English Premiership

Axe sharpening for Pellegrini?

2015-03-16 20:17
Manuel Pellegrini (AFP)

London - With the Premier League trophy being so meekly surrendered and a season without silverware looming, Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini cannot grumble if the club's hierarchy already has his replacement lined up.

That's the way City seems to operate these days and it can be seen as logical planning to ensure a smooth succession.

Managers are expendable for owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is still waiting after almost seven years for the team to become a consistent force to match the $1 billion-plus investment in players.

Rather than advancing from positions of strength, however, City always seems to regress. None of the trophies they have won in the last four years — the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup — have been retained.

And City's inadequacies have been particularly exposed in the Champions League. Unless a 2-1 deficit can be overturned against Barcelona in the Camp Nou on Wednesday, City will have failed to reach the quarterfinals yet again. Under Roberto Mancini, City was eliminated in the group stage in 2011-12 and 2012-13, and only went one better under Pellegrini last year by reaching the round of 16.

City is nowhere close to the global domination it craves. It isn't even one of the best eight teams in Europe, and in the FA Cup this season the club was even embarrassed at home by Middlesbrough, a team in the second division.

City couldn't even beat the most cheaply-assembled team in the Premier League: first being held to a draw at home by Burnley and then losing on Saturday to the promoted squad assembled for a few million dollars.

At Turf Moor, City looked bereft of ideas or inspiration, with Sergio Aguero and David Silva ineffective going forward. Pellegrini's tactical inflexibility enabled Burnley, a team battling against relegation, to grab a 1-0 win.

"You could see in that game how they don't track back as well as they go forward so we knew we could exploit that and we did," said Burnley scorer George Boyd, who cost the northern club less than $5 million last year.

"Obviously with the bigger teams they've got world-class players who can cut you open in a second, but you find if you get in amongst them and press them they don't really like it because they're not used to being tackled."

Pellegrini has eradicated the chaos and feuding that defined Mancini's reign, but the team hasn't been any more competitive since establishing a more harmonious atmosphere.

Although City can produce attractive, expansive football, faltering displays are prone to follow. Lacking the ability to consistently subdue opponents, City is six points behind Chelsea in the title race and has played one game more.

It's a familiar story.

Three years ago, Mancini delivered City's first English title in 44 years, but he then allowed Manchester United to run away with the 2012-13 trophy by 11 points before being dismissed by Sheikh Mansour.

This time, it's Pellegrini's job security that is looking increasingly fragile.

In May 2013, City was not only embarrassed by Wigan in the FA Cup final at Wembley but Mancini seemed to be personally undermined by a matchday leak that Pellegrini had already been approached to succeed him.

City didn't quash the report, and Mancini was left in the dark.

"I don't know why the club didn't stop this," the Italian complained before discovering the reason days later when he was fired.

Mancini was of course hired in similarly murky circumstances in 2009, having been courted in advance of Mark Hughes being fired. Hughes took charge of a final game with the world already knowing he would be fired later in the day, conduct by City that then-Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson branded "unacceptable."

City was riled by the criticism, with the most memorable moment of Mancini's first media conference being when then-chief executive Garry Cook became increasingly exacerbated, thumped his hand and insisted: "There is no conspiracy."

Five years later, former Barcelona duo Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain run day-to-day operations while also overseeing a network of clubs, including Melbourne and New York operations.

But if the team ends the season empty handed, City has shown it is willing to act swiftly and brutally.

Lose in Barcelona on Wednesday, and it is likely to be a matter of when, not if, Pellegrini is fired.


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