THEY say nice guys don’t make winners, so I’m delighted to acknowledge that Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is, at last, an exception to that rule. City’s fully deserved Premier League triumph was the Chilean first title in 10 years’ managing in Europe. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. At City’s home match against Aston Villa, fans unfurled a huge banner proclaiming: “Pellegrini, this charming man.” It seemed out of place, in a sense, in the hard, cynical world of top flight professional football. Yet it was also such a refreshing, uplifting sight.
At the end of a season in which we have seen managers screaming their protestations at officials, trading in sarcasm and, in one case, head-butting an opposition player, not to mention a coach being restrained in a bid to get at the referee, how reassuring that Pellegrini, whose dignity and courtesy remained intact throughout the roller-coaster ride, emerged the victor.
I think the sight of his players throwing him in the air on the pitch following the title-clinching, 2-0 win against West Ham, told the story of the man who came in last summer and poured oil on the troubled waters of a dressing-room in turmoil. You can always argue that there are no excuses for not winning the big prizes if you have unlimited money to spend. But it isn’t as straightforward as that. The ultimate challenge for a manager is to blend the players, the diverse personalities and egos, into a winning team. Pellegrini demonstrated this season that he has that ability. Not only into a winning team but one that plays wonderfully entertaining football.
Now, the challenge is to move forward from this second title in three years. A second place in between those two successes means City are established as the No 1 club in England. To become a major force in Europe is now the target, a task that is complicated by the restrictions the club faces after contravening UEFA’S Financial Fair Play rules. Against that background, it won’t be easy for Pellegrini to tweak his squad this summer but at least he has several candidates for offloading, including Jack Rodwell, Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, perhaps either Kolarov or Clichy at left-back, and out-of-contract Gareth Barry. It might even be that James Milner, for me one of the unluckiest players in the Premier League in terms of selection, will seek a club where his talents are used more often.