Manuel Pellegrini’s future as Manchester City manager beyond the end of this season is not guaranteed and his old nemesis Jose Mourinho has the potential to see him out of the club.
The Chilean’s position is not under immediate threat after the 2-1 home defeat to CSKA Moscow which leaves the club’s chances of Champions League progress slim.
The club chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak was at Wednesday’s game but there was no expression of discontent from him, despite City’s four wins in 14 games. Khaldoon is understood to be calm and sanguine about the club’s start to the season.
But City’s owners are demanding and will expect to see progress from Pellegrini by the end of the season. They want the side to advance further in the Champions League than last year, when they reached the round of 16.
If City exit at the group stage and also allow Mourinho – who replaced Pellegrini at Real Madrid – to end the season with his Chelsea side ahead of them, his position will become vulnerable.
Pellegrini will be aware that Roberto Mancini’s tenure at City began unravelling in 2012-13 after City wound up bottom of their Champions League group with three points – the lowest by an English club in the competition – the season after they clinched the title. He was sacked six months later. City are, of course, champions again and have two points in their group, with Bayern Munich and Roma to play.
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If they do not compete strongly to retain their Premier League title the chief executive, Ferran Soriano, is likely to look closely at whether Pellegrini is capable of providing the necessary motivation – something the side have clearly been lacking in the last two and a half months.
Soriano sacked Frank Rijkaard two years after the Dutchman had delivered the La Liga/Champions League double at Barcelona in 2008 because he felt the Dutchman was not authoritarian enough to maintain their intensity.
“Sometimes he had to adopt a more direct and authoritarian approach,” Soriano wrote. “I honestly believe that if he had changed his leadership style when we identified the need, he would have changed direction and the team would have been successful again.” Few want Pellegrini to turn around the situation more than City’s owners, who have found the Chilean’s adherence to the style of football they want to play and his working relationship with director of football Txiki Begiristain a welcome contrast to Mancini, who alienated almost everyone within the club.
But City’s Abu Dhabi owners, with a network of clubs in Manchester, Melbourne and New York, want to see the club as a continental force. It will not have escaped their attention that Paris Saint-Germain, who have received Qatari investment, lead their Champions League group having beaten Barcelona.
City’s director of football management structure means that a change of manager would not affect their need to keep evolving the team, with Everton’s Ross Barkley the desired replacement for 32-year-old Yaya Touré. So far, Everton’s £50m asking price has been far too high.
City will discover next Thursday if Touré’s automatic one-game ban for a straight red card on Wednesday will be extended by Uefa.
City’s captain, Vincent Kompany, said that the players, not the manager, must be the ones to take the blame. “It’s always a team issue,” he said. “We are the ones out there playing.”
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