The club have enjoyed an incredible rise to prominence since their takeover in 2008 but it will take a superstar such as the Spaniard to take them to the next level
Pep Guardiola. How Manuel Pellegrini must be growing to loathe even the mention of the man.
On a day on which the Chilean’s Manchester City side picked apart an admittedly woeful, now relegated QPR, as the club took a firmer hold of second place in the Premier League table, as they stretched their winning run to four on the bounce … still Pellegrini could not escape the spectre of his replacement-in-waiting.
And make no mistake, all roads at Manchester City lead – sooner or later – to Guardiola. The Emirati owners have always referenced their project as a long-term endeavour and, since Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak’s takeover in 2008, the execution has been astute and forward-thinking.
There have already been over a billion pounds invested in City’s playing staff alone – and that expenditure could be seen on Sunday in the sublime ability of David Silva, who masterminded the dismantling of the Rs. It could be seen in the majesty of Sergio Aguero, the best striker in the country, who struck his fifth hat-trick for the club to edge closer to the Premier League Golden Boot.
It can be seen every day, too, in the development of the fan-friendly, celebratory environment in the stadium’s theme park-like surroundings, which includes their futuristic and fantastic £175 million football academy.
And it can be seen in the return of two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup in four years, as well as year-on-year Champions League football and all the highs (and lows) that can bring.
But if City are to truly become the proposition that their hierarchy demands, to gain membership to the ever-decreasing band of elite clubs, now is the time to facilitate the next stage of their master plan and it involves acquiring the coach whom everyone wants.
The coach whom – as revealed by Goal – club chiefs Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain have targeted for over two years, for whom they have long been making moves, willing to wait until he becomes available before considering a premature dismissal of their current manager.
In part due to their compliance with Financial Fair Play regulations, they have hit a glass ceiling both on and off the pitch. The recent transfer dealings have not been of the highest level. Since the statement signings of Aguero, Silva and Yaya Toure, no bona-fide superstar has walked through the door. On Sunday there were plenty of empty seats in the stadium – granted, on a day on which the fixture was meaningless and the opposition wretched – but, with an extra tier being constructed to extend the capacity, the parade of talent has to excite the locals even more than the current team can.
Furthermore, now begins a concerted effort to launch City as a genuine alternative to Manchester United and Liverpool in Asia, in terms of brand exposure, commercial viability and, most importantly, as a team with a truly global fan base. To do so, they will need continued success, improved performances in the Champions League and a team of legitimate world superstars.
For his part in the journey, Pellegrini can rightly be proud but there is a sense that he does not have the prerequisite attributes to smash City through the glass ceiling.
After a trophyless campaign and an underwhelming defence of their title, the club have been coy over his future. With reports intensifying that Pep has already agreed to join City this summer, a year before his contract at Bayern Munich is due to expire, Pellegrini’s time at the Etihad could be drawing to a close sooner rather than later.
Understandably, Pellegrini refused outright to entertain any discussion on the rumours in his post-match press conference but his performance will be evaluated this summer.
The club have been planning ahead, in terms of ins and outs, for a while but the managerial situation has remained deliberately uncertain. The departure of Jurgen Klopp from Borussia Dortmund temporarily clouded the issue but the club have always been waiting for Pep to decide where his future lies. City’s powerbrokers believe that, with Guardiola in charge, all of the external elements could fall into place.
He could be the charismatic, diplomatic face of the club in every possible department. He could be the respected figure who gives authenticity to the overall vision. He would be the tried-and-tested winner who can derive the optimum tactical setup for this group of players and he has the gravitas and pulling power that can make the very highest-level players consider City as a desirable destination.
There is no shame for Pellegrini in being usurped if his replacement is one of football’s greats, a man who already boasts titles in Spain and Germany, two Champions League wins and an array of other trophies to his name.
And for City, capturing Guardiola has long been a key part of their jigsaw. The puzzle pieces are laid out and all it takes is for Pep to make up his mind.