When it was suggested to Manuel Pellegrini on Friday that the Pep Guardiola rumours had ramped up a notch in the last couple of hours, the current Manchester City boss interjected: “The last couple of years!”
Ever since Pellegrini took over from Roberto Mancini – whose own final weeks at the club were dominated by talk about his successor – Guardiola has been linked with the Etihad Stadium hotseat.
However, late on Thursday it was claimed by Spanish radio station Cadena COPE that Guardiola has agreed to take Pellegrini’s job. Six weeks ago, a verbal agreement was reported, now it is apparently done and dusted.
Guardiola pulled out of Bayern’s press conference on Friday at short notice, sending the rumour mill into overdrive. It turned out that the coach had flown to Spain following the death of his cousin, but that wasn’t known to the British media when Pellegrini stepped out in front of the inquisitive media.
For a time, it had appeared as if the new contract Pellegrini signed at the start of the season had warded off talk about his future. A one-year extension was in the bag and he was free to go about his business. But things are different now.
City were top of the Premier League when the last batch of rumours cropped up at the start of October, affording him a far greater deal of sympathy. But now City are in a sticky patch and fans have are becoming restless.
Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge expects an answer on Pep’s future before Christmas – all well and good as far as the Bavarians are concerned, as they will have just gone into a lengthy winter break. However, the fall-out from those contract talks will destabilise City’s season should the ex-Barcelona boss decide he wants a change of scenery.
Pellegrini has continued to leave his shutters closed and paid no attention to rumours. You could have telegraphed his latest, curt response to the Pep talk beforehand. Indeed, the reporter who asked the question knew what was coming.
But the manager did open up later on. He may have had to fend off Guardiola-themed questions for years and he may now have to do so on a weekly basis, but he insists it will make no difference to the job he is doing. He is happy with his own methods.
“I repeat the only confidence that I have always is about my work. I think that’s the only way that you must try to demonstrate the kind of manager you are,” he said.
“I never have any problem about my work. It doesn’t matter what the rumours say. If I minded, it wouldn’t be possible to work in this club – not just in this club, in every big team.”
That strength of character will be required in the coming weeks. It has long been an open secret that Guardiola would be on City’s shortlist to take over and it looks increasingly likely that will be a case of sooner rather than later.
Like Pep, Pellegrini will have been in his job three years come the end of the season and City’s progress over that time is hard to measure. Securing the Premier League title and the League Cup was a great start for the man charged with winning five trophies in five years, but last season was branded a disappointment by City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak and the pressure is on to turn it around this time.
The truth is that he may be getting the golden handshake even if he does win silverware this season.
Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, City’s top brass, worked with Guardiola at Barcelona and maintain close relations to this day, which undoubtedly helped them land their positions at the Manchester club.
Speculative as it may be, Txiki did not fly with the rest of the City squad back to Manchester following their Champions League game in Turin this week; he travelled to Munich and did not take up the connection to England. Whether he was meeting his old friend is impossible to say, but it feeds into the ongoing narrative.
It’s a narrative that Pellegrini will have to contend with to ensure Man City are successful this season – even though trophies may well fail to save his job.