LONDON – For a man who is apparently going to lose his job at the end of the season, Manuel Pellegrini is doing more than enough to earn a new contract.
The imposing shadow of Pep Guardiola hangs over the Manchester City manager who has conducted himself with admirable dignity as the apparent countdown to the arrival of the Catalan from Bayern Munich begins.
The midweek victory over Everton means City will play Liverpool in the League Cup final at Wembley on Feb. 28, which puts them on course for the quadruple. The Champions League is probably beyond City (plus Arsenal and Chelsea) as Europe’s elite of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, PSG and Juventus are in a mini-league of their own. However, City versus Bayern would be the most intriguing of finals with Pellegrini facing Guardiola as the latter prepares to take over from the Chilean.
Yet the treble is an enticing possibility. City is one win away from success in the League Cup; Saturday it plays Premier League basement club Aston Villa in the F.A. Cup fourth round, while Arsenal and Leicester are their main rivals for the title. The challenge is not as huge as it was in recent years.
Could City sack a manager — his contract runs to 2017 — who wins three trophies in a season?
You bet it could. Guardiola is the No. 1 coach in the world, a man synonymous with sexy football and silverware, someone who could raise City to the next level in terms of world-wide awareness.
City extended the Pellegrini’s deal by a year to hopefully show confidence to its manager, but a football contract is more a matter of compensation than commitment.
In some ways Pellegrini, appointed three years ago, cannot lose. If he is sacked, he walks away with a fistful of dollars and his record would virtually guarantee another high-profile job.
Maybe he has accepted his fate because it is an open secret that when City’s Middle East-based owners bought the club in 2008, they coveted the environment that produced Guardiola’s multi-winning Barcelona team, which was based on home-grown talent.
City brought in Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, two former high-ranking Barcelona executives, as City’s director of football and CEO, respectively, and the club has invested heavily in a youth academy that is the envy of the Premier League. All they need now is Guardiola to complete the jigsaw.
Perhaps significantly Soriano has said: “Maybe a manager can do one or two cycles, but people get tired. Players need another way, another excitement, and managers also want to move, but I think this is normal.”
Pellegrini is philosophical about his future because he has no control over it. Trophies will not be a factor with Guardiola on the market and he said: “We don’t know what Pep will do next season. There are rumors, and there is speculation about what he wants to do.
“I think Pep is one of the best coaches in the world, so maybe a lot of teams will try to get him to manage them. I don’t feel under any pressure about that. There are a lot of rumors — not only this season but going back to the other seasons also — but the only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself to win.
“For me the only important thing is what I achieve. If I finish this season winning the Premier League, then I will have won it twice in three years. I’m very happy about my career and my work. I would not be happy if I don’t win silverware this season, but all the other things I cannot be thinking about. Everyone can have their opinions.”
More immediately, Pellegrini must decide his team to play Villa. It will almost certainly be a second XI, though still full of internationals, as City meet Sunderland in a league fixture on Tuesday which is higher up the priority scale.
Countdown continues: The Premier League is becoming an English football Groundhog Day.
Once again the future of Louis van Gaal at Manchester United has been a major talking point, with reports and subsequent denials that after the defeat by Southampton he offered to resign for a third time.
Maybe the media is correct, because denials can be as misleading as the original allegation, though it seems strange that in any profession a company would keep a high-ranking employee who, by virtue of three offers to quit, had obviously thrown in the towel with his particular job.
Whatever the Dutchman’s faults as a manager, and his ability to produce exciting, attacking football at United, his ego is too large to contemplate an admission that he was not up to the task. Being pushed is one thing, but jumping is not in his blood.
Van Gaal’s mood at his weekly news conference on Thursday was as if he was proving rumors of his death were vastly exaggerated.
He spoke to the media “only because I am obliged to” and said of his so-called resignations: “I don’t think I have mentioned that ever. You make your own stories. Then I have to answer. I am not doing that. It is the third time I am sacked and I am still sitting here. Now I cannot lose any more because then for the fourth time I have been sacked. Then it might be the truth.”
United played Derby in the F.A. Cup on Friday night and win, lose or draw it is becoming obvious that van Gaal will at least see the season out. It could be a long three months for the suffering United fans.
In the mix: Eddie Howe, Mauricio Pochettino and Mark Hughes are the latest names to be put in the frame for the Chelsea job when Guus Hiddink’s caretaker spell ends in May.
Roman Abramovich has never appointed a manager who has not won at least one major honor and it would be a huge surprise if that trend did not continue.
Sad sign of the times: Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper closed his Twitter account after moving to rival Sunderland for fear of abuse from Tyneside fans.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.
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