Manchester City’s problems this season have been plentiful and striking. If that seems a somewhat strange thing to say bearing in mind the club are defending Premier League champions, lie in second place in the table and progressed to the last sixteen of the Champions League, it is borne out by fans’ disgruntlement.
Criticism has been aimed at the manager, the players and the board for the way in which it looks like Chelsea will cruise to the title without the type of strong challenge from City that was predicted before the start of the campaign.
For the scintillating performances of last season, when supporters arrived at the Etihad Stadium and were treated to displays of attacking flair, this time around the football has been largely one-paced and predictable.
As such, Txiki Begiristain, the Director of Football, has attracted blame for allowing the squad to grow stale and ageing. Signings in recent years have lacked the quality needed to push the team forward; too many players have been overpriced and underwhelming.
Indeed, of the starting eleven for City’s debut Champions League match against Napoli four seasons ago, eight also started the first leg of the tie with Barcelona in February. That figure would have risen to nine had Yaya Touré not been suspended. An influx of youth and stardust is patently needed this summer.
The players’ motivation has also been justifiably questioned. For the second time after winning the title, they have carried an air of complacency and fallen away without a whimper. Hungry and determined when chasing silverware last year, many point to a lack of effort and desire this time around as sloppy displays have been frequent and moments of brilliance rare.
The same happened under the stewardship of Roberto Mancini and the players got their wish when the fiery Italian departed. It would be a surprise if they wanted Pellegrini to follow the same course, as his calm approach is a direct antidote to Mancini’s provocative outbursts, but their performances raise serious issues about their mentality.
And yet the biggest noise continues to surround Pellegrini. The feeling that he has taken the club as far as he can is inescapable: his arm-around-the-shoulder management successful up to a point, but then lacking the oomph and bite that the best leaders have.
His tactical weaknesses, whether as a result of stubbornness, naivety or arrogance, have held the club back at times, whilst his lack of pragmatism and inability to inspire or influence from the bench have led many to consider whether the club would be better off with a different figurehead.
It may be the case, however, that he does remain in position, purely because of the lack of available alternatives.
Names mooted in recent days have included Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Rafa Benitez and Diego Simeone, and although the idea of a fresh start appeals, there is no point making a change for the sake of it. What City’s decision-makers need to ask themselves is whether any of their targets provide a guarantee (or something approaching that) of improvement.
Guardiola would surely be the dream, but has another year remaining on his contract in Munich and has made no suggestion that he will look to cut short his time in Germany.
Ancelotti, like Guardiola, brings a winner’s pedigree and success in Europe, but would no doubt have plenty of suitors if he were to be shown the door at Real Madrid.
Simeone’s outspoken nature and personality would seem to go against everything that City are looking for, while Klopp’s flirtation with the relegation zone this season has cast doubts upon his suitability. Benitez would hardly be an appointment to inspire the fans.
It would take a brave man to bet on who will lead City out in August at the start of next season, but although many would have no grumbles if Pellegrini left, the dearth of top quality available managers may just see him stay in his role.
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