Friday, 4 October 2013

Manuel Pellegrini's lack of a big idea at Manchester City has been exposed by Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich


Manchester City need a manager who, like the Bayern surpemo, is capable of establishing a clear footballing identity at the club.

Manuel Pellegrini was outmanoeuvred by Pep Guardiola in the 3-1 defeat
In the side-streets and run-down estates around Manchester City’s ground you see hard evidence of disadvantage and disparity. The cab or tram then carries you on to the twinkling palace where a £183 million football team stages big Champions league fixtures against the likes of Bayern Munich.
The purpose of Sheikh Mansour’s interest in east Manchester is still not fully known, beyond raising Abu Dhabi’s profile around the world. There is much to like about his willingness to support social regeneration while spooning out vast salaries to the players who were taken to the cleaners by Pep Guardiola’s Bayern on Wednesday night. But as Sir Alex Ferguson showed in Manchester’s red zone, there can be no great leap forward without a manager capable of establishing a club identity or surviving at the very highest level.
City would dearly like a Ferguson or an Arsène Wenger to become a spiritual father for this new age of money. Whether Manuel Pellegrini will graduate to that level was placed in doubt by his latest tactical pummeling at the hands of Guardiola, whose team (at £93m) cost only a little more than Gareth Bale, and half as much as City. A thumping 3-1 defeat confirmed the limitations of laying out an array of expensive players and hoping it will be all right on the night.
Guardiola, who started out with the champions of Europe, admittedly, is more than just one cool honcho. He has ideas and the charisma to impose them, even on Germany’s haughtiest club. Specifically, he will never concede numerical midfield superiority to an opponent.
As Ferguson says: “If you play four in midfield, he will play five; if you play five, he will play six, and so on.” The basis of this philosophy is that midfielders should hunt in highly skilful packs, and “hound” the ball back when it is lost. Guardiola is trying to make Bayern play “faster” and with a more intense desire to mug the opponent. Result: Bayern achieve two-thirds possession against City and over-run their midfield.
They were helped unquestionably by Pellegrini’s decision to play two strikers (Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko), which handed the initiative to Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and company. And boy did they take it. Pellegrini is City manager because Guardiola is not. The first choice of the club’s Spanish brains trust was not someone from the next tier down of elite coaches. Pellegrini is there also because Roberto Mancini pushed his aloof, tough-guy act too far, thus alienating too many of his players.
After missing out on Guardiola, City’s owners replaced the martinet Mancini with a man whose appearance and charm evokes the owner of a high-class New York restaurant. To borrow a Townes Van Zandt album title, a football manager can get ‘High, Low and In Between.’ Pellegrini’s method is to stay in between. They say he has lost his temper in the dressing room but on the surface he is phlegmatic. All ex-Real Madrid managers have been to the mountain top of insane expectation, so he probably feels less heat at City than he did at the Bernabeu.
Managers are judged these days with obscene haste, as David Moyes and Pellegrini could both confirm. But at the same time there is no hiding place from a 3-1 defeat that displays the total inferiority of a side built for twice the cost of the one doing the battering. No hiding place, when the team’s formation is, by consent, wrong, and a highly dependable right-back (Pablo Zabaleta) has been dropped for no good reason.
Micah Richards was promoted to that spot, Pellegrini said, to drive Franck Ribery and David Alaba back into their own half. Between the thought and the action falls the shadow, and Pellegrini’s decision fell into the shadow. Of course in any game on any day you could go through the choices of a manager and pull them to bits. Here, though, we saw not only a team out-classed but a manager displaying no ideas of his own, which is guaranteed to make fans and owners twitchy.
Once Guardiola’s plane had taken off, Pellegrini probably felt much better. His nemesis was back in Bavaria. In the vapour trail, though, are questions about what he will add to this talent-rich City squad. When he arrived, we were simply told about his penchant for attractive football. He will need to add more definition now to that abstraction.
In his favour, still, is that thrilling 4-1 win over United on Sept 22, when his team achieved some of the symphonic fluency shown by Bayern Munich on the same grass. Many of us came away thinking City would walk the Premier League if they carried on playing like that. But against Bayern Munich, Pellegrini’s management went hazy, ill-defined. City want clarity.
They want big ideas.
Lord Stevens leads drugs quest
Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner whose investigative firm Quest ran into a brick wall of secrecy during the Premier League bungs inquiry, will hope for greater openness when he examines Sheikh Mohammed’s global racing and endurance operations in the light of recent drugs scandals.
The good news is that the Sheikh’s Godolphin racing yards will fall within Stevens’ remit after he was called in by the ruler of Dubai’s wife, Princess Haya of Jordan, who is also president of the International Equestrian Federation. Less encouraging is the fact that doping was first found to be a problem in stables owned by the Maktoum family (and others) eight years ago.
The presence of a senior Sheikh Mohammed employee on a five-man anti-doping committee established by Princess Haya in July is another anomaly. Set against the vast quantities of potentially toxic and dangerous products seized from a Dubai government jet at Stansted, calling in Lord Stevens (who helped the Princess with her own clean sport initiative) could be construed as a bit too cosy to remove this scourge of animal cruelty.
This is essentially a private internal investigation, contracted out to Quest. It requires more independence, and official legal supervision from the British Horseracing Authority.

Science fiction is FA’s only hope
The Football Association’s tougher retrospective governance has fallen at the first ditch with the failure to punish Fernando Torres for clawing Jan Vertonghen’s face.
If offences that have already taken place are too hard for the new panel to deal with, perhaps they could try pre-emptive crime-stopping of the sort portrayed in the movie Minority Report. Creatures capable of foreseeing a Lee Cattermole tackle or Torres scratch could lay in pools of fluid at FA headquarters and shout warnings in time for a team of referees to abseil from the roof to save the intended victim and apprehend the culprit.
They may, however, raid the wrong stadium.
The Telegraph

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