Manchester City may face a two-week wait to secure Manuel Pellegrini as their replacement for sacked manager Roberto Mancini but will not be cowed by the Chilean’s strong negotiating position into giving him the same powers commanded by the Italian.
Pellegrini’s awareness that he is top of City’s list – Carlo Ancelotti may feature as a back-up with Chelsea’s Rafael Benitez not in contention – gives him a powerful bargaining hand, knowing that it would be embarrassing for City to miss out on him now. But after a Mancini era that was characterised by the manager’s high-handed belief that only Italians could be trusted in ancillary roles, Pellegrini’s job description will be more limited and precisely defined and he will be expected to collaborate in a way Mancini never did. He will have no command over the medical department which Mancini overrode with alternative treatments of his own. And it is unlikely that he will bring in around 12 staff, including a de-facto valet, as Mancini did.
It emerged in the aftermath of yesterday’s dismissal just how uneasy the club had become about his riding roughshod over the medical department. The Italian was unwilling to use Jamie Murphy, the club doctor he inherited, but then fell out with his successor, Phil Batty. When Mancini made his way down a line of staff to shake their hands after last May’s Premier League title success, he blanked the medical staff and walked straight past. Batty, who is highly rated, left for Blackburn Rovers last September, 18 months after Murphy quit, having also fallen out with Mancini.
The Italian insisted on overseeing medicals himself, would override traditional treatment and held far greater store in his compatriot Sergio Vigano, who put himself at the manager’s disposal after working with him for years, beginning when Mancini arrived at Sampdoria as a 17-year-old with muscular problems. Mancini insisted a number of his players go for consultations to the remote location where Vigano, who is in his mid-70s, is based. Mancini made an SOS call to him 40 days before the end of last season, saying he urgently required him at City, where Vigano has said he treated Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Samir Nasri. He seems to have operated as a psychologist last spring, trying to secure physiological benefits by limiting the players’ stress.
Though Mancini would fly in the face of medical opinion to pursue alternative treatments and get players back more quickly, City did top the Premier League list for fewest injuries last season, compiled by physioroom.com. Some players were sceptical, though, and it was the manager’s tendency to call them out in public which caused most rancour, with even James Milner – one of the lowest-maintenance players in elite football – getting fed up. Mancini’s criticism of Joe Hart, a popular character, for his honesty about September’s Champions League defeat to Real Madrid in the Bernabeu, corroded the squad’s feelings for him. Mancini was alerted minutes before the Bernabeu press conference that Hart had candidly told the TV cameras that City’s players “blame ourselves” and was advised not to give oxygen to the story by answering questions. But he did. “Joe Hart should go in goal and make saves,” he told journalists.
The players’ sense that Mario Balotelli, the only player who displayed much warmth towards Mancini, got preferential treatment, also had a corrosive effect but the strongest antipathy came from support staff. City’s former kit man and now assistant at Sunderland, Stephen Aziz, declared on Twitter yesterday: “Arrogant, vein [sic], self-centred no manners ignorant just some of Mancini’s daily traits really made going into work a grind!!”
Mancini installed his own Italian chef and coaching staff including Attilio Lombardo, the Elite Development Squad manager, who will be asked to step down from a role sources suggest he was not suited to. The root of the problem lay in the recruitment of Mancini. When the club initially met him in Amsterdam, as they prepared to remove Mark Hughes, they were short of a fully qualified translator. At a subsequent meeting at a hotel in Sardinia in 2009 – on the same trip that Brendan Rodgers was taken to meet him with a view to becoming his assistant – City anticipated calling the shots. Mancini was out of work at that time. But they left wondering how he had managed to negotiate most of his own requests.
When City declared on Monday night that Mancini’s dismissal was because of a “need to develop a holistic approach to all aspects of football at the club,” it was an allusion to these traits in the Italian, who had little interest in the medium- to long-term planning of the club and to the idea of collaboration, which he saw as someone else’s responsibility. City want a seamless connection between football at all levels, with all ancillary departments contributing: the development of “one house of football,” as a senior source put it.
City’s chief executive, Ferran Soriano, and sporting director, Txiki Begiristain, are convinced that Pellegrini will be more collaborative, having checked out his background and philosophies. The Chilean’s five-year success at Villarreal, where he helped the Doig ceramics family inculcate a technical passing game based on 4-4-2 for the club from 2004, is seen as a shining light on his CV, especially the club’s progress in the Champions League – topped off by their 2006 semi-final appearance against Arsenal. In footballing terms, it is understood that Mancini’s failings in the Champions League killed his hopes more than the failure to retain the Premier League title.
A number of the Mancini entourage were preparing to take their leave from City, including the ex-manager’s faithful assistant, Jose, whose tasks included washing the manager’s bicycle when he rode to work. His loyalty became a standing joke. City’s executives moved with deadly seriousness.