitate to English football. Had the pair of them failed, who knows how reluctant clubs would have been to take a chance on expensive overseas players in future?
In fact, as well as becoming one of the most popular players in Tottenham's history, Ardiles would go on to manage here, a path that remarkably few South Americans have been invited to follow. The lure of a foreign manager has tempted many clubs, yet going for a European has generally seemed exotic enough.
There was a trailblazer of sorts in Danny Begara, a Uruguayan who married a British woman and coached at various English clubs in the 1980s before becoming manager of four lower-division sides. More recently, after Ardiles at Swindon, Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion and Spurs, came Luiz Felipe Scolari, deemed a failure at Chelsea; Gus Poyet at Brighton; Southampton's Mauricio Pochettino; and now, it seems, Manchester City's chosen one, the Chilean Manuel Pellegrini.
Perhaps there has been a suspicion about the South American temperament, dating back to the 1960s, when Manchester United and Celtic battled with teams such as Estudiantes and Racing Club in the World Club Cup, and Alf Ramsey famously called Argentina's World Cup team "animals". It could be argued that Luis Suarez, captain of Uruguay's Olympic team last summer, has done little to improve the stereotype, but Poyet believes that the Liverpool striker is merely a product of the environment in which he grew up.
"In the south of South America especially, you are taught that the character of a player is to play football to win," said Poyet, who was dramatically suspended by Brighton last week. "We connect with the fans very well because we care a lot. When we sign the contract, sort out the money, OK, we look after our families, but as soon as that is done, the next thing in my mind is, 'I need to win the next game'.
"That's what we train for, to win the next game. If you add one South American to your team, I'm sure you will gain something. If you add five or six maybe you will have a nightmare, because then it's too many."
The volatile Scolari introduced the concept of tactical fouling with his Brazilian club teams. Ardiles had a different attitude as a player and manager, wanting to entertain and score goals, which with his "famous five" Spurs forwards was ultimately his undoing. Pellegrini, if and when he arrives from Malaga, is expected to steer a course somewhere between the two.
In speaking to The Independent on Sunday, Ardiles, Pochettino and Poyet have all been fulsome in their praise of him, and have emphasised a crucial element of his development that even the World Cup-winning coach Scolari did not enjoy: time spent in European club football.
"It should not be such a problem, because he's been in Spain for some years," Ardiles said. "In 1978 it was completely different for Ricky and me. Now it is globalised, you know exactly the players you're going to play with, the manager knows the players he will have. But you cannot guarantee success in England wherever you're from. If you're English it doesn't mean you are going to be successful here.
"Lots of things come into it. Pelle-grini was working in Argentina when I was there so I got to know him and I like him very much. Win or lose, he was just the same. Now he will be at one of the top clubs in the world with a lot of money, so it's a great challenge for him."
Some revered European managers, such as Juande Ramos at Spurs, have failed to bridge that cultural gap, and Ardiles has one strong recommendation for Pellegrini or anyone else coming here: "One thing I would definitely recommend is to learn the language as well as possible and as soon as possible. If not, you are relying on a translator, and that communication between the manager and players is so crucial. That would be the number-one priority."
At Southampton, Pochettino has only recently given his first interview in English and still prefers to use an interpreter, though he has put his points across to the players effectively enough to steer them clear of the relegation threat that caused the club to sack Nigel Adkins in January. He is another Pellegrini admirer, saying (through his interpreter): "I have known him for a long time and he is one of the best managers in the world. Manuel has the necessary credentials and experience to succeed in the Premier League. He has managed some of the biggest clubs in the world in Real Madrid, River Plate, Valencia and Malaga, so Manchester City will not faze him."
Pochettino, who had played for 12 years in Spain and France before managing Espanyol, faced the extra pressure on his arrival that the Southampton supporters were unimpressed by either the sacking of the popular Adkins or the identity of his replacement. A proposed Spanish-style white-handkerchief protest came to nothing, however, and the Argentinian is delighted with how quickly he was able to make himself at home; helped undoubtedly by a decent run of early results.
"Myself and my coaching staff have only been here for four months and I think we have adapted to English football and the English way of life very quickly," he said. "There is no set formula for adapting and everyone is different, but knowing Manuel as I do, I do not have any concerns about how quickly he will adapt."
The ambitious Poyet was another South American who benefited from a transitional period in Europe, in his case playing seven seasons for Real Zaragoza before joining Chelsea and then Tottenham. "If you've worked in Europe before coming, it will always help. Then you've got used to a different style of life. What I can say about Pellegrini is that he's a gentleman. In every club he's been, the way he manages, the way he handles the press, he's been well respected everywhere."
All he needs to do, then, is win matches and trophies. Which is the same the whole world over.
- More about:
- Manchester City