Repeated failures to win very winnable games in the last couple of weeks will do little to put to bed calls for Roberto Martinez to be sacked this summer. It's looking increasingly like only an FA Cup victory can justify his staying, and there are well-founded doubts even about that.
Inevitably heads will turn to prospective managers, and one big name making the rounds recently is current Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini, who is set to be unemployed following the expiration of his contract at the end of this season.
We'll take a look at the Chilean's background and qualifications, and if he is a realistic target for the Toffees.
Pellegrini began his managerial career at the club where he ended his playing career, Universidad de Chile. Following some highs and lows in both Chile and Argentina, La Liga's Villarreal hired him in 2004. He made an immediate impact at the club, finishing in 3rd place during his first season, and reaching the Champions League group stages in the subsequent campaign courtesy of a still-stinging 4-2 aggregate defeat of our very own Everton FC.
Villarreal finished 7th that season, but Pellegrini kept them in the top 5 for the following three La Liga campaigns until Real Madrid came calling in 2009. Los Blancos accrued a then-club record 96 points that season but it was only good enough for 2nd place behind a very, very good Barcelona side. Somewhat miraculously (or not, depending on well you know Real Madrid), Pellegrini was sacked anyway and replaced by José Mourinho. He moved to Málaga a few months into the 2010-11 season and proceeded to guide them to a 4th place finish in 2011-12 and made an impressive Champions League run in 2012-13.
After finishing out of European places that year, Man City hired Pellegrini as a replacement for Roberto Mancini. Since then, they've been one of the more dominant teams in the league, riding 102 league goals to a title in 2013-14, and finishing 2nd last season.
With Villarreal not having the deepest pockets in La Liga, Pellegrini's spending was fairly modest during his time at El Madrigal. Buying Diego Forlán for €3.2 million and selling him 3 years later for €21 million must be counted as a success, as well as the free signing of Joan Capdevila and the purchase of Santi Cazorla for just €1.2 million in 2007-08. On the other hand, shelling out €6.5 million for a 19-year-old Jozy Altidore in 2008 may not have been a stroke of genius, though as always it's difficult to know exactly how involved the manager was in any of these transfers.
It is worth noting that after his firing at the hands of Florentino Pérez he lamented Real Madrid's unbalanced transfer policy with this golden quote:
"It's no good having an orchestra with the 10 best guitarists if I don't have a pianist--Real Madrid have the best guitarists, but if I ask them to play the piano they won't be able to do it so well"
Pellegrini joined Málaga just a few months after their finances were significantly bolstered under a new owner. Veterans Martín Demichelis and Júlio Baptista joined for €3 million and €2.5 million, respectively, and Cazorla, Jérémy Toulalan, Nacho Monreal, Isco, and Joaquín all joined the following year amidst a €59.25 million spending spree. Cazorla and Monreal left for the Premier League the following year, and Pellegrini followed a season later.
As we all know, Man City are big spenders. With that inevitably comes a significant amount of hits as well as misses. Stefan Jovetic has yet to justify his £22 million price tag, and £40 million for Eliaquim Mangala still seems like a stretch. In truth though with the amount of money flowing in and around the Emirates, certain transfer failures are tolerable, and again it is difficult to determine the say that Pellegrini has in any particular one. Fernandinho was pricey at £30 million but has become a success, and the same could be said about this year's budding star Kevin De Bruyne.
Overall his performance on more limited budgets at Villarreal and Málaga reflects well, and there have been enough success stories with the big money at City that the few failures shouldn't weigh too too heavily.
Pellegrini's preferred game is one of possession, organization, attacking movement, and artistry:
"Aesthetics are important. People want to be entertained and the coach has a responsibility for that. Fans come to see things they are not capable of doing. We have great movement in this team and like to use the ball. We always try to win, never to draw. We don't focus on opponents but on ourselves. I'm also sure that playing beautiful football makes it more likely you'll win."
Earlier in his European career he became associated with the 4-2-2-2, which @tikitactic breaks down quite nicely here. In this tactic, attacking width is provided by the fullbacks, whereas the "wingers" are instructed to occupy the half-spaces and central areas, and the two forwards are encouraged to do the opposite, making diagonal runs towards into the channels and wider areas to create space.
At Manchester City he has become more associated with the 4-2-3-1, though he hasn't completely lost his affinity for two-striker systems, and will occasionally still use the 4-2-2-2/4-4-2, as against West Brom most recently.
Philosophically Pellegrini differs from some of his esteemed peers in that he does not appear to have delusions of grandeur regarding his own influence, or the importance of a perfect tactical plan. In another worthwhile profile @tikitactic notes that the Chilean is "not obsessive" and takes a more holistic, less football-crazy approach to life. "The manager who just knows about football is lacking," he says.
Within football Pellegrini has remarked that his influence during the actual game is "minimal," and that it is during the week's training that he imposes his vision on the team, which focuses of course on tactical theory, but also intelligence:
"Tactics are not just theory, but more the intelligence you show on the pitch. You have to have the intelligence to find the answer inside the game."
On the other hand, his willingness to be pragmatic has been called into question when his side falls to an opponent more willing to sacrifice the beautiful game, such as after a 1-0 defeat to José Mourinho's Chelsea in 2014, or more recently following a somewhat topsy turvy 2-2 draw away at Paris St-Germain in the Champions League. For what it's worth, Pellegrini followed up with a perfectly Van Gaal/Mourinho-esque 1-0 for the home leg.
Pragmatic or not, Pellegrini's teams have rarely had an issue with finding the back of the net--his teams have never finished outside the top 10 in goals scored:
Defensively the record has been slightly less sterling though in recent years City have been a tough nut to crack. Despite this season's sometimes indifferent form, they remain top 3 in expected goals against according to both Paul Riley and Michael Caley.
Those who have delighted in Roberto Martinez's attacking prowess but have tired of the leaky defense (should be most of us by now, no?) may reasonably see Pellegrini as a better version of Martinez--the same philosophical commitment to aesthetic football, but coupled with a structural knowledge of how to impose organization and stability without sacrificing creativity and movement. It's that knowledge that Martinez seems to lack at the moment, or more charitably, is struggling to impart on the team.
It's difficult to say where Pellegrini will end up after this season. Man City are out of the title race, but have a legitimate shot at winning the Champions League. If they pull it off, where will his head be in terms of what he wants to do next? In that context it's a bit hard to imagine that Everton will tick off the boxes his mental checklist--European champion managers don't often jump to join mid-table sides.
With that being said, the increased influx of cash due to the TV deal means that Premier League clubs of all statures remain an attractive place to be. Pellegrini admitted as much in comments a few weeks ago:
"There are a lot of interesting things here in England because all the clubs have the money to have a good project, so a lot of managers will be interested in a lot of clubs. With the new rights from the TV deal, you have more money and all the teams here in England can pick good players."
There are definitely some vagaries flying around here but the words "a good project" are pretty apt to describe where Everton are right now: new investment, young talent, and a hungry supporter base. Furthermore, the tactics and philosophy described in the previous section are not far out of step from the direction towards which Everton as a whole are purporting to move. Were Pellegrini to look at Everton, he would see a squad and an organization likely to be receptive to his methods and his ideology.
Ultimately that's probably what any Toffee hoping to bring Pellegrini to Goodison will have to hope for: that he sees in Everton what he saw in Málaga. I perhaps wouldn't advise you bet your life savings on it happening, but it's also not out of the question. At 8/1, maybe it's worth a fiver.