Manuel Pellegrini’s three-year tenure at Manchester City will be over in eight games – nine if we can somehow overcome Real Madrid – and he will already be pondering his future options. Indeed, reports from across the world link him with some noteworthy clubs, several of which are said to be talking to his entourage already.
Rating Pellegrini’s stint at City perhaps depends on what standard you hold the modern day City to. Some are in the “remember where we were and enjoy the ride” camp, while others, such as myself, want us to be the best and would prefer to compare us to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. I made my feelings clear in a recent article – I don’t believe he has done enough with the resources at his disposal and don’t rate his reign as a success after failing to compete for the Premier League trophy in two of his three seasons here. He could shock us all by taking us to Milan and lifting the “big ears” yet, in which case I’ll gladly write a groveling apology. Or, we may yet bomb out of the top four, in which case the criticism will only get worse.
Forget what I think, though – how is he viewed across Europe? Based on the clubs currently linked with him, bar one (a tenuous link at best, but I’ll get to that), he isn’t sought after by football’s big hitters anymore, but some reputable clubs a grade or two down are interested in his services. Let’s have a look at some of his possible options.
The La Liga club have been linked with El Ingeniero more persistently than anyone, but the latest reports throw any possible deal into doubt. A move back to Spain could appeal to Pellegrini, who enjoyed success at Villarreal and Málaga, while also racking up a huge points tally at Real Madrid, a reign which was, however, deemed a failure when they finished behind Barcelona and bowed out of the cups early on. Valencia have an ambitious project, with financial stability courtesy of Peter Lim, but things have gone badly wrong this season with the failed appointment of Gary Neville. Since his sacking, they have improved and there is even talk current boss Pako Ayestaran could hold on to the job. Local reports insist there is still interest in Pellegrini, but his demands are forcing Los Che to look at other options. If a financial and sporting agreement can be reached, Valencia is a very realistic possibility for Pellegrini. In an environment such as this, perhaps he can even mount a challenge against the Madrid giants and Barcelona, similar to his success at Villarreal.
Zenit Saint Petersburg
Russian giants Zenit are preparing to bid adieu to former Chelsea and Spurs boss André Villas-Boas after two years in charge. Villas-Boas has won the Russian Premier League and Super Cup in his time at Zenit, but his brand of football is said to not appeal to everyone. Zenit are keen to appoint a coach who favours attacking, entertaining football and Pellegrini is of particular interest to them. Gianluca Di Marzio confirmed in March that Zenit’s interest is real, after local reports said likewise, and that a concrete offer was being prepared. Journalists in Spain have claimed that Russia wouldn’t be his top priority, and you can understand why – it’s a league that kind of gets forgotten about until their teams appear in the Champions League and Europa League. However, with big money on offer, players like Hulk and Axel Witsel to coach, and an opportunity to sell Javi García for a third time, Pellegrini might be tempted by this job if others don’t pan out.
Here’s an interesting one. Pellegrini has been mooted as a possible Laurent Blanc replacement in the past, but yesterday AS in Spain reported that there had been direct contact from PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi with Pellegrini’s camp in recent weeks. Blanc is not nailed on to lose his job this summer, but is on shaky ground after another Champions League quarter-final exit, at the hands of Pellegrini’s City side. José Mourinho is another name linked with the PSG job should the guillotine fall on Blanc, but he is reported to favour United according to British journalists. So if Blanc does lose his job and José says “no way”, could Pellegrini have a shot at the PSG job? First thing to consider is Pellegrini, and any other competent coach, is going to win Ligue 1 almost by default unless any of PSG’s rivals get their act together (and possibly find a billionaire willing to splash out), so Paris chiefs will be looking at Europe. And to his credit, Pellegrini has taken Villarreal, Málaga and City to the latter stages of the Champions League, so could appeal in that respect to Al-Khelaifi. This, for now, is a tenuous link, and would seem less likely than Valencia or Zenit.
Other than whispers on Twitter from fake agents and the like, Pellegrini hadn’t been seriously linked with the Everton job until Chilean source CDF reported genuine interest yesterday. Putting two and two together, this could make sense. Roberto Martínez has been outed as what he’s always been, a very average coach, and if an FA Cup semi-final defeat to United follows a derby day hammering by Liverpool, he could be out of a job very soon. Here’s where Pellegrini could make sense. Everton wanted attacking football post-Moyes and got it, just in the form a manager who has achieved little besides a triumph with Wigan at Wembley that us City fans would rather forget. For all my issues with Pellegrini, he’s a class above Martínez and has proven it with clubs who don’t have the same financial muscle as the established elite. Compare his stints at Villarreal and Málaga to Martínez’s at Everton and Wigan, and there is only one winner. Another thing to consider is Pellegrini’s open admission that he’d love to stay in the Premier League after City. He’s a lover of English football and should the right offer appear, he could favour it over jobs in Spain or Russia. Everton appear the most realistic option for him in England, although other vacancies could appear before the start of next season.
Given his fondness for the English game, if there is nothing to the Everton reports Pellegrini may bide his time and see what becomes available. Quique Sánchez Flores’ job at Watford is at risk according to the Daily Mail, while Swansea boss Francesco Guidolin has been linked with the Italy hotseat. Abroad, José Peseiro has not made a great start as Porto boss and Pinto da Costa could scour Europe for a higher profile name. Sevilla boss Unai Emery has been linked with a move to Italy and like Valencia, that position could tempt Pellegrini. Manuel was linked with the Chile job after Jorge Sampaoli decided he’d had enough, but that position was handed to Juan Antonio Pizzi. He’d also surely have options in the Far East and Middle East, but despite his age Pellegrini still comes across as a man with some ambition and would prefer a European stay.
So, who will it be?
My current feeling is that Pellegrini will take over at Valencia this summer, if chiefs at the Mestalla can meet his demands. That prediction will quickly change if interest from a Premier League club, such as Everton, is proven to be real. I wouldn’t rule out Zenit, who always flash the cash when they want something, but I believe Pellegrini will rank Russia below Spain and England on his list of priorities. The PSG links seem fanciful to me and I can’t see that happening, much like former reports linking him with Chelsea. One thing I’m fairly confident of is that Pellegrini will never again land a bigger job than City – he hasn’t done enough to entice a Barcelona, Manchester United or Bayern Munich into hiring him any time soon and coaches such as Allegri, Pochettino and Tuchel are surely now more appealing to top-tier clubs.