European exit would pile real pressure on Manuel Pellegrini
Sheikh Mansour has not spent over €1 billion to contemplate such a scenario
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini: was expected to lead his side beyond the last 16 at least in this year’s Champions League. Photo: Peter Powell/EPA
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan has spent over a billion euro to fuel City since buying the club six years ago and the Abu Dhabi executives he employs are charged with securing untrammelled success for that investment.
It does not need a seat on the sofa with the sheikh in his palace watching City unravel on TV to understand what he and the chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, will make of it.
They have a track record since 2008 which charts their approach to episodes of failure. It points to a practice of not instantly reacting but recognising problems and expecting them to be addressed.
If they are not, and the team fall short of the goals the manager has been targeted to achieve, they do not hesitate to fire a manager – and find a replacement.
It is far too early as yet for them to be considering replacing Pellegrini, given his success last season, and with City still able to qualify for the knockout stage if they achieve the seriously daunting task of beating Bayern Munich at home and Roma away.
Fighting talkVincent Kompany
“I still believe in my team, and still back everyone at this club 100 per cent to turn it around,” the City captain said.
He then articulated what the executives in Abu Dhabi will be thinking. “Personality will have to show in the next games, otherwise we will have to wait another year, and no one at this club wants that.”
Pellegrini will be expected to respond with improvement, and this means the possibility has hoved into view for the first time that if there is none, he could be gone before too long.
Bayern, embodying the football institution to which Mansour’s City project aspires, will arrive in Manchester on November 25th already qualified, with four wins from four games.
It has been achieved by Pep Guardiola, the coach whom City’s former Barcelona chief executive, Ferran Soriano, and the director of football, Txiki Begiristain, worked with when they minted Barca’s glory years. City coveted and courted Guardiola for the job when they were firing Roberto Mancini, and they turned to Pellegrini, who has a lesser football pedigree, only when Guardiola opted for Munich.
Pellegrini surpassed expectations last year, winning the Premier League and League Cup and reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League, and now the huge Etihad academy has opened to try to bolster the first team.
This season’s underlying problems, glaringly revealed in the CSKA defeat, are that the players he was sanctioned to spend €67 million buying in the summer, principally the €15 million Fernando and €40 million Eliaquim Mangala, have not fitted in as improvements to the championship-winning squad.
There was also the overall spectacle of a team performing (epitomised by Yaya Toure’s and Fernando’s negligent reactions which drew their red cards) well below expected levels.
The club’s owners will want Pellegrini to respond by fixing these major issues and in doing so, mend the details: the porous defence and strangely disconnected midfield. They will not overreact; they established they were not prone to knee-jerk reaction when they stuck with Mark Hughes, the manager they inherited, and gave him the enormous first wave of cash to spend before losing patience with him after 18 months.
They learnt from that messy experience to avoid sacking a manager during the course of a season.
There was widespread indignation among City fans at the lack of sentiment for the winning Italian, but when the clear-eyed Pellegrini led his team to another Premier League title in May few were shouting for Mancini, and the Chilean was proclaimed on a famous banner as the fans’ ‘charming man’.
But progression beyond the last 16 of the Champions League was expected this season. Sheikh Mansour has not spent over a billion euro of his family oil fortune to watch the Premier League club he bought trudge out of European competition, and if it happens it will be considered a failure.
It may not come to making a change; there are few credible alternatives, and anyway Guardiola may not consider swapping Munich for Manchester. City’s executives hope Pellegrini will turn it around, but Guardiola is always there, the one they always coveted.