Joe Butterfield gens up Hammers fans on what they can expect from their new gaffer.
When Manchester City sacked Roberto Mancini after a rather disappointing FA Cup final defeat to Wigan Athletic and an uninspiring attempt at a league title defence, the club said they were seeking a more “holistic approach”. Despite the success Mancini had brought, relationships between the management and players, as well as management and board level, were fractured and there were players whose hearts clearly weren’t in it anymore, engulfing the dressing room in an air of unrest. Sound familiar, Hammers fans?
Enter Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean was coming off the back of a successful stint with Málaga, having taken them to the Champions League semi-final. In the past he’d managed Villarreal, who he’d taken to Champions League heights, as well as Real Madrid, who he’d taken to their record points total at the time, unfortunately coming second to peak Guardiola’s Barcelona. He certainly came with a bit of pedigree.
He arrived at the club with great expectations on his shoulders. City’s inability to defend the title seems like it was inevitable with the benefit of hindsight, after all it was Fergie’s final season in charge of United and was always going to end with him pulling success from somewhere. However, in reality it was a huge disappointment, combined with the ridiculous defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup which left City without any silverware that season. The squad should have been performing to a higher standard than it currently was.
He is currently City’s most successful manager (for now), having guided the club to a domestic double in his first season and a farewell League Cup in his final season.
This should hopefully provide some context to the coup that West Ham have managed to pull on in employing Pellegrini. He may be being poached from China but this belies his level (something which applies to virtually every foreign import in China). This is a manager which Arsenal or Chelsea should be happy to appoint.
Pellegrini’s greatest achievement at City was getting the club immediately back to the level it was capable of. Every manager gets a new-manager-bounce (unless you’re Alan Pardew and Gary Megson has stolen it) but this wasn’t just a short-term bounce. He got the team playing for him and fully invested in the way he played. City were looking for somebody who could quickly repair a broken dressing room and Pellegrini made it look easy. Admittedly, he did this with a fairly hefty transfer outlay at his disposal but, as Jose Mourinho will tell you, it’s not all about money.
The football we played under Pellegrini was better than under Mancini, in my opinion at least. It was a much more free-flowing, Spanish style which capitalised on the technical skills of David Silva and Samir Nasri to create chance after chance for the attackers. We scored 102 goals in the league in his first season, an admirable achievement by any measure. Even more so when you consider that the gap between the top six and bottom fourteen wasn’t quite as huge as it is now.
West Ham fans should expect the likes of Arnautovic to thrive under Pellegrini’s leadership. His technical ability and finishing talent makes him the obvious focal point of the tactics, with Manuel Lanzini potentially filling a Silva/Nasri role and potentially having a very good season also. It’s a shame that Joe Hart left before he arrived, as Hart was rather fond of him and Pellegrini would probably have improved his confidence.
He did, however, benefit greatly from inheriting Mancini’s defence in his first season with the club. Mancini taking credit for City’s success since leaving the club has almost become a running joke at this point but he definitely warranted a lot of credit for laying the foundations that year. Pellegrini insisted on playing a high defensive line throughout his time, which in itself isn’t so bad, however he never adapted to the declining pace of the back four in the following years, particularly a 70-year-old Martin Demichelis, and there was very little evidence of any defensive coaching to combat this.
Pellegrini won the title basically playing a 4-4-2 before transitioning to a 4-2-3-1 in later years when Negredo and Dzeko moved on. The 4-2-3-1 could work for the Hammers, provided the two in midfield are able to cover a lot of ground and aren’t afraid to put in a defensive shift, as the formation typically leaves the back-line fairly exposed, as Yaya Touré proved very often. He probably won’t fully adopt the all-out attacking style he implemented at City but I fully expect West Ham to outscore all of their recent seasons.
Despite the immediate success of his reign, towards the end The Engineer was ironically unable, or unwilling, to tinker very often when it came to his formations. In his final season with City, it was abundantly clear to absolutely every fan that Yaya Touré couldn’t play as part of a two-man midfield twice a week, due to a combination of physical incapability and an increasing sense that he just couldn’t be arsed, yet Pellegrini persisted to the detriment of the team.
By the time he left, it almost felt like he was just putting all of his best players on the pitch at once. The arrival of Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling in his final season saw him be very reluctant to leave anybody on the bench, resulting in players often being put out of position to accommodate one another. One of either De Bruyne or Silva would be pushed out onto the wings, occasionally David Silva would be put on the right-wing, which almost never worked.
There were extenuating circumstances in his final season, of course. His departure was announced in January and the arrival of Guardiola was imminent, so it’s difficult to really judge how much of the blame should be portioned to the players for coasting their way towards the end of the campaign and going through the motions, but Pellegrini definitely had his part to play. The infamous Champions League semi-final was one of the most insipid performances over two legs the club has ever seen and questions had to be asked of a manager who seemingly couldn’t get his players up for such a historic occasion.
However, Pellegrini is a genuinely nice person. You’d struggle to find anybody with a bad word to say about him besides Alan Pardew, who had three very bad words to say about him on the touchline of one particular game. He’s well liked, polite and uncontroversial. There’s a reason he earned the nickname “that charming man” amongst Blues. This is obviously a good thing, especially at a club attracting as much media attention as West Ham over the last couple of years, as he won’t make any unnecessary headlines with ridiculous Moyes-esque statements in press conferences.
Whilst he’s a nice man, he’s also a company man. He’ll be aware of the well-documented off-field issues with Hammers fans and the ownership but don’t expect any real opinion from him on the topic. He’s paid to do a job and that’s win football matches, not rock the boat. It’s true that he never had to deal with anything quite so negative or quite as intense as the board situation he finds himself surrounded with at the London Stadium whilst at City but given the way he went along with the stop-gap nature of his final season at City, signing a contract extension to avoid speculation and then announcing his own departure in a press conference (which he chose to do himself), I’d hazard a guess that if the West Ham board told him to say things to placate fans, he’d probably say them.
All in all, this is an exciting appointment for West Ham. Somebody like Moyes was, whilst depressing and uninspiring, necessary to get a job done. Pellegrini would have been no good at the safety-first football required to get a team out of a relegation scrap, but with a new season ahead and a summer to make some smart signings (provided the club actually make them), then upper-mid-table can easily be achieved, especially in a world where 49 points is seemingly enough to get 8th place.
He’s a great manager. He has his shortcomings, admittedly, but who doesn’t? He can take a team from the defensively-minded to attacking-minded. I won’t go overboard and predict a Dimitri Payet season straight away but there should be exciting times ahead for West Ham. He probably won’t be around for a long time but if everything goes right, his impact on the club certainly will be.
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