On February 1st, 2016, Manchester City had 47 points and were second in the Barclays Premier League, just three points behind leaders Leicester City. It was on that day that the club made the decision to announce that manager Manuel Pellegrini would not be returning as their manager next season. A few days later they announced that current Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola would replace him.
Even at the time the announcement was made I thought the timing was odd. Why would Manchester City announce this now, and more importantly, how would this impact the remainder of their season? The answer is negatively. Very negatively.
To say Manchester City went into a downward spiral after announcing Pellegrini would not be returning would be putting it very polite for the Sky Blues. Since February 1st, City has won just two games in the Premier League, drawn one and lost four, picking up a total of just seven points. To make matters worse those wins came over Sunderland and Aston Villa, two clubs in the relegation zone. The draw came against Norwich City, a team that just climbed out of the relegation zone this week. In that time City have fallen from second place to fourth, where they hold a one point lead (with a game in hand) on both West Ham and Manchester United. At this point, it’s looking very likely that City will fall out of the top four completely.
Now Manchester City are far from the first team to announce a future managerial change midseason and the results are not always bad. In January 2013 Bayern Munich announced that Pep Guardiola would be replacing Jupp Heynckes the following summer. Bayern sent Heynckes off by winning the Bundesliga, DFB Pokal, and the Champions League. Last year Borussia Dortmund sent off Jurgen Klopp by coming back from a horrific first half that saw them sitting in 17th at the winter break by storming up the table to a seventh place finish.
But those teams are not Manchester City, those managers were not Manuel Pellegrini and those players were not the ones that currently make up Manchester City’s squad.
Hindsight may be 20/20 but it wasn’t hard to see this Manchester City collapse coming. This is a City squad that has a history of having motivational problems. After winning their first Premier League title in 2012 the team responded by putting up a pretty pathetic title defense the following season that allowed Manchester United to win the 2013 title in mid April.
When it came to defending their title again in 2015 you may remember Chelsea running away with that title. What you may have forgotten was that the two teams were dead even on New Years Day. Over the second half of the season Chelsea couldn’t maintain the great form they had in the first half. It didn’t matter though because City were significantly worse.
On many great teams you get the sense that there’s a special connection between the manager and his players. Despite a poor final season, the players who played under Jurgen Klopp at Dortmund still speak glowingly about him. In his recent book, Sir Alex Ferguson spoke about how when he recruiting players he always made it a point to meet not just with the player but with his family too. This establishes a personal connection. It’s why Cristiano Ronaldo considers Sir Alex his “football father” and why even players that Ferguson threw out of Manchester United like Ruud van Nistelrooy and David Beckham still speak glowingly about the man.
You never got that feeling at Manchester City though. Since City began their spending spree following their influx of Middle Eastern oil money it always seemed like the players they were bringing in were simply paid mercenaries. They didn’t care so much whether they won or lost but simply about them getting their checks. Managers weren’t meeting with new recruits over the summer to establish a personal connection, rather players agents were simply in contact with club representatives and the only things being discussed were wages. If City offered them high enough they came.
It certainly didn’t help that City were changing managers at about the same rate as Chelsea. Many of City’s current players have been at the club longer then Pellegrini. Their loyalty doesn’t lie with him, nor does it lie with the club.
The belief that the players have to play for their jobs at City next year is a myth. The players already know if they fit the Pep Guardiola mold or not. Those that do will stay at City, those that don’t already know it and will be moving on. Their loyalty isn’t to the club, it’s to their checks, and they’ll find someone else to give it to them.
City are a team comprised of mercenaries, only interested in their next check. Once it was announced that Pellegrini would be leaving, how could you expect him to motivate a team that has a history of motivation problems, if they knew he wouldn’t be here come summer time?
Manchester City brass should have seen this coming and kept quiet about it. Instead the mistake will cost them a Champions League spot, and new manager Pep Guardiola will be starting his first season at Manchester City in the Europa League.