Venue: Stadium of Light
Date: 2 February 2016
Kick off: 19:45
UK TV: Not on TV.
Today was supposed to be normal. It was supposed to be the most Mondayest of Mondays – a day on which sore heads could finally be detoxified, emails could be answered and university assignments could be at least attempted. Deadline Day has been a bit of a non-event for a few years now and with Harry Redknapp now officially out of the game, this one was going to be another for Jim White and his yellow tie to forget.
Manchester City, our fabulously intriguing club, made sure it didn’t exactly pan out like that. This afternoon, Manuel Pellegrini announced at the end of his press conference that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season. A statement on the club’s website moments later confirmed that Pep Guardiola would take over from Pellegrini on a three-year deal.
My knees quivering and my heart beating like a Stan Collymore fist, this brought on a sensation similar to the one I experienced when I finally managed to wriggle into bed with quite a beautiful female I had been exchanging rapport-building small talk with for three years. Pep Guardiola, the two-time Champions League winner coming to my club? F***ing hell!
The reaction to the news was, as you can imagine, pretty mental. But importantly, tweets of praise and appreciation for Manuel came before the hysterical ones slobbering over Pep’s arrival. I was impressed by the dignified response from our fans – dignity is something Manuel has maintained even in the most testing of circumstances during his reign at the Etihad – and it was exactly the response he deserves for the job he has done, and will continue to do, for us. It seems fitting that this morning I sat down to read Flannery O’Connor’s ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’ for my university course. We certainly found a good man in Pellegrini.
In a league brimming with movie-star managers with an affinity for controversy, Pellegrini brought calm to the circus that once was our club. While José Mourinho brought the cinema and Louis Van Gaal brings the arrogance, Pellegrini gives journalists absolutely nothing to work with in his press conferences. “I don’t comment on rumours” has become a famously frustrating tagline of his, but after Roberto Mancini had almost lost the entire dressing room, a man concerned primarily with matters on the field was exactly what City needed. Dull in his press conferences, perhaps, but on the pitch, we’ve transformed into a ferocious attacking machine. This is the best football we’ve ever seen our club play and that’s entirely down to the manager and his coaching staff.
Even Guardiola, the man who will succeed him in June, had kind words for the Chilean when interviewed by Francisco Sagredo, the author of Pellegrini’s book: ‘The Pellegrini Method’. “I feel as though I am a follower of him, of his game philosophy. One can watch one of his teams without knowing who trains them and one would immediately know that this is a Pellegrini team just by they way they play.”
Manchester Evening News journalist Rob Pollard put out a great tweet that read: “Find me another manager who would have handled all this the way Manuel has. Absolute pleasure to have had him here”. Put in the same situation, Mourinho would probably have refused to speak to the media and Van Gaal wouldn’t have left the room without slagging off an overweight journalist. Pellegrini’s different, he’s ‘our charming man’.
It’s difficult not to get emotional about Pellegrini’s impending departure. That picture of the lads throwing him into the air after winning the title in his first season is a real tear jerker. That was the moment we all saw how much Manuel had changed the atmosphere in the dressing room and how much the players respected him. Bollocks to entertaining press conferences and stinging attacks on your own players, only journalists and rival fans gain any satisfaction from such acts of irresponsibility. After the takeover, the big spending and the rollercoaster that was Mancini’s tenure at the club, we needed a man who just got on with his job. Pellegrini did that and will (crucially) leave Guardiola with a harmonious squad.
Before we celebrate what is unarguably the biggest coup of the Sheikh Mansour era, we must first acknowledge that this is a ‘cowardly’ move by Guardiola who could have accepted a ‘much tougher challenge’ down the road at Old Trafford. And I’m not arguing with the United fans – it really would be a challenge to try and win games for such a sour bunch of supporters.
Anyway, this was actually meant to be a preview for the Sunderland game tomorrow, so let’s get onto the team news. Fabian Delph has picked up a knock and is unavailable, while Aleksandar Kolarov is fit to play after recovering from a calf injury. Kelechi Iheanacho, who netted a hat-trick in the 4-0 FA Cup win over Aston Villa at the weekend, has been rewarded with a place in the Champions League squad in place of Samir Nasri who “needs two months more to be fit.” Iheanacho, though, is unlikely to retain his place in the side unless Pellegrini opts for a 4-4-2 formation.
Sam Allardyce could hand debuts to new signings Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri and Dame N’Doye tomorrow. Khazri, signed from Bordeaux, has been Les Girondins’ best player this season with five goals and making seven assists and could provide Sunderland with the creativity they need to stay up this term. Should he play, our defence will have to be on guard. Sadly, there will be no battle between Sergio Agüero and Sebastián Coates who joined Sporting Lisbon on loan four days ago. The state of Portuguese football these days.
Tears may be rolling down your cheeks, but Manuel hasn’t gone yet and could still leave the Etihad Stadium with four trophies on top of the two he already has. Let’s make that happen!
Predict the score:
[statsfc-score-predictor key=”D8SJIk7F6vySBuDaFQRSHy11xfbyCt18uXRinj2b” team=”Man City” date=”2016-02-02″ default_css=”true”]