I feel like one of the only Saints fans who isn’t entirely convinced by the possibility of Manuel Pellegrini becoming the new Southampton manager. The next managerial appointment is arguably the biggest in the club’s history and I still have mixed feelings over whether the former Manchester City manager is the right man for the job.
Let’s address one of the most glaring aspects that doesn’t make him a typical Southampton manager – his age. The Chilean is 62 and you have to think that if he were to take over at St. Mary’s, this job would be one of, if not, the last job in his managerial career that has spanned almost three decades. Would he have the same drive and determination that younger managers would have when coming to take over as Ronald Koeman’s successor?
The appointments of Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman are prime examples of a ‘typical’ Southampton managerial selection. Both were relatively young managers when they took to the Southampton dugout with Pochettino especially a largely unknown figure when he became Saints manager almost instantly after Nigel Adkins had been sacked. Both were young and hungry managers with ambitions to take Saints, and indeed their own careers, to the next level.
However, despite Pellegrini not fitting the Saints mould of a young, hungry and unknown manager looking for a big break, the possible appointment of the Premier League winner could fill Saints fans with a sense of optimism for the future. Pellegrini’s decorated managerial career shows that, unlike the two former Saints managers, he will not see the Southampton job as a stepping stone. Pellegrini would take over at Southampton as an established, successful manager keen to take Southampton onto the next level.
One of my main concerns about Pellegrini, however, is his time at Manchester City. Despite winning the Premier League in his first campaign with attractive, attacking football, Pellegrini underachieved in his two subsequent seasons at the Etihad. One of my Manchester City supporting friends told me that, in his opinion, no player had improved under Manuel Pellegrini and that immediately concerned me. Southampton has become a club notorious with improving players, regardless of age. Whilst foundations lay around the club’s first team management that allow players to train in an environment that allows them to improve, it worries me that having such a high calibre manager who has failed to improve and develop players at one of the Europe’s biggest clubs would lead to a decline in that particular trait that has been engrained into Southampton’s identity.
The same also applies to academy players. Only one City player managed to break onto the scene at the Etihad last season – Kelechi Iheanacho. Admittedly, it’s much harder to bring young players into the first team when you’re playing at the very top level, but Pellegrini was often criticised for not playing young players from their highly rated academy enough. After the blocked ‘pathway to the first team’ under Ronald Koeman, Les Reed would surely need some assurances from Pellegrini that he would give young players more of a chance under him than they did under the Dutchman.
Another concern for Saints fans must be the way Manchester City defended last season. Their prolific attacking threat seriously outweighed their lacklustre defending and led to questions over Pellegrini’s ability to improve them at the back. Under Pochettino and Koeman, Southampton’s impressive attacking football was built from a strong defensive foundation, something that Pellegrini’s City severely lacked last campaign especially.
Despite Pellegrini’s underachievement in his last two seasons at City, it’s vitally important to look beyond that. Southampton being linked to a Premier League manager that has reached the Champions League semi-final and has signed Cristiano Ronaldo when he was manager of Real Madrid shows how far the club has come, how strong of a position we’re in and what an attractive prospect being Southampton manager is. Looking past the last two seasons at Manchester City, Pellegrini’s record his extremely impressive. His time in Spain saw him work wonders with Villarreal and Malaga either side of a short stint at Real Madrid when he achieved a then club record of 96 points in La Liga.
Pellegrini’s appointment could be a potential turning point in the calibre of managers that Southampton appoint in the future. Pellegrini’s stature would make a difference in being able to convince players to stay at the club which, as we know, has been a frequent feature of Saints players over the last few summers. As well as that, he is a manager that would allow Saints to delve into a pool of players to sign in the transfer window that may not have been accessible if we didn’t have such a highly reputable and successful manager as Pellegrini in charge.
The next step that Southampton want to take to break into the top four is the biggest and hardest yet. To do that, Southampton need to make a managerial appointment that shows that they’re ready to make that leap. Appointing a manager with the experience that Pellegrini has could be that appointment. After all, how often is a manager with a CV as impressive as Pellegrini available at the same time as Saints have a vacant managerial position with both parties seemingly very interested in the prospect of working with each other?
Well, after writing this, I’ve certainly warmed to the idea.