Manuel Pellegrini deserves a second shot at the big time
What makes a manager great? Is it his ability to win trophies? His man management? His tactical knowledge? Or is it the ability to get the best out of his players no matter what?
For Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, that is what this season has been about, despite his chairman sanctioning sales of his finest players. Málaga have endured the losses of playmaker Santi Cazorla, Venezuelan goalscorer José Salomón Rondón, and most recently, left-back Natxo Monreal to Arsenal. Hardly what Pellegrini was hoping for when Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani offered him the job in 2011.
Nor is it ideal for a team hoping for against-the-odds Champions League success. However, being the professional that he is, Pellegrini has shown the guile and leadership qualities to motivate his players despite the circumstances. Los Boquerones sit fourth in the table; a remarkable feat.
Pellegrini was also able to guide his side to a Copa Del Rey quarter-final, and he currently awaits what is arguably one of the biggest games of his managerial career – a Champions League showdown with FC Porto. A game which will determine whether he can go one round better in Europe’s elite competition than he did at Real Madrid, and reach the quarter-finals. Kind of bizarre when you take into account the stark contrasts, in both finances and playing quality.
Whatever happens against the Portuguese team, Pellegrini’s Champions League campaign will result in a moral victory, simply because his side finished top of a group containing AC Milan. A loud, passionate atmosphere is required at La Roselda if Malaga are to overturn the 1-0 deficit inflicted in Porto.
The reactions of Pellegrini’s players to the situation at the club are understandable but by no means ideal. Centre back Martin Demichelis recently spoke out of his frustration, saying he expects this season’s hero Isco to be the next out of the exit door and that “it is a bad sign for the future of the club”. On the contrary, Pellegrini has shown unprecedented loyalty to his employers by declaring himself very happy at the club.
That loyalty is likely to be tested come the summer. Last season’s record 4th placed finish combined with performances in all competitions, this season proves that Pellegrini is one of the best bosses around. It should also regain him the worldwide recognition that earned him his chance at Real Madrid.
His season at Real was a strange one. The Chilean was a party to the mass spending spree that saw Kaka, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso and, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo, arrive at the Bernabéu, with an overall spend of £226 million in one window. On top of this, the new breed of Galácticos broke their La Liga points record with a staggering 96 points.
But this outstanding effort was in vain, as rivals Barcelona managed an incredible 99 points, pipping Pellegrini’s men to the title. And so ended a fruitless and ultimately unsuccessful campaign for Real and their manager, with exits from the Copa Del Rey in the last 32 and Champions League as early as the last 16. There can be no excuses for this failure, especially after president Florentino Perez was so generous with the funds he provided to Pellegrini.
Whether that awful season should deter a future move to another giant of European football remains to be seen. But, his professionalism combined with his astute ability to work with the little transfer funds he has received this term – Javier Saviola and Roque Santa Cruz were both major coups – ought to earn him either another large investment from Al Thani or recognition from Roman Abramovich.
He might not be the Chelsea fans’ first choice to succeed the infamous Rafa Benitez, but the Chilean’s track record speaks for itself. He’s no new kid on the block, aged 59, but this is the man who brought a Champions League semi-final and a second place league finish to Villarreal. Yes, the same Villarreal who currently sit fifth in Liga Adelante.
These achievements endeared him to the hearts of supporters, and although the pressure would be much greater at Stamford Bridge, Pellegrini has the charisma to succeed anywhere if given a chance. With Guardiola taken, Mourinho unsure and Zola unproven, Pellegrini would be an ideal choice for the Blues as they hope to challenge for honours next season.
Of course, Chelsea probably won’t be the only side seeking a new manager come the summer, but they’re the only side that definitely will, and Pellegrini would fit the bill perfectly.