And so it is over. Another manager departs, and for once it’s been fairly civilised and planned.
The ending was apt though, City crawling over the line after 90 minutes of wasteful finishing that kept us sweating until the end. It was a match that summed up the season perfectly. Little sparkles, but mostly just frustration and swear words.
Under duress from Yaya Toure, one of City’s most successful managers handed his expensive suit jacket to a happy fan, and he was gone. And the sad thing is, the relief was palpable. Job done, on the day, a Champions League qualifier secured, a new dawn and perhaps a clean sweep on the way.
Two points from the final three games was enough in the end, the traditional late surge even absent this time as City finished with their lowest points total in seven years. They weren’t alone in under-achieving, at least, and their top four place was deserved, because that’s where they finished, and that’s how league tables work. Yet again, god bless City’s sporadic attacking intent – United fans must really hate goal difference. For the third successive season, City were the highest scorers in the Premier League, but it’s a statistic that merely thinly papers over a series of cracks.
And for Pellegrini, with hindsight, a season too far. He was the bridge between the fiery Mancini and the obsessive Guardiola, the dream ticket since the beginning, and Pep will bring back a much-needed passion on the touchline. There’s no right way to manage, but it feels that a more expressive manager is what the club and the fans need after a turgid nine months in the league.
I’ve spent two years flip-flopping over Pellegrini, always looking to defend a man who has always acted with class and dignity, but it was hard to support him as this season developed. After five games, it seemed we were walking to the league. Sky Sports even asked (rather stupidly) if City could go the whole season unbeaten. City were scoring for fun, winning, and looked fresh and up for the challenges ahead. It took just a couple of key injuries to derail all that. And whilst Pellegrini clearly worked on tactics, worked with individuals, and dealt with those that stepped out of line, it just didn’t feel like it to us outsiders. Players must take blame too, but players are often a reflection of their manager, and this team certainly was by the end. When things went wrong I wanted to see arguments, I wanted to see fire, not just bowed heads and a sigh.
Pellegrini was emotional at the end, an emotion we’ve rarely seen. It was a rare show of anything from a man with a poker face. His stonewalling of journalists was understandable when a minority were intent of twisting whatever he said, but he never really connected with the fans. For me that wasn’t really a problem, I want a manager to win games, but when the team is not winning games, it is an aspect of a manager that becomes more and more apparent. Maybe this is why many City fans never really warmed to him, with many pining, still, for Mancini.
But then fans see things in black and white. For many, Pellegrini has either been a success or a failure. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. His first season was an undoubted success, coming in to the club in difficult circumstances and providing a calm, holistic front to the club whilst the team scored more goals than ever before. The second season? A failure for sure, but still 2nd in the league. The third was a mixture of abject failure in the league and success in the cups. Unfortunately, the league is kinda important.
Pellegrini always gave me the impression of a manager who felt his team was good enough to do its thing – class would tell. Often it was enough, but a rut formed eventually when there was no back up plan, no intensity to firing up the troops.
The injuries were crippling, but this cannot just be put down to bad luck. Some were- injuries to Aguero and Silva amongst others were down to bad tackles, but many, many more were muscle injuries that makes you question training techniques. What was left behind was still good enough to do better too, despite all the disruptions. What didn’t help either was Pellegrini’s reluctance to trust youth – the one time he blooded them, they were thrown to the wolves. A number of youth players could have filled in and done little worse than some of the underwhelming performances put in by certain players this season, and more importantly, would have helped take the strain off a team fighting on four fronts, and probably eased the injury list. But development did not seem to be high on the Chilean’s list – after all, how many players have really improved during his tenure? For this reason, I wouldn’t write off half the squad just yet.
In addition, we were always led to believe that the Champions League was the main goal, but Pellegrini damaged the team’s pursuit of major trophies by taking the League Cup too seriously. The two cup wins gave me two of the most enjoyable days out in recent years, and some great occasions – and of course two trophies. BUT – surely it is not a trophy to risk many first team players in when there are so many other games to contest. Only when the semi-final comes along should that view alter.
It’s sad (to a few of us) that Pellegrini will be rather forgotten when City’s history is updated in a few decades’ time. He will be defined by the final season, and of overseeing a team with a soft underbelly. A team that had defensive vulnerabilities, that sometimes hung defenders out to dry, an expensive team that was capable of handing out and receiving the odd thrashing, and a team that lacked fight – a team that rarely came from behind to win games.
The announcement of Pep Guardiola, which came from Pellegrini himself, did not wreck City’s season. The team’s form had been poor beforehand, in the league at least, and the greatest cup exploits came after the news was announced. What did for City this season was an appalling record against other top teams in the league – City were so often impotent in such games, so often outfought. With Kompany spending more time in hospitals than on football pitches there was a distinct lack of leadership, with little encouragement coming from the side-lines.
But whilst the manager is the figurehead for the performance of a team, Pellegrini cannot take all the blame. I do not know how much input he had in transfer activity – I would wager it is a group effort, but whatever, City have wasted a lot of money on underperforming players. Others in the club have questions to answer too on why this club seems to have treaded water in the last two years. Many will claim the team has regressed, especially when you look in the striker department, but simply by hiring Pep Guardiola, I’d say that’s no longer the case.
Have no doubt, City are upgrading their manager now – it is a coup to get Pep Guardiola on board. The last few months have shown that he has not taken the easy option, and has plenty of work to do. But here is a man that lost fewer league games in three years at Bayern Munich than City did this season alone. He will bring a new intensity to the team, and it can’t come soon enough.
So goodbye to the charming man, a man who wasn’t quite to the standard we desired. He acted with decorum throughout, knowing like we did that he was keeping the seat warm for the hottest ticket in town. He knew the score, and he got it. He gave us some of the best football we’ve ever witnessed, but ultimately came up short. He goes with my thanks, and I hope he finds great success in the future.
For City, a new era, with a new manager, and the end for many of our club’s most important ever players. A sad summer perhaps, but an exciting future.