London – The Manager of the Year award, we have been told, is between Brendan Rodgers and Tony Pulis.
Rodgers has made Liverpool the great entertainers as they went from seventh last season to a team who could still, mathematically, win the Premier League.
Pulis has performed a football miracle at Crystal Palace, who were nailed on for relegation when he took over in November, but the Eagles will finish an unlikely 11th when the curtain comes down on the Premier League on Sunday.
Manuel Pellegrini has barely had a mention for the award, not that this will bother the Manchester City manager who has never sought headlines or personal glory. Yet in his first season in charge at Etihad Stadium, the Chilean has already led City to the League Cup and, bar one last upset in a run-in that has been full of banana skins for the title challengers, the Premier League crown will move across Manchester from Old Trafford.
City need a point at home against West Ham on Sunday to ensure their second title in three years, and while Pellegrini is taking nothing for granted, it is bordering on the unthinkable that the Blues will not finish the job.
Life, we are told, is all about timing, and City have been top for only 14 days this season compared to Arsenal’s 128, but pacing themselves perfectly they overtook Chelsea and Liverpool with a sprint finish in the final weeks.
If Pellegrini is not chosen as the Manager of the Year after winning two of the three domestic honors available, there should be a steward’s inquiry.
Under Roberto Mancini, City were never more than a training session away from a bust-up. Mancini seemed to thrive on confrontation and City’s Abu Dhabi-based owners wanted someone, in their words, with “a more holistic approach.”
It is virtually impossible to dislike Pellegrini, who speaks excellent English, is polite, courteous, charming and fulfills all his media duties with a smile. While he does not give a never-ending supply of back page lead stories to football writers as Mancini did, City is a far happier club for the peace that has returned with the Italian’s departure to Galatasaray.
City have scored 100 goals in the Premier League and need four against West Ham to beat Chelsea’s record set four years ago.
Under Mancini, Edin Dzeko was undervalued and under-used, but Pellegrini has restored the Bosnia-Herzegovina striker’s confidence and he has responded with 16 league goals, one less that Sergio Aguero’s total which came in just 22 games.
Yaya Toure, my choice as the Footballer of the Year, has scored 20 goals, the Cote d’Ivoire international combining pace, power and precision finishing in a way no other central midfielder does.
Pellegrini handled Joe Hart’s temporary loss of form superbly and while it is easy to say the title will be won by the team that cost the most to assemble and pays the highest wages, it does not always work that way and the manager has kept a happy ship, showing tactical flexibility and rotating his squad to maximum effect.
Txiki Begiristain, City’s director of football, knows Pellegrini from his time as Barcelona’s sporting director.
In his debut year in Spain, Pellegrini took Villarreal to third place in 2004-05 and the following year the Yellow Submarine reached the Champions League semifinals where a late missed penalty by Juan Riquelme against Arsenal was decisive.
At Real Madrid, Pellegrini, the victim of a media campaign from day one, still achieved a club-record 96 points, but it was not enough to beat a phenomenal Barcelona side rejuvenated by Pep Guardiola.
When the axe inevitably came, Pellegrini went to Malaga, his successor at the Bernabeu, Jose Mourinho, saying with his usual tact: “If Real Madrid sack me, I won’t train Malaga. I’ll go to a big team in England or Italy.”
Despite the club’s Middle East owners pulling out, Pellegrini masterminded a remarkable Champions League campaign which ended in the quarterfinals, where Malaga came within an absent offside flag of overturning Borussia Dortmund as Felipe Santana’s late goal saw the Germans triumph 3-2.
From relative success in Spain to the real thing in England, and unless City lose to West Ham and Liverpool beat Newcastle — even in the most unpredictable of seasons, a scenario even Rodgers does not contemplate — Pellegrini will have a second honor in his first season in the Premier League.
As well as Rodgers and Pulis have done, nothing would top Pellegrini’s achievements.
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AFTER A NAIL-BITING run-in, most issues have already been decided and the final day of the Premier League is unlikely to throw up any shocks. Unless Norwich, which entertains Arsenal, can turn around a 17-goal deficit on West Bromwich — at home to Stoke — the Canaries will be relegated.
Manchester United could yet salvage something from their worst season many fans can remember by clinching a place in the Europa League, but collective breath is not being held around Old Trafford. United need to win at Southampton, which has had four shutouts in its last six games, with Aston Villa beating Spurs at White Hart Lane, an unlikely double though maybe the season has one more unlikely twist as it draws to a finale.
Five managers could be in charge of their clubs for the last time. Sam Allardyce is on thin ice after West Ham co-owner David Sullivan said he had “tears in his eyes” watching some of his team’s football this season. Allardyce will point to a likely 12th-place finish, but the fans are fed up with the style of football, or rather lack of it, Big Sam’s side have produced.
Newcastle will have another top 10 finish, but even Alan Pardew has admitted it has been a season of underachievement and what might have been. Fans have been chanting for the manager’s head, and owner Mike Ashley must decide whether he will entrust Pardew with strengthening the side this summer or bring in a new man. The latter would be the supporters’ choice.
Statistically, Tim Sherwood is the best manager Spurs have ever had, though chairman Daniel Levy seems certain to bring in his 11th manager in 14 years with Ajax’s Frank de Boer and Mauricio Pochettino of Southampton the favorites.
Pepe Mel seems certain to return to Spain after winning just three league games since January with West Bromwich. Mel’s 18-month contract has a release clause allowing him to leave this summer and his departure may be confirmed at next week’s meeting with chairman Jeremy Peace.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.