It would seem that West Ham’s search for a new manager is close to completion with many commentators predicting that Manuel Pellegrini will sign a three year deal at the London Stadium within the next few days. Obviously, any Hammer with more than a few seasons under their belt will know not to count their chicken until it has been fried and the potential of a last minute Sullivan bombshell, such as the Chilean not being prepared to accept a 50% wage cut, cannot be discounted.
If the appointment goes ahead then I would be reasonably happy with it and will hope that it is a speedy rather than a hasty decision; letting things drift is simply not an option. Maybe a younger manager with fresh ideas would have been more exciting but beggars can’t always be choosers, and the queue of those prepared to work with our current owners may not be a long one, even in single file. After Paulo Fonseca decided to play safe and stay at Shakhtar Donetsk, the shortlist was reduced to two, and with Newcastle desperately trying to keep Rafa Benitez the appointment of Pellegrini has become the path of least resistance. Each of the managers targeted has a very different approach to the game which suggests to me that the selection criteria was ‘find a big name manager to keep everyone happy’ rather than ‘what is the most suitable appointment to support the long term strategy of the club’.
Pellegrini has a long and distinguished managerial career highlighted by spells at Real Madrid and Manchester City. He was only at the Bernabeu for a year where, despite achieving a then record haul of points, his side was unable to pip Barcelona for the title. That failure led to him being replaced by Jose Mourinho and upon his departure Pellegrini shared his frustration that the Chairman’s Galácticos policy prevented him from creating a cohesive unit in his team. We must hope that history doesn’t repeat itself only this time with our own Chairman’s Geriacticos policy of bringing in washed up loan players.
Pellegrini’s time at City was largely successful one boasting a return of one league title and a brace of league cups, as well as laying down the foundations of the current record breaking squad. Success is measured very differently by City’s owners and, with no Champion’s League success, his contract was not renewed after a three year tenure. His attacking style of play was much admired during his time at the Etihad.
It is his time at Villareal and Malaga, however, that are more relevant to a club like our own and in both he performed so admirably that is caught the eye of bigger clubs. During the years at Villareal between 2004 and 2009 the club regularly qualified for the Champion’s League including a second place La Liga finish in 2007-08. In his first full season in charge at Malaga (2011/12) the club finished fourth in La Liga and achieved Champion’s League qualification for the very first time in their history; a campaign that took them as far as a semi-final defeat by Borussia Dortmund. Malaga were subsequently hit by UEFA Financial Fair Play sanctions and barred from competing in European competition. Pellegrini may never have won the Champion’s League, the holy grail of football management, but he has over-performed in taking relatively unfashionable teams to the party.
Most recently Pellegrini has been managing at Hebei in the Chinese Super League where he has one time Hayden Mullins understudy, Javier Mascherano, as part of his squad. Hebei finished fourth in his first season but are sitting mid-table now as the league enters its mid-season break. There are only so many noodles that he can buy with his colossal salary and no surprise that a return to European football is on his radar.
It would be interesting to know what sort of assurances might have been given to candidates regarding investment in the squad. A lot of work needs to be done in clearing out the dead wood and establishing a better balance in terms of ability, athleticism and age. This will not come cheap and, although net transfer spend cannot be viewed in complete isolation from money spent on player wages and agent fees, significant investment is required to attract better players quickly.
I have read that Pellegrini likes his teams to enjoy a lion’s share of possession; a style that would be a significant change from the last three manager’s preference for mass defence and counter attacking. It is also a task that would considerably stretch the abilities of the current squad for whom the concept of ‘pass and move’ has been shown to be totally alien.
The transition from attritional, safety first, respect the point football is not an easy one as supporters of Stoke and West Brom would be quick to testify. Given sufficient opportunity I believe that Pellegrini can provide the type of football that West Ham supporters yearn for, allowing them to take their minds off the move away from the Boleyn Ground at least for a while. Whether those in the Boardroom are prepared to dig deep enough to fund that opportunity is what will make or break any new manager.