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May 12, 2014

Boring is as Pellegrini does

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has expressed his pride in his players after they won their second Premier League title in three years.

Manuel Pellegrini is a very boring man. There’s just no getting away from it; even in a week when he completed a domestic double -- only the second ever in Manchester City’s history -- he’s barely been noticed. He’s a man who courts no controversy, gives non-committal answers on every topic he’s asked about and he creates press conferences that the press don’t want to touch.

And that’s why he’s doing so well at Eastlands.

When I say that Pellegrini is a very boring man, I mean it as no slight whatsoever -- he’s exactly the type of man that Manchester City needed in the dugout. Even if he’s not the type of character that the media in England love because he won’t have digs at opposition managers and he won’t start a war of words. He won’t even respond to a war of words. He won’t even acknowledge the war of words for fear of being thought to be in it.

- Video: Pellegrini says team never gave up - Marcotti: Well-deserved title for City

The result of his actions this year has been a team of Manchester City players rather than a group of talented players. It was very noticeable throughout Roberto Mancini’s final campaign in charge that there were fractions and cliques; there were disagreements and angry exchanges; there was a training ground bout of fisticuffs between manager and a player. It wasn’t a happy camp. In the end, the squad performed much less than the sum of their parts, whimpering to a terrible title defence.

A year on, and Pellegrini’s management of City has been near perfect. He has his flaws, of course, but they’ve been outweighed by his positives. The two biggest errors the Chilean made this year, bizarrely, probably cost the Blues an even better season (even if such a concept sounds like madness because 2013-14 yielded a first double since the League Cup and European Cup Winners Cup triumphs in 1970).

First, the manager allowed Bayern Munich free-rein of the Etihad through a four-man midfield, despite it being blatantly obvious he needed to sacrifice a striker. But, back then, he was hell-bent on imposing his style of play on every opposing team. It’s a lesson he learned quickly, switching formation for the away match in the group.

Second, when trailing 2-0 after the first leg of the Champions League last sixteen tie with Barcelona, Pellegrini opted to prioritise the fairly unwinnable second leg over the very winnable FA Cup tie with Wigan. With the draw having been very kind to the Blues in the FA Cup this season, it certainly felt like an opportunity missed -- though the Chilean was let down by the players from the defeat to Wigan, too.

However, those now look like minor indiscretions given how he turned around the form in the Premier League to produce a storming run in the closing weeks to take top spot. City’s away form at the start of the season was woeful, yet it didn’t cost the club thanks to the surge throughout December and January.

Equally, Joe Hart’s own form was heading towards being a disaster in the autumn, with 2013 a quite forgettable year for the shot-stopper. Opta stats had him as the goalkeeper with the most unforced errors in the league and every single camera lens was aimed at City’s number one when the manager dropped him for the home tie with Norwich.

There was no sulk. There was no frown. Hart gave nothing away about how he was feeling -- because nobody could have blamed him for feeling a bit miffed. The whole episode, though, had been handled internally and not through the media. It meant that, while Hart won’t have been happy with the decision, he was happy with how it had been taken.

And after coming back into the team against Fulham in December, he barely put a foot wrong for the rest of the season. Had he carried on in the same vein as previously, we’d probably have been talking about his blunder that knocked City out of the title race instead of his match-winning saves at Goodison Park.

Above all else, though, Pellegrini has produced the most entertaining Premier League season the Blues' fans have witnessed. While 2012 will go down in folklore as the best title win they experience because of the exhilaration of leaping to the summit of delight from the depths of despair. This year will go down as the year when City played nearly everybody they came up against off the park with efficiency.

The club were somewhat more offensive than Mancini’s side of 2012, finishing just two goals off taking the all-time Premier League scoring record -- and well above their previous personal best. Indeed, the Italian’s title-winning team started like a steam train but became more reserved through the winter and spring. The Chilean’s started like an express train and finished like an express train, too.

While the win of 2012 summed up Manicni -- frantic, panicked, dramatic –- the win of 2014 sums up his replacement. It was calm. It was professional. It was done in style. It was Pellegrini.

Manuel Pellegrini is a very boring man. But his team most certainly isn’t and they’re very worthy winners.

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