EPL: Blueprint for success

When Manuel Pellegrini's father died last year, he never told his Malaga players. He did not want to disrupt their preparations.

Only after the game against Real Sociedad did he fly back to his hometown in Chile for the funeral. Only then did his players realise he had been in mourning for days.

When he played for Chile, the national side endured international criticism during the brutal days of Pinochet's military dictatorship.

When his playing career faltered, he studied civil engineering and helped to rebuilt homes after the 1985 Chilean earthquake.

When the Manchester City manager was asked if he felt pressure ahead of the title decider against West Ham on Sunday, Pellegrini smiled. Of course he did.

He has managed pressure since childhood. He can compartmentalise and control it. Behind the mask of soft sound-bites and boring press conferences is a natural-born leader who has brought balance to City.

He is the man to build a City empire.

1. Of fake mice and real men

Always watch out for the quiet ones. It's an old wives' tale that Jose Mourinho and Brendan Rodgers might care to remember.

If Pellegrini was a mouse, then he played Jerry to Mourinho's clumsy Tom.

The Chelsea boss played Top Cat, but fell victim to Pellegrini's mousetrap in the end. While Mourinho chastised and cajoled, Pellegrini withdrew and controlled.

Last season, Samir Nasri, Joe Hart and most of the back four expressed shock at Mancini's persistent sniping.

Before Christmas, Hart proved fallible once more. Pellegrini "rested" him.

The case was closed. He brooked no discussion and sidestepped any media minefields by saying almost nothing, publicly at least.

Hart returned resurrected. He had a literal hand in City's late title charge, while a happier Nasri (above) was content to be challenged only by fullbacks, rather than his own manager.

Mancini had poisoned the dressing room. Pellegrini instilled team spirit.

In a mercurial season of ups and downs, City were conspicuous by a lack of dissent. The quiet one had the final word.

2. Hail "The Engineer"

Pellegrini didn't just rebuild confidence, he rebuilt his players.

Known as El Ingeniero (The Engineer) at Villarreal, he gets the best out of players when it's least expected.

The names of Nasri, Yaya Toure, Martin Demichelis and, most certainly, Edin Dzeko can testify to that.

For Nasri, Pellegrini gave him an arm around the shoulder.

For Toure, he gave him Fernandinho. At £30 million (S$63 million), the Brazilian midfielder might be the world's most expensive water boy.

His fetching and carrying for the galloping gazelle beside him released a liberated Toure to scale heights beyond the lung capacity of most mortals.

In stark contrast, Demichelis was a laughing stock following crucial mistakes against Wigan, Chelsea and Barcelona, suggesting, at the time, that his errors had cost the club three trophies.

Amid the condemnation, everyone lost their head, except one.

Pellegrini said nothing. His team selections screamed loudest. He kept picking the defender. Both men were vindicated.

But Dzeko has been the true revelation. The Bosnian striker was bottom of the bargain bin when Pellegrini inherited him.

The Engineer tweaked City's attacking design. Dzeko finished the season with 16 league goals. City would not have prevailed without him.

3. A man with many plans

As much as the Abu Dhabi United Group were concerned with Mancini's mouth, they were equally preoccupied by his lack of Champions League progress.

The two pretty much amounted to the same thing: a poor image. City's owners are trying to sell a national brand to a sceptical world. So they hired a man with many tactical plans.

Pellegrini gently tinkered all season. Before the Everton game, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Toure had only completed 216 Premier league minutes; City's natural spine was splintered for most of the campaign.

Flexibility has been Pellegrini's forte. He has deployed 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 and even 4-3-3, building his formations entirely around form and personnel.

He has favoured intimidating, lone centre forwards in the past, hence the signing of Alvaro Negredo, but still granted Aguero the freedom of the final third to score an extraordinary 26 goals by January.

As Negredo drifted, Dzeko was encouraged to play with his back to goal.

Pellegrini flirted with 4-3-3 to exploit the width of Jesus Navas and Dzeko's aerial threat, but switched to other line-ups to deal with Navas' first-season struggles and accommodate Silva and Nasri's tendencies to drift inside. Pellegrini proved he's not a man without options. He will need them for the Champions League.

4. Spare him the mind games

At 60, Pellegrini is the oldest man to win the English title for the first time since Liverpool's Joe Fagan back in 1984.

The Chilean has been around the block. If he survived the hardships and public censure of playing for his country when it was under the jackboots of a military dictatorship, a few daft words from Mourinho are hardly going to faze him.

Even though Chelsea defeated City twice, Mourinho tried all season long to push his rival's buttons, but Pellegrini remained immune to the transparent niggling.

He handles the task of managing the richest club with remarkable ease, sits through press conferences with an air of indifference and perhaps deserves a knighthood for the unique look he gave the idiotic Alan Pardew (above, left) and making a mockery of the hot-air buffoon. Next season, Mourinho's weapons of bluff and bluster should be left to gather dust.

5. Attack, attack, attack (but still defend)

Pellegrini promised not to compromise on Mancini's attacking principles. City's football remained aesthetically-pleasing, if a little muscular at times. They scored 102 times.

But Fernandinho played the defensive shield. Pablo Zabaleta tracked back more often than arguably any other fullback in the division and Demichelis was granted time to work on his communication with Kompany. The left-back position might be resolved in the transfer market and Gareth Barry could return to offer his old mates more protection, but Pellegrini certainly kept his promise.

City did not play more defensively. They just played smarter.

6. Noisy neighbours no more

Pellegrini succeeded where Mancini - and Mourinho (right) this season - failed. His voice never ran away with him.

He didn't pander to the press or concern himself with pithy paragraphs in the newspapers.

Wisely keeping Brian Kidd at his side, he quietly went to work on the dressing room instead.

He held back on his public voice to give his players theirs on the pitch. They did all the talking.

In the end, Pellegrini's actions spoke so much louder than Mourinho's words.

Mancini's title breakthrough was a loud, but ultimately, false dawn.

The true beginnings of empire start now.

npsports@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 13 in The New Paper.

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