It’s safe to assume that not even the staunchest Leicester fan would have ever dreamed of seeing them atop the Premier League with nine games left, unless, of course, they drank a few pints. Their run has been a pleasant surprise, as they don’t have a squad full of stars and it’s not their M.O. to go out and buy as though they had limitless resources.
Speaking of limitless resources, it’s more of a surprise that this far into the season, Manchester City is ten points behind Leicester, albeit having played one less game. It’s a poorly constructed side, with no world-class defenders (or one, if you want to count Vincent Kompany, and I don’t), a midfield whose strength is attacking, and a lame-duck manager in Manuel Pellegrini.
Me? Not so surprised. See, I’m a fan of Universidad Catolica, the third most important team in Chile. Pellegrini was hired in 1994 as its head coach and given what in Chile amounted as limitless resources. Catolica spent over 4 million dollars to build an invincible squad, only to finish second both in ’94 and ’95. What frustrated Catolica’s fans was his tactical stubbornness, as he always fielded a 4-2-2-2, even when playing at home. The two central midfielders never left their own half of the pitch and were happy to maintain ball possession at the expense of being more aggressive, losing matches in which they were far superior than their opponents, which ended up costing the title.
After getting the sack in 1996, Pellegrini coached another team in Chile and then moved to Ecuador, where he led Liga de Quito to a league title. He was then hired by the Argentinean side San Lorenzo, achieving domestic and international success with a second-tier team (in terms of fans and financial resources.) He then got his first high profile job when he accepted River Plate’s offer to become its head coach in 2003.
River Plate is one of the biggest teams in South America, and it’s the only big team which Pellegrini has guided to a title. After he failed in defending it, he was given a chance by Villarreal, a small team from a small town in Spain. For Villarreal, a successful season was staying in the top-flight, and anything better than 10th-place, almost a miracle. Smart business decisions allowed him to lead “the yellow submarine” to 3rd, 7th, and 2nd-place finishes in La Liga, and a trip to the semi-finals in the Champions League.
Those results made quite the impression on the board of directors of Real Madrid, who decided to hire him in 2009, but even though the team achieved 96 points, which was a record at the time, he again fell short of the title. That, and the embarrassing elimination from Copa del Rey (“Alcorconazo”) were the undoing of Pellegrini’s reign at Real. He resurfaced at Malaga, a team like Villarreal, in the sense of not being especially successful. And as with Villarreal, he took them to the Champions League and finished in fourth place of La Liga in 2011, proving yet again he’s best suited to managing mid-table teams.
He left Malaga due to ongoing financial struggles and was appointed the manager of Man City in 2013. He had a very successful first season, winning the Football League Cup and the Premier League. However, in the last few years, he has been highly criticized due to City’s inability to advance past the round of 16 in the Champions League.
In Pellegrini’s defense, he has been very successful with different kinds of teams, and during his time in Madrid and Manchester he has battled against the greatest team ever, Barcelona. However, River Plate has been the only top team he has led to silverware unless you consider Man City to be a top team, which I think they aren’t because they’ve just started achieving good results.
In the end, with Pellegrini you have the Larry Brown of football managers: he makes his teams better, his teams overachieve, but the results just aren’t there.