Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Jose Mourinho's mind games will not work with tough cookie Manuel Pellegrini

Manuel Pellegrini
Manuel Pellegrini

Old-timer Manuel Pellegrini's skin is thicker than Yaya Touré's pay packet so it was no surprise that he made as little as he did about being abused by the Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew, at the weekend.

 

 

The word among some of his Premier League counterparts is that Manchester City's manager is not winning any popularity contests. If Sir Alex Ferguson was still in charge at United, we would probably have heard by now about how the City man never stops for a glass of Chilean red after games.

 

Pellegrini is as cold to fellow managers as he is flat in front of cameras and microphones, but the iceman persona and apparent immunity to provocation can only bode well for City's title run-in. There will be no Kevin Keegan "I would love it" moment when Jose Mourinho starts to crank up the mind games.

 

The Chelsea manager has already started poking the cage with the suggestion that the title is City's to lose because of their "vastly superior" squad. He has claimed beating City to the title this year would be his "greatest achievement" at Stamford Bridge. The David and Goliath rhetoric will continue from here until May.

 

But Pellegrini learnt how to bat away Mourinho curve balls in La Liga and before that honed his steely exterior in South America. Had there been extended verbals between himself and Pardew on Sunday, he could easily have told him: "You don't bother me, pal, I've had a police escort out of a Superclasico."

 

When he and his current assistant Ruben Cousillas took over at River Plate in 2002, he was Mr Unpopular from the start. He had replaced a club legend in Ramon Diaz and supporters had wanted another old favourite, the 1978 World Cup-winning captain Daniel Passarella, to take over.

 

Pellegrini did himself no favours by announcing his long-term aim was to coach the Chile national side, but he rode out the storm and delivered the title. The police escort came in the second season when things turned sour. After a defeat to bitter rivals Boca Juniors at River's El Monumental stadium, armed police had to shuffle him out of a side exit to protect him from the mob.

 

When he arrived in England at the start of the season, some suggested Pellegrini would not handle the pressure as he had "won nothing" – harshly discounting two Argentine championships. As a centre-back at Universidad de Chile, his critics referred to him as "El Gomero" – "the gum tree"– a phrase used in Chile to describe someone as "ornamental but not overly useful". That may have been the last time he was properly offended.

 

As for the "old" part of Pardew's insult, in the current managerial climate that could easily be taken as a compliment: the only coach senior to Pellegrini in the Premier League is 64-year-old Arsène Wenger and he happens to be the only manager higher placed than him in the table. Both men are aiming to the lift the trophy won last year by a 72-year-old; international football's current European and World Champion is 63-year-old Vicente Del Bosque; and last season's Champions League was won by 68-year-old Jupp Heynckes.

 

Old is gold at the moment, and for the title run-in cold will be gold too if it means being detached and aloof at the top of the table come the end of the season.

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