'To be continued' proclaims the legend on the poster which spools down the front of Old Trafford, behind the statue of Sir Alex Ferguson, but Manchester United are not waiting around for the sequel. It is understood David Moyes will begin work as the club’s manager next Monday, 47 days before the start date of his contract, with Wayne Rooney a task of immediate and utmost urgency.
The player appears to feel that his omission from the squad for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Old Trafford swansong on Sunday may have been the outgoing manager’s act of revenge for Rooney holding the club to ransom with his contract demands in October 2010. Moyes’ arrival apparently cannot come soon enough for the 27-year-old striker, as the manager-designate tackles the difficult issues before the players head off for summer – with the patter of tiny feet imminent for the Rooneys.
There will be the shape of the squad to deal with, too, with suggestions – which were unconfirmed by the Premier League champions on Monday – that Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas may be lined up as the signature purchase to mark the beginning of the Moyes era. Rio Ferdinand has indicated that he wants a new deal. Those talks are likely to start next week, too.
Ferguson’s shuffling off was supposed to be United’s moment of weakness and the chance to puncture the aura of red invincibility in their town. But what did Manchester City do when their tormentor-in-chief finally disappeared towards his “bath chair on Torquay beach”, as he once called it? They blew it.
As United prepared for their open-top bus parade with the Premier League trophy on Monday, before Roberto Mancini was finally sacked, we saw a symbol of City’s sense of drift at Loftus Road, where the squad’s training session ahead of tonight’s match with Reading was overseen by David Platt and Brian Kidd, with Mancini in civvies and apparently not mightily interested.
There was a sense all day, only ended by the axe eventually falling, that asking Mancini to take the side at the Madejski Stadium would be humiliating, with the writing on the wall. There had been no explanation forthcoming as to why City’s chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, flew out of London to Abu Dhabi with no announcement made, with the assumption growing that the club’s owners wanted their new manager’s contract signed and sealed before they let the incumbent go.
The fact that City have also chosen to part company with a number of long-standing academy coaches, including Jim Cassell – the man who delivered the Youth Cup in 2008 – only adds to the sense of a club in flux. Though there are plenty of reasons to go their separate ways with Mancini, there is a justifiable sense of bewilderment among some fans about appointing Manuel Pellegrini, a Chilean who, at 59, will be the Premier League’s second-oldest manager, after the 63-year-old Arsène Wenger.
Granted, there is something rather irrational about the cult of the young manager. Ferguson was always very sniffy about it, arguing the merits of experience, and, in Moyes, United have someone who has experienced most of football’s hurdles several times over. But Pellegrini is yet to win a trophy in Europe, even after buying Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso at Real Madrid in 2009.
Expect the educated Pellegrini’s English to be stronger than Mancini’s was when he arrived, but at least the Italian could talk about titles and cups, rather than storming the latter stages of the Champions League before eventual elimination, which is Pellegrini’s narrative with Villarreal and Malaga.
To use the Bluemoon forum as a barometer, supporters seem to wish for one of those names you feel could help build a dynasty: Andre Villas-Boas, Frank de Boer or Michael Laudrup were abundant yesterday. The 42-year-old De Boer is the manager who was so impressive when he held court in the depths of Ajax’s stadium before City played and lost there last October, to a modestly assembled team.
That City should not have selected a British manager almost seems to go without saying, though the absence of obvious names out there meant that Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers was fourth favourite last night, with Paris Saint-Germain’s Carlo Ancelotti – for whom Real Madrid have made an approach – making some running into third place since Friday night, when Pellegrini went 1-10.
Set against these doubts is the impact Pellegrini had at Villarreal, which sounds extraordinarily like Roberto Martinez at Wigan. It was Pellegrini to whom Fernando Roig Alfonso, scion of the bathroom ceramics dynasty which owns Villarreal, turned when he wanted to imbue the side with a certain philosophy running through the club.
“It has always been the same idea. We like to keep the possession of the ball. We always had those kind of players,” Alfonso told me in an interview two years ago which revealed the enormous esteem in which he holds Pellegrini. “If you go back over the past five or six years, it’s always been Barcelona and us like that. Barcelona because they have won everything and because their potential is much bigger than us they happen to be the ones who are known for that style of game.”
When Pellegrini left for the Bernabeu, Roig hired an outsider, Ernesto Valverde, who tried to change the system. It was a disaster. So he went back to the bootroom for a coach. “An ode to football…” is how the sports paper AS described Villarreal’s 2-0 defeat of Atletico Madrid shortly before I met Roig. “Marvellous, magnificent, a footballing symphony….” All of which explains why the educated purist Pellegrini is attractive to City’s Spanish executives. But time and tide wait for no man in the Premier League. While United continue, City are starting all over again.
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