Manchester City have announced this morning that Manuel Pellegrini, their Chilean manager, has extended his contract through to the Summer of 2017.
Pellegrini’s existing deal had been due to expire at the end of the current season.
The reaction to this will likely be mixed and, not without reason, there be will be those who question whether the sixty-one year-old has really done enough to earn any more security. Manchester City were not good last season and, although the final 2014/15 league table may claim otherwise, there was never really a point at which they looked likely to defend their title.
In Pellegrini’s defence - and this is much-repeated mitigation rather than anything original - he was not the only issue at The Etihad last year and neither was he the most troubling. The club’s recruitment strategy has rightly attracted a lot of pejorative remarks and it’s very reasonable to argue that the manager was inhibited by his squad’s balance.
And ‘balance’ is the right term. Outsiders look at City and they see a team littered with world-class players and, consequently, they view it almost as a ‘can’t fail’ situation. But, while all that talent should probably have added up to more than it did last season, Pellegrini was evidently hamstrung by several underlying issues which clearly weakened the structure of his side.
There is a very real difference between having a large squad and one which is actually effective. Well-constructed groups typically boast multiple players in each position, all of whom are not only capable of contributing at different stages of a season, but also of offering a variation on each other.
That’s not really how City have been built. They have an impressive surface, certainly, but their secondary and tertiary options really just add literal volume rather than genuine diversity. In fact, there aren’t really any layers to City: players are either important or they’re not. It’s a strangely binary situation and it’s the product of mild mismanagement at more than just one level.
No, Pellegrini has not endured unfavourable working conditions, but his environment has been less than ideal and last season’s under-achievement did not provide definitive cause for his dismissal.
But look between the lines of his new contract and it’s apparent that it’s a decision which is really predicated more on his employer’s circumstances than it is his own value.
It’s a single-year extension so, rather than an overwhelming endorsement, it’s really a holding measure. If City were to enjoy a successful season this year - and, given their transfer ambition, there’s no reason to think that they won’t - they themselves would become vulnerable. With his contract expiring, Pellegrini would not only have a degree of leverage over them, but also greater purchase in the global job market.
Press reports suggest that, long-term, the club’s sights are set on Pep Guardiola: a worthy objective, certainly, but a relatively low-percentage ambition. If Guardiola does grow disenchanted with life at the Allianz Arena in the near future, there are no assurances that either City or the Premier League will take his fancy - and gambling against those odds and assuming that any departure would take place next Summer would be incredibly reckless.
Pellegrini’s new contract, therefore, is a guard against a worst-case scenario. If the Chilean was to leave The Etihad in twelve months’ time and Guardiola was to remain out-of-reach, Khaldoon Al Mubarak and Txiki Begiristain would be forced into making a bridging, interim-like appointment until such a time when the Spaniard’s situation changed.
With that would come flux, with that would come instability; big-club kryptonite.
This, then, is the smart play. Pellegrini may not quite be performing as his employers would like, but by retaining him they have avoided plunging themselves into an unnecessarily uncertain future. The length of his extension provides them with a degree of security over the next two years, but not in a way that would prove financially prohibitive should they wish to terminate the contract and install a superior option.
The key word there is ‘options': City have broadened theirs with this decision and, as such, it’s a clever bit of business.
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