Manuel Pellegrini: Seasoned tactician deserves a second shot at the big time

What makes a manager great? Is it his ability to win trophies? His man management?  His tactical genius? Or is it the ability to get the best out of his players no matter what the hindrances are?

For Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, that is what this season has been about, despite his chairman sanctioning sales of his finest players. Málaga have, this season, endured the losses of playmaker Santi Cazorla, Venezuelan goalscorer José Salomón Rondón and most recently left back Natxo Monreal to Arsenal. Hardly what Pellegrini was hoping for when Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani offered him the job in 2011.

Nor is it ideal for a team hoping for against-the-odds Champions League success. However, being the professional that he is, Pellegrini has shown the guile and leadership qualities to motivate his players despite the circumstances. Los Boquerones sit fourth in the table, a remarkable feat.

Pellegrini was also able to guide his side to a Copa Del Rey quarter final, and he currently awaits what is arguably one of the biggest games of his managerial career; a Champions League showdown with FC Porto. A game which will determine whether he can go one round better in europe’s elite competition than he did at Real Madrid, and reach the quarter finals. Kind of bizarre when you take into account the stark contrasts, in both finances and playing quality.

Whatever happens against the Portuguese team, Pellegrini’s Champions League campaign will result in a moral victory, simply because his side finished top of a group containing AC Milan. A loud, passionate atmosphere is required at La Roselda if Malaga are to overturn the 1-0 deficit inflicted in Porto.

The reactions of Pellegrini’s players to the situation at the club are understandable but by no means ideal. Centre back Martin Demichelis recently spoke out of his frustration, saying he expects this season’s hero Isco to be the next out of the exit door and that “it is a bad sign for the future of the club”. On the contrary, Pellegrini has shown unprecedented loyalty to his employers by declaring himself very happy at the club.

That loyalty is likely to be tested come the summer. Last season’s record 4th placed finish combined with performances in all competitions this season proves that Pellegrini is one of the best bosses around. It should also regain him the worldwide recognition that earned him his chance at Real Madrid.

His season at Real was a strange one. The Chilean was a party to the mass spending spree that saw Kaka, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso and of course Cristiano Ronaldo arrive at the Bernabéu, with an overall spend of £226 million in one window. On top of this, the new breed of Galácticos broke their La Liga points record with a staggering 96 points.

But this outstanding effort was in vain, as rivals Barcelona managed an incredible 99 points, pipping Pellegrini’s men to the title. And so ended a fruitless and ultimately unsuccessful campaign for Real and their manager, with exits from the Copa Del Rey in the last 32 and Champions League as early as the last 16. There can be no excuses for this failure, especially after president Sergio Perez was so generous with the funds he provided to Pellegrini.

Whether that awful season should deter a future move to another giant of European football remains to be seen. But, his professionalism combined with his astute ability to work with the little transfer funds he has received this term – Javier Saviola and Roque Santa Cruz were both major coups – ought to earn him either another large investment from Al Thani or recognition from Roman Abramovich.

He might not be the Chelsea fans’ first choice to succeed the infamous Rafa Benitez, but the Chilean’s track record speaks for itself. He’s no new kid on the block, aged 59, but this is the man who brought a Champions League semi-final and a second place league finish to Villarreal. Yes, the same Villarreal who currently sit fifth in Liga Adelante.

These achievements endeared him to the hearts of supporters, and although the pressure would be much greater at Stamford Bridge, Pellegrini has the charisma to succeed anywhere if given a chance. With Guardiola taken, Mourinho unsure and Zola unproven, Pellegrini would be an ideal choice for the Blues as they hope to challenge for honours next season.

Of course Chelsea probably won’t be the only side seeking a new manager come the summer, but they’re the only side that definitely will, and Pellegrini would fit the bill perfectly.

 

Written by Richard Burn

Follow Richard on Twitter @richard_burn15

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Malaga: The Financially Troubled Club Defying The Odds

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When I was approached about writing a piece on the quite extraordinary tale of Malaga’s season thus far I had no qualms at all. It is an immensely pleasing story and one which many other clubs could learn a great deal from.

Before this season began the club was in turmoil. Their owner and benefactor Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani had basically washed his hands off them. They owed significant sums of money to the Spanish tax men, could not pay their staff or players and had been forced to sell Santi Cazorla, arguably their best player, to Arsenal for a pittance just to raise some money. Many observers and fans expected the worst but in a modern football world littered with tragedy the upturn in the club’s fortunes thus far have been nothing short of miraculous.

Despite suffering defeats in their last two games the club currently lie fifth in the Primera Division and look odds on to qualify for the next round of the Champions League. The side, coached by Manuel Pellegrini, have united as one and have produced a string of good results to set them up for an intriguing 2013. The departure of Cazorla, Mathijsen and Rondon to name but a few was expected to signal the beginning of the end for Malaga but how wrong everyone was.

The club has not spent a Euro in the transfer market but has managed to conduct some effective business. In particular the signing of Javier Saviola from Benfica on a free transfer has proved to be a very astute piece of work. The former Barcelona player never quite lived up to his billing in Spain first time around but eased into his Malaga career with goals in his opening few games.

However, possibly the two biggest influences thus far have been the return to prominence of Joaquin and the emergence of the young Isco. The former had played for Valencia for many years and been capped by Spain but his consistency often detracted from his obvious potential. The current environment he has found himself in at Malaga has clearly awoken something burning inside that has really come to the fore in recent months.

What has taken everyone a little by surprise though is the form of their current superstar in the making, Isco. The 20 year old has been in scintillating form this season and is already earning rave reviews in Spain and further afield. He is clearly a special player; fantastic technique, great movement and dazzling skill. The way in which he dribbles past opposing players is something very special and he has lit up La Rosaleda with his virtuoso performances.

Isco…. a special player.

It appears that the uncertainty surrounding the club’s future has galvanised and harnessed the team to produce something special this season. Although it is only mid November and there are many, many games to play until May the hope and spirit they have displayed is something to marvel.

So often during recent times clubs who have fallen into financial troubles have wilted and folded but Malaga appear to be bucking this trend. The game is unfortunately riddled with clubs suffering from financial misadventure but Les Boquerones are proving once and for all that a club all pulling as one in the same direction can make a huge difference.

Malaga have been a huge positive this season and should be congratulated for what they have achieved.

 

Written by Andy Hunter

Follow him on Twitter @hunter67980

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