If you support Manchester City football club and have spent any time on social media in the past year, you may have noticed rather a lot of dissent, squabbling and outright abuse – at fellow fans, at players, and of course at Manuel Pellegrini. In the old days, the only ways to show your dissatisfaction at the group of mercenaries that at that particular point in time were not fit to wear the shirt was to hold placards outside the players’ entrance, or more commonly spend 90 minutes shouting obscenities from the terraces whilst veins bulged out of your neck. It was therapeutic, I guess, especially as the Manchester Evening News wouldn’t print my letters.
Now of course it’s a very different world. The internet has given us all a voice, with mixed results. The Dalai Lama/Piers Morgan. Iain Macintosh/N & S Custis. Typical City/Republik of Mancunia.
Players are in a way more distant from the fans than ever, but also more open to abuse, via a Twitter account, Facebook page or simply by eating a meal at one of Manchester’s three restaurants. It takes a special type of moron to tell a football player that will never read your message what you think of them on social media sites, but we all cope with disappointment in different ways. For some too, everything is either black or white – there is no grey matter in between. Criticise Yaya Toure and you are a borderline racist, compliment Pellegrini’s substitutions and you are a managerial fraud’s No. 1 apologist.
One person who has copped it more than most in the past year has been that so-called “fraud” Manuel Pellegrini. The charming man who brought us two trophies in his debut season seems a world away. Or not. As it happens, he hasn’t changed one iota – only the results have, and thus his treatment by so-called supporters.
You may think that Manuel Pellegrini has done a good job at City, you may think he has grossly underperformed. You may think that with the squad at his disposal, he should have the league wrapped up by Christmas, even though it’s not technically possible. Whatever, you are entitled to your opinion, and there is no right answer. What cannot be doubted however is how much class the Chilean has shown during his two and a half years at the club. Abused by fans, abused by fellow managers, written off and considered a dead man walking for much of his tenure, the man has handled everything thrown at him with dignity, a man who has sacrificed a lot to manage in Europe. One barrage of criticism towards a Swedish referee saw his guard drop, but it was a rare lack of composure.
He gets it. He understands. He is remunerated nicely to do so, but that is not a valid argument when you compare him to his peers. Nevertheless, as recent interviews showed, he accepts how the world of football management works. Pellegrini could have created untold problems for City’s owners and damaged the club’s image and we couldn’t have blamed him for it. Many other managers would, many others would certainly go to town on the club after departing with all the rumours that have hung around Pellegrini like moths around a lightbulb for almost a year now. Manuel Pellegrini won’t go to town on anyone. He’ll leave with dignity and with thanks to those he served.
Of course, he was always a stop gap. He knew he was there to fulfil a three year contract, to project a kinder image, and the contract extension was little more than a golden handshake. He was keeping the seat warm until Pep Guardiola rolled into town, and that is still the intention. If Guardiola changes his mind, there’s awkward decisions to be made, but for now, that’s the plan, and Pellegrini accepts this. He’ll go somewhere else and replace someone else. After all, he replaced Mancini, and would no doubt have been approached before the Italian was dismissed – it would be amateur of a football club and business not to plan ahead, irrelevant of the mock outrage from elements of the press.
But I’ve read some drivel over recent weeks. No change there then. You might think you are now. Should we get Rodgers in until the end of the season? Can we get Vieira back? We should never have let De Jong go. It is a hard fact for some to accept, but barring a catastrophic turn of events, Manuel Pellegrini will remain Manchester City’s manager until the end of the season, and almost certainly no longer. Don’t like it? Tough. You’ll get over it, so try supporting the team in the meantime – you might actually feel better about the world if you do. The sad thing is that when City’s history is revisited at some point in the future, say 30 years from now, Manuel Pellegrini may be little more than a footnote for many. And for me he deserves better than that.
One thing most Pellegrini haters have in common is their continued idolisation of Roberto Mancini. I mean most of us feel the same way anyway, so no harm there, but there is a link between the two managers in perception that can cloud judgment and can lead to swathes of history being wiped out or conveniently ignored. After all, how many times have I heard now that Mancini was sacked because of results, or because he didn’t say good morning to the tea lady? (it’s a lot). Why can Mancini’s final season be written off as an anomaly, but not Pellegrini’s 2nd? You’re entitled to your favourites, because we all have them on and off the pitch (I for one love Jesus Navas), but it’s harsh to demean your club’s manager because he doesn’t fight with players, dress snappily or rant and rave on the touchline. Because he’s not box office. Maybe slagging off referees and players shouting on the pitch could help our cause right now, maybe it makes a difference, but that’s a separate issue. It’s always been that way, everywhere. Managers are treated differently not because of results but because of their demeanour and who they know. Manuel Pellegrini has few friends in the press, does not give out soundbites, keeps his counsel and maintains a poker face at all times. Harry Redknapp he is not. I expect some journalists to react accordingly, as he does not help them do their job. I’d expect better from fans though.
But does it matter if our manager is nice? Does the club need to be holistic throughout and tread on eggshells for fear of offending? Is it all about results, and nothing else matters? Well it matters to our owners of course, and it should matter to you. The football club you support is about far more than numbers on a scoreboard and a list of honours on Wikipedia. It is part of a community, it is also, sadly, a brand, an image projected across the world, a business. It is many things, which revolves around match-days, but consists of so much more. Yes, United fans won’t have cared about how nice Alex Ferguson was whilst he hoovered up trophy after trophy for over two decades, and I’m not saying they should, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respect any manager of ours who acts in a dignified and respectful manner, as it is a separate issue to analysing results. It is, after all about affording respect to a fellow human being, rather than getting so angry about bringing on Fernando you burst an artery.
Whatever, the things I’ve seen said about City’s manager because of performances have been beyond the pale. Criticise his tactics all you want, criticise his selections, criticise the purchases. But remember the man. A man that despite the resources at his disposal still has to deal with injured players, personal lives, talented opposition, silent crowds, politics, the media and did his job to the best of his ability throughout. His best might not be good enough for you, but that’s really not the point. We have one of the classiest managers of my time as a supporter at our club, and for all the frustration he causes me, that means something to me, and I will always acknowledge what he has done for the club. He is no fraud, and knows more than you and I can ever dream of about tactics, formations, player performances and how to deal with the world he inhabits. I hope he finishes on a high, but if he does not, I hope others will see, despite his imperfections, what he brought to this club.