Pellegrini's methods lead Man City to glory
Win or lose, the hangdog expression has tended to stay the same. That is the Manuel Pellegrini way.
A man who tries to take the emotion out of every situation, Pellegrini was animated at full time -- but only by his own standards. He punched the air, albeit without any great hint of violence. He looked happy but wasn't bouncing around wildly as Roberto Mancini did when Manchester City were champions two years ago. Or he wasn't until his players intervened, anyway.
Pellegrini can seem too sedate for some, and so the footballers he has galvanised decided to throw him into the Manchester sky. They gave Pellegrini the bumps. "After we win, any kind of celebration is allowed," he said in his news conference, a rare smile breaking out.
Had it been Mancini, some might have been tempted to drop him. But then the point is that Pellegrini was hired to be the anti-Mancini. The melodramatic Mancini clinched the title in the fourth minute of stoppage time. The more sedate Pellegrini could be confident of success four minutes after halftime.
At the first time of asking, the quiet man who replaced the noisiest of neighbours has succeeded doing it his way. City are Premier League champions. Pellegrini's purists have scored 102 goals. A man who never courts popularity has secured it anyway.
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As the City supporters invaded the pitch after the final whistle, Vincent Kompany dashed for the sanctuary of the tunnel past a banner reading "Muchos gracias, Manuel." A year to the day earlier, as Mancini's team lost the FA Cup final to Wigan, City supporters had told the club's power brokers precisely where, in anatomical terms, they could stick their Pellegrini. He may never have the cult hero status of his charismatic predecessor, but now there is appreciation for the Chilean.
His unassuming manner helps. "I don't think I am the most important person in this moment," said Pellegrini, deflecting some of the praise. He mentioned Mancini, citing his 2012 title win when many a manager would have opted to ignore the past. Yet Pellegrini did so with the underlying argument that this title is better, that this season, featuring 156 goals in all competitions, has amounted to an achievement to echo through the ages.
"We won with the record of goals in all competitions in the history here in England," Pellegrini said. "It is the way the team must play with the quality of players we have."
By common consensus, City have the strongest side. It is still an achievement to realise their potential and to pilot them to the title. City have been liberated. Pellegrini has felt less like a dictator and more of an enabler, the man who has coaxed the best from his galaxy of attacking talents.
"I like to play another way, and it was very important to give the reasons and have the trust of the players," he said. "When I arrived, relations were not at their best moment, so I think it was very important to have calm."
This concept is anathema to Mancini, who famously once said he wanted to punch Samir Nasri. The midfielder was submerged somewhere in the middle of a group hug after he delivered the breakthrough. The touchy-feely approach has worked as Pellegrini's more amiable brand of management has coaxed the best out of the Frenchman. Nasri put City ahead in the Capital One Cup final and struck again on a pivotal occasion in the season's final game, arrowing a drive in off the far post.
There was something symbolic about the scorer of the second too. Pellegrini said the two key moments in the season came after their opening six away games produced a mere four points and following April's 3-2 defeat to Liverpool.
For a while, it seemed as though Kompany's trio of errors at Anfield, culminating in Philippe Coutinho's winner, could have been hugely costly. Instead the campaign ended with him contributing a goal and lifting the Premier League trophy.
As they did in 2012, Man City have come from behind. "It was a very difficult season," Pellegrini said. "We were just top of the table for a few days. We were nine points behind Chelsea or eight behind Liverpool or five behind Arsenal at some points."
Indeed, City were leaders for only 15 days, but they timed their ascent to perfection. Pellegrini, the man who ended up in every position between second and sixth in Spain, finished first in England. He is finally a champion in Europe. It has taken a decade, but his preference was to end a 10-year wait in typically undemonstrative, understated manner. His players had other ideas.