In defense of Manuel Pellegrini: On the impossible managerial expectations of England

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They say moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone.

The managerial not-so-merry-go-round that has taken root in the English game recently has been well documented. It’s no longer a surprise when journalist hurl insane numbers regarding the current anathema bewitching the country’s game today.

Numbers like 170: the total hires Premier League clubs have made for full-time manager positions since October 1, 1996 – the date Arsene Wenger was employed at Arsenal.

Numbers like 17: the total managers who have lost their job since New Year’s Day of 2014. Almost an entire Premier League worth of managers.

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None of this comes as a shock anymore, not these days. Most of the executive boards sending their manager to the slaughter are running clubs near the bottom of the table, desperate to save their side from the Grim Reaper who lurks among the table’s dungeon. Fulham scythed down three managers last season in their failed attempt to stay up, ultimately rolling not only to the valley of the Championship, but even further, as they attempt to stay afloat in the valley below, in danger of being swallowed up by the murky depths of League One. The Whites stone keeps rolling down, down the hill, and when Felix Magath was dismissed early this campaign, there certainly was no moss to be found on that barren pebble.

But while plunging down the hill can happen in the blink of an eye, and climbing back up is obviously an exhausting, often futile pursuit, little attention befalls those looking to tread water. Enter Manuel Pellegrini.

European adventures are another conversation altogether, but in the context of the domestic season, Pellegrini brought Manchester City back to the summit, an excursion that had eluded the club since Roberto Mancini’s victorious trek to the peak. But just as most stones do across the sports landscape, they meander across the contours of the pitch, however deep or shallow they be. City fell all the way to second place, and suddenly the stone has very little moss to speak of.

source: Getty Images
Manuel Pellegrini struck a positive tune, but his lack of ruthlessness could see him out of the Emirates before his time.

Pellegrini is widely considered a lame duck manager as he looks to finish out the year, unable to top Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea a second year in a row.

But is this truly the right move? Is Pellegrini suddenly unable to win a title just a season later? It’s possible to debate the merits of his victory last year in relation to the challenge the Premier League put forth. It’s possible to debate the European factor, with City making little progress towards busting through the brick wall of the Round of 16. What’s non-negotiable is the bigger picture, the sense of permeation this has across the Premier League.

Pellegrini isn’t the first manager to be faced with such unfeasible expectations. Not even the great Sir Alex Ferguson could meet the towering goals Pellegrini has loaded on his shoulders. Since the turn of the millennium, where the modern world of parity and congruence began to permeate, Ferguson won seven league titles, but only once were they back-to-back. Now, in no way does this mean to put Pellegrini on the same level as the greatest manager of all time, but it serves to prove that defending a title can be an expectation, but should not be a deal-breaker.

While the European plateau may be – eventually – a cause for concern, but two seasons just flat out isn’t enough time to make a stamp. These things take time, but time is no longer such opulence for managers these days.

Manuel Pellegrini will likely face the ire of his superiors at the conclusion of this campaign, but that will only continue to permeate this epidemic. While the problem is not just isolated to England – a month or two of poor form has some obtusely calling for Carlo Ancelotti’s head despite the litany of success he’s brought to Real Madrid – but that doesn’t excuse the level the affliction has reached.

While he’s been far from perfect – tactically bested more than one occasion – it’s safe to say that, akin to his unfairly short stint at Real Madrid, Manuel Pellegrini won’t get a fair go at Manchester City. And so long as these impossible expectations exist, he won’t be the only head man to face the chopping block sooner than equitable.

While the trophy case tells a different story, Arsenal has enjoyed untold – and often under-appreciated – consistency at the top of the table that most clubs, even the top ones, would sell their soul for (just ask Manchester United fans right now). Arsene Wenger may not produce sparkling results year after year, but the Gunners’ ability to stay the course has brought them a steady flow of top-drawer action, and their stone certainly hasn’t rolled off the mountain. Pellegrini’s stone, however, has begun to pitch, and whatever moss Manchester City collected will see its growth stunted as it gains speed.