Manuel Pellegrini is a name that keeps appearing in speculation about Chelsea's next manager, so today we're going to take a closer look at the 59-year old Chilean. He's currently in charge of La Liga side Malaga, and with the financial issues the club are having and the impending ban from UEFA competition, he'd seem like a coach that would welcome an approach from a top European side at the moment.
Pellegrini had a decent little career as a player, making 451 appearances for Universidad de Chile, playing primarily as a central defender. He had a John Obi Mikel like goal output in that time, banging in one goal in his many seasons at the club.
He began his managerial career at the same club in which he played, and spent the next two seasons there. He'd spend the next decade bouncing around clubs in Chile with a spell in charge of the U20 national side mixed in, but his career finally began to take off when he moved to Argentina in 2001. After several fairly successful seasons at San Lorenzo and then River Plate, Pellegrini made his way to Spain and Villarreal.
He spent the next five seasons in charge of Villarreal, winning 123 games, drawing 72, and losing 64. At the time, Villarreal wasn't one of the more sought after jobs in Europe. The club had made it's top flight debut just six seasons prior to his arrival, and was immediately relegated after their first season in the top flight. They'd earn promotion again, and had finished 7th, 15th, 15th, and 8th in the four seasons prior to the Chilean's arrival.
Pellegrini's first season at the club saw them finish 3rd in La Liga and reach the UEFA Cup quarterfinals, by far the best season in the history of the club to that point. He'd follow that up with finishes of 7th, 5th, 2nd, and 5th, also managing semifinal and quarterfinal Champions League berths*.
*Both resulted in losses to Arsenal
I emailed the folks over at Villarreal USA (SB Nation's Villarreal blog), asking them for any insight on Pellegrini's time in charge. They had some fantastic stuff for us, and I'm thrilled that they took the time to touch on some of the things that most of us would be asking.
First and foremost, Manuel Pellegrini is a class act. Always dressed in a dapper suit on the sideline, "El Ingeniero" (a civil engineer by training) is a gentleman on and off the pitch. Jose Mourinho he is not, and that is part of why Real Madrid let him go after taking a club-record 96 points in La Liga.
Tactics: He devised the now-typical 4-2-2-2 formation at Villarreal. It relies on wingbacks active in attack, stoppers in the midfield, and lots of play in space. Not quite tiki-taka, but a similar idea. I could see Juan Mata and Ramires having a field day down the wings.
Rotation policy: He likes to stick with a smaller squad of 14-15 players. Rotations tended to be at select positions, with the nucleus of the team intact. Pellegrini does not shy away from competition in the squad, however. He even famously benched Juan Román Riquelme, the greatest player in Villarreal history, for wanting too much control. Villarreal owner Fernando Roig supported Pellegrini to the point that Riquelme left for Boca Juniors, and the Yellow Submarine continued its string of high finishes in La Liga.
In-game management: Pellegrini was a master of in-game adjustments. He does not let substitutions burn a hole in his pocket, wanting to give players a chance to adapt to match dynamics. Soft-spoken by nature, I cannot imagine his halftime talks were any great shakes, but players listened to him.
Overall, Chelsea would be lucky to have such a great manager and human being. We miss him dearly -- things have not been the same since he left.
That's a pretty nice sales pitch from some folks that saw him work an awful lot, so let's take a look at how he set Villarreal up to play.
Here we have a little video from several seasons ago, in which Pellegrini talks a bit about his favorite formations and how he likes to approach different opponents. It focuses mainly on his time with Villarreal, and while it isn't overly in-depth, it gives a useful look into his basic beliefs:
So we saw a little 4-2-3-1 in there, but he also touched on a more attacking style for clubs that didn't have Barcelona-like possession. Our friends at Villarreal USA already mentioned the 4-2-2-2, so I've dug up a few articles on that system.
Here, we have a look at why Pellegrini's Villarreal side was such an easy place for South American players to transition, during an era in which they would often struggle to adapt to the European style of play at other clubs. Tim Hill broke down the role of the midfielders playing behind the strikers, and also looked at why the system worked defensively.
Real Madrid would be the next step in Pellegrini's career, even though he was probably never their first choice for the job. He'd only manage to remain in charge of the club for a single season, as Jose Mourinho would be brought in to take over the side following his treble-winning season with Inter.
While many will look back at the fact that he was sacked after only one season with Real as a sign of failure, the results were actually very good on the whole. He won 36, drew 5, and lost 7 during his only season with the club, good for a win percentage of 75%. The 96 points which saw the side finish second to Barcelona's 99 would be a club record, one which was bettered last season but remains the second highest total in club history.
What likely doomed Pellegrini at Real were his exits from the cup competitions. Lyon ousted Real in the Champions League round of 16, before going on to make a very surprising semifinal appearance. While those types of upsets aren't all that strange in that competition, the 4-1 aggregate loss to Alcorcon in the Copa Del Rey was absolutely shocking.
Our Real Madrid blog (Managing Madrid) also took the time to give us some insight, and weren't as impressed with his work as their Villarreal counterparts:
With us, he never used real wingers. He usually played with a 4-1-2-1-2, deploying CR and Pipa in the offensive section of the team, with Granero+Lass and Alonso in the midfield. I never liked that system, and he seems to have changed it for Málaga, where he uses Eliseu and Joaquín in the left and right wing (those being their natural positions).
He's not a strong personality coach, meaning he doesn't have the power to do things some other coaches wouldn't do. For example, he admitted in an interview that he didn't play Mahamadou Diarra against Lyon because (I quote) "the press and fans would critizice him". Period. I think that's a terrible statement. Even though he's doing well at Málaga, I wouldn't be happy to sign him if I was a Chelsea fan.
He certainly altered his system at Real to better suit the players he had available, and there were some very poor games without a doubt. There were also some very good ones, and if Jose Mourinho hadn't been the one to replace him, I think he'd probably be remembered a lot more fondly.
Regardless, he ended up at his current job with Malaga the following November. At the moment, he's won 48, drawn 27, and lost 40 of his games in charge, and has been excellent in the two seasons in which he started as the club's manager. His first full season at the club saw them finish in 4th, qualifying for the Champions League for the first time. At the moment, they're still alive in that competition, and again sitting 4th in La Liga.
Tactically, he's adapted his formation a bit from either of his previous European stops. First we'll take a look at a game last season against his old club, one which saw several tactical adjustments made as the game progressed.
He's also used a system similar to our own this season, and a 4-0 trashing of Valencia provided an excellent look at it. It's not hard to see how he might set about using the attacking band at Chelsea, although his Villarreal system is almost identical to the one currently used by the Brazilian national team* and would also suit our squad well.
*And subsequently, half of Chelsea's squad
Malaga will have some work to do if they want to advance in the Champions League, as they currently trail Porto by 1-0 on aggregate. Pellegrini set up in a very defensive shape for the away leg, likely content to play for the 0-0 draw and hope for the best at home.
I'm not going to get into Pellegrini's work in the transfer market, as beyond the fact that he won't be running that show at Chelsea, there really isn't anything to take from it anyway. At Villarreal he was certainly working on the sort of limited budget he won't have here, and at Malaga he's been dealing with one of the more "interesting" ownership situations in recent memory.
The Real Madrid stop is the one that makes me believe he'd work well in the Chelsea system, as like he would be dealing with here, transfer decisions at Madrid came from above. Unless we make major changes to the structure of the club, a manager here is really just the first team coach. He's performed that role in the past, and I can't say that I can recall him complaining about it at any point.
If Pellegrini ends up being the guy, I can't say that I'd be upset. He seems likable enough, and he's shown the ability to adapt his tactics to fit his squad. He generally plays relatively attractive football, but has shown that he's not going to do stupid things such as trying to take Barcelona's game to them.
Most importantly though, he's installed a system at both Villarreal and Malaga that allow the attackers to interchange freely. At both clubs, he's made adjustments to the defense that allow them to compensate for the defensive liability created by that movement. Where Roberto Di Matteo and Rafa Benitez have both struggled to best utilize the Oscar/Juna Mata/Eden Hazard trio, Pellegrini has laid out several blueprints that we should probably be looking at for ideas.
In my opinion, Pellegrini would make sense for the current Chelsea squad in much the same way that Carlo Ancelotti made sense in 2009. While I'm not sure if he's a long term answer or not, he tends to employ the sort of systems that would allow us to be competitive immediately with our current personnel. At a club that never employs long-term managers anyway, that's exactly what I believe we should be looking for.