As players concentrate on the World Cup and clubs quietly prepare to make their moves in the transfer market, it has been the manager merry-go-round that has captured most of the headlines. High profile departures and subsequent appointments for the likes of Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez remain the biggest stories of the summer so far.
One vacancy yet to be filled though is that at Liverpool. Many names have been linked, with a select few now beginning to pull away from the pack into serious contention. Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish remain the leading contenders for the job but one man is beginning to creep up on the inside. That man is Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean’s odds have been dramatically cut in recent weeks with reports from his homeland even going as far as to suggest that a deal has already been agreed between the two parties. But who is he?
Born in Chile in 1953, Pellegrini spent his entire playing career as a central defender at Universidad de Chile, making 451 league appearances and scoring the one goal. After moving into management, he spent his early career in Argentina and Chile, managing the likes of San Lorenzo and River Plate before making the move to Europe in 2004 with Villarreal.
Pellegrini’s profile increased dramatically in the last year after having taken the reigns at Real Madrid, overseeing the club’s massive spending spree undertaken last summer. He was sacked at the end of last season after the team failed to wrestle the La Liga title back from Barcelona and experienced further disappointment in the Champions League, falling in the round of 16 for the sixth successive year.
The team had also suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Copa del Rey, losing to Segunda B side Alcoron. Having finished the season empty handed, the writing was on the wall for Pellegrini at Real Madrid. This, after all, is a club that sacked their manager, Vicente del Bosque, after winning the European Cup…
Pellegrini could count himself unfortunate however to lose his job. Despite finishing as runners-up in the league, they managed to secure a record points haul of 96, a fantastic total. Unfortunately for Madrid, they were competing against, arguably, the best Barcelona side in history, a team in the best of form. Pellegrini managed the team for 48 games, winning 36, drawing 5 and losing just 7. This gave him a win percentage of 75%, certainly not a figure to be sniffed at. The Chilean had certainly earned his opportunity on the biggest of stages after his achievements with Villarreal in the years previously.
He joined the Yellow Submarines in 2004 as an unknown in Europe. The club were not one of Spain’s most glamorous clubs, small in comparison to even the second tier teams like Valencia and Atletico Madrid. What Pellegrini was thus able to achieve with the team was both historic and unprecedented. In his first season with the club he finished third in the league, qualifying for the Champions League. The following season they reached the semi-finals of the competition, narrowly succumbing to Arsenal. In the next two campaigns Pellegrini led the side to 5th and 2nd places finishes.
That Villarreal were able to displace one of the big two of Barcelona and Real Madrid in finishing runner-up was a fantastic achievement for a club so modest in comparison. His ability to turn a team with limited resources into La Liga runners-up certainly caught the attention of Real Madrid and cemented his position as a top class manager.
Having spent just one season at Real Madrid, Pellegrini was not given the time to make his mark on the team. After such a record-breaking outlay on players during his tenure, the Chilean found himself under unusual pressure unlike any manager had previously experienced. Even with the ability to sign the best players, it still takes time to mould them into the best possible team. They were not building from a position of great strength as Barcelona have been able to do in the last few years. The biggest disappointment of the season was certainly their Champions League exit, against a decent Lyon side but certainly not a brilliant one. Results like that can happen though in Europe’s premier competition. Pellegrini’s spell at Madrid will therefore, in all probability, be classed as a failure, which is arguably unfair given his short spell in charge.
Whilst recognising Pellegrini’s talents as a manager, I have doubts however as to whether his appointment at Liverpool would be the wisest decision at the present moment. This though is due to the club’s current troubles rather than questioning the Chilean’s abilities as a manager. The time is just not right. In Liverpool’s current predicament, the club desperately need stability, and for this the team require a manager who has some experience of the Premier League and English football, someone who knows the players and the market. If the club was in a stronger position with a better playing squad things would be different.
The club cannot afford any new manager a prolonged settling in period, especially for a foreign manager who may need some time to find his feet. Any new manager needs to hit the ground running. Should the club be sold within the next few weeks, although unlikely, than loaded with a healthy transfer budget the appeal of Pellegrini may be stronger. With the ability to sign high quality players, the Chilean’s job will be made a little easier. The club though, in truth, does not have this time. Decisions need to be made soon to then try and begin to persuade the likes of Gerrard and Torres that their futures lies at Anfield.
If indeed, as Pellegrini’s agent has stated, there is an offer from England and the presumption is the offer is from Liverpool, then it is a brave decision on the part of the boardroom. The next management decision simply has to pay off. Fail and the situation at the club will be even more desperate.
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