The 200% Premier League Pre-Season: Manchester City
Between now and the start of the new season, we’ll be writing up all twenty of the Premier League clubs before it all kicks off again. If you’re here looking for the very latest transfer gossip, though, you’ll likely be disappointed by stopping off here. Quite asides from anything else, it’s not even August yet (a necessity borne of the fact that these have got to be written around work commitments, amongst much else), and most of the transfer rumours circulating at the moment are the result of the fevered imaginations of the sort of fifteen year-olds who spend their lives on Twitter pretending to be agents. Others doubtlessly be along in the coming weeks to fill you in on that sort of thing.
There can be few greater signs of the times than the dismissal of Roberto Mancini from the position of being the manager of Manchester City Football Club at the end of last season. A second place finish in the Premier League and a place in the FA Cup final would have been just about unthinkable for this club a decade ago but, propelled into a parallel universe of brain-numbing affluence and the levels of expectation that comes with such lavish expenditure, being the bridesmaid doesn’t cut it at The Etihad Stadium these days and Mancini, the man who had brought the English championship to the club for the first time in almost four and a half decades just a year earlier, paid the ultimate price for this revised sense of entitlement on the part of the owners of the club.
When viewed through the prism of the vast amounts of money pumped into the club during the ownership of the Abu Dhabi United group since they took it over, it is even possible to construct an argument which states that last season was more than just a let-down for Manchester City. The club’s Champions League run was ended at the group stage in such an emphatic manner that not even the consolation of a place in the Europa League could be rescued from its dying embers. The Premier League championship, snatched so dramatically at the end of the season before, was surrendered to arch-rivals Manchester United with barely a whimper, and the club finished the season considerably closer to the chasing pack below them than the club that they were supposed to be going toe-to-toe for the title with. Even the domestic trophies, those fifth-place rosettes of English football’s current elite, ended in disappointment – home defeat against Aston Villa at the first hurdle of the League Cup and then that defeat at the hands of Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup final. Only the thinnest of consolations could be gleaned from another comfortable qualification for next season’s Champions League and winning the FA Community Shield at the very start of last season. It wasn’t much to show when hopes had been so high after the year before’s narrow triumph.
So, what do we know of the replacement, Manuel Pellegrini, then? Well, we know that has been a league champion in Argentina with River Plate, and that in Spain he was a runner-up with Villareal, was harshly treated by Real Madrid in getting sacked after accumulating a points record in one season for the club and only losing out on the league title because Barcelona somehow managed to top their ninety-six points, and took Malaga to the latter stages of the Champions League, where they were unfortunate to lose in the quarter-finals of the competition against Borussia Dortmund. Whatever the pressures of the job at The Etihad Stadium may be next season may be, they can only be small beer in comparison with those faced by anybody taking on the plate-spinning job that is the managerial position at Real Madrid, though, and at sixty years old Pellegrini is likely be better equipped than most to deal with the hothouse atmosphere that hangs over a club with the inflated ambitions of Manchester City.
Just as the manager is untried so far in the Premier League, so are the four players – Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic – brought in by the club this summer. Meanwhile it may be informative that the two players who both added an element of the circus to the club over the last couple of years, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez, have now left the club. Perhaps the occasional petulance that was seen during Mancini’s time in charge of the club will now be replaced by something calmer and more thoughtful. The jury will remain out on Pellegrini until the opening stages of the season are over, but a combination of the shrill nature of the modern press and the apparent requirement for immediate success (or at the very least progress in comparison with last season) will likely mean that we will have a reasonable idea of how long the new manager may stay in his position for by the end of the autumn.
The new man may be helped or hindered by the flux that has been witnessed elsewhere in the managerial market, too. So far, this has been a low key summer for Pellegrini in comparison with the hysteria that has greeted David Moyes’ every waking breath up the road at Old Trafford, and it’s difficult to believe that the new manager won’t be quietly pleased at that. In this state of flux, though, things could go both ways. If, for the sake of argument, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea all start their seasons well, then we can likely expect attention to start turning to the finer minutiae of what is going on at each club, but should any of the three new managers suffer any difficulties, knives will not be far from their sheaths and the more hysterical ends of the club’s respective supports will start to make their shrieking voices heard with increasing monotony.
So, if the element of gamble in replacing the manager pays off, the rewards could be great for Manchester City. Pellegrini has dealt with the pressure before and has a considerable amount of experience, even if none of it has been in the Premier League, and we might argue that the increasingly international focus of the Premier League makes matters of experience in this division less important than they might have ever been before. Events elsewhere mean that the new manager has had a summer of relative peace and quiet with which he can build a squad to recover and have a serious go at rebuilding a team to win the Premier League and reach something approaching the sum of its parts in the Champions League as well. Still, though, there is scope for it to go wrong, and for the self-confidence with which the club propelled its way through the final stages of the 2011/12 season to remain the flash in the pan that it looked for too much of last season. In an uncertain environment, though, it could go either way. All that we can say with any confidence at the moment is that it will, at least, be different.
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