Jim White

Manchester City’s quiet man letting his team do the talking

One thing about Manuel Pellegrini: he lets his football team do his talking for him.

This weekend, his Manchester City side will score their 100th goal of the season. There is no doubt about that. Of course they will. They are playing Cardiff at home and they always score at home. Usually by the sack load.

And when they do, when they rattle up the quickest seasonal century since the Premier League began, the guy on the sidelines masterminding the whole operation will react as he always does. A little punch of the air, both fists clenched in triumph, then back to his quiet, undemonstrative business, standing there surveying the scene like Sam the Eagle in the Muppets: unsmiling, concentrating, giving nothing away.

That is how the man nicknamed The Engineer in his homeland for his brilliant way with the machine that is a football team always behaves: calmly. Even when verbally assaulted by an over-excited, potty mouthed Alan Pardew, not for a moment was there any hint that he was in the least perturbed. Mind, even if he was there was absolutely no chance he would tell us.

What a contrast to the man he replaced. Roberto Mancini was a volcanic touchline presence, ready at any moment to explode. If not with the referee, or the opposition bench, it was with his own players, who he would berate with a fury that looked at times to be unhinged. Boy, could he curse his own side.

And then in the press conference, he would continue to vent his spleen, forever dropping verbal grenades. Brilliant to watch, brilliant to listen to, Mancini was gold dust for reporters seeking to advance the soap opera that is the Premier League.

Pellegrini, on the other hand, has yet to be recorded ever saying anything remotely of interest to the media. Not once has a reporter left one of his press conferences with anything approaching a headline in their tape recorder.

When pushed to make a comment about the performance of his goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon after he had made a howler at Blackburn the other day, the Engineer merely said that such things were only to be discussed between the player and the manager. They were not for the public domain. Which is very dull and unexciting for those covering his media duties. But is absolutely what his players would like to hear.

What footballers want of a manager is not what those of us who revel in football’s shenanigans want. They value discretion, authority, an absolute refusal to undermine or belittle them in public. They aren’t really all that bothered by how entertaining their boss is.

Occasionally – as in the case of Jose Mourinho – you get both: a manager who keeps everything important behind closed doors, yet delights in mischief making in public. Pellegrini is not remotely interested in such things. He does not appear to care that most of the press men on the Manchester beat regard his press conferences as the weekly failure to extract blood from a stone. And why should he, when his team is speaking with such eloquence? That, after all, is what matters.

In short, what we are seeing on the pitch at the Etihad is the result of harmony. Gone are the internal factions stirred up by the capricious Mancini. No more is City a club riven with politics and dissent. All the drama has been concentrated on the green rectangle in the middle of the stadium. And there, driven by scriptwriters as articulate as Yaya Toure, David Silva, Alvaro Negredo and the magnificent Sergio Aguero, it is of the most appealing kind.

It has taken Pellegrini a while to still the noise around his club. His quiet insistence that all that matters is the team has taken a few months to reach its zenith. But, as he refused to panic or worry or flounce when his side displayed a bad bout of travel sickness in the early part of the season, gradually he has turned things around. Now, they are simply purring.

As they slam goal after goal (never mind the wretchedness of the opposition, some of their finishing against West Ham in the League Cup the other week was sublime) they look like a unit having the time of their lives. Which is not something anyone would have suggested when Mancini was still in charge.

It is a subtle thing, football management. When it works it looks an easy job. And right now, Pellegrini, unruffled, unflustered, apparently not remotely moved by what he is seeing, is making it look a simple, giddy thing.

Crikey, you think watching Silva, Negredo and Toure eviscerate an opposition, how hard can it be to get players this talented to play well? All you have to do is remember last year’s FA Cup final to know that it is not quite as easy as it seems.