May 11, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Today’s achievement had to win them over. When Manuel Pellegrini was hired at Manchester City, detractors noted Pellegrini’s résumé was suspicious devoid of European honors. After today’s win over West Ham United completed City’s Premier League-Lague Cup double, Pellegrini finally has silverware to match his reputation – that of one of the better managers in Europe.
“I think that I manage a great group of players, a great institution and great fans,” said Pellegrini, who made is name in Europe leading a much smaller club, Villarreal, to second in Spain and the Champions League semifinals. He also had relative success in his three seasons at Malaga, but the line item critics has previously focused on was his spell at another big club: his one season at Real Madrid.
In 2009-10, Pellegrini was hired to lead a team that had recently acquired Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, and Karim Benzema. The Merengues finished second in Spain, setting a club record for points in a league season with 96. Unfortunately for the Chilean, his time at the Santiago Bernabéu coincided with the apex of Pep Guardiola’s at Barcelona. Fans of Pellegrini noted his record season, but as he made way for José Mourinho, detractors noted it wasn’t enough.
This season had the potential to play out similarly, though there was no Barcelona juggernaut to serve as an excuse. Manchester City was one of the Premier League’s two preseason favorites, and as the season went on, it became clear: Pellegrini’s was the best squad in the league. That City didn’t run away from the league after its midseason spell of omnipotence only emboldened suspicions that Pellegrini was title-less in Europe for a reason.
“We didn’t start (the season) very well, but I think the most important thing we did this year is when we finished playing our sixth game away, we had one point from 18 and I told the players we had to make a change,” Pellegrini said, reflecting on his first games in charge. “They believed in me and I think from then until now we are the team with the most points away.”
Perhaps that belief is why, even as City stumbled late against Liverpool and Sunderland, there were no prolonged dips. There were no slumps. There were no spells that forced them to become desperate. Even as City were relying on Chelsea to get the result at Anfield that would pull the team back into the driver’s seat, there was no panic. Throughout the 2013-14 season, City never went more than two games without a win.
“I must be calm during the game to take decisions but when you achieve the title,” Pellegrini explained, describing an in-match demeanor that mirrored his off-pitch approach. Where Mourinho used the press for mind games and Brendan Rodgers‘ words reflected his teams impassioned charge, Pellegrini approached the race with the quantitative cool of a civil engineer – a man confident in the probabilities.
The attitude reflected a belief in his talent. Like the rest of us, Pellegrini knew he had the best team in the league.
“I think the whole year comes from in to out and shows a lot of work we did at difficult moments … I think this is the best team in the league.”
That’s not always enough. Even in City’s case, as Chelsea and Liverpool gave away points, some will say the man with the best team cut things too close.
But as he learned at Real Madrid, many skip to the bottom line, forgetting the context. After Sunday, Pellegrini owns that bottom line.
That got there his way, by utilizing the same philosophy, attitude, and process that underscored his previous successes, makes the victory sweeter.
“[The players] always believed what I told them about how I wanted to play,” Pellegrini reflected, “and how I think football should be.”
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