It’s been more than a month since Bayern Munich head coach Pep Guardiola confirmed rumors that he will replace Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini at the end of the season.
Problem is, both Pellegrini and Guardiola are alive in the Champions League quarterfinals, so what happens if Pellegrini and City go on to win the trophy, perhaps at the expense of Bayern in the semis or in the final? Since matchups are determined by a draw after each round, it’s quite possible, assuming both teams advance, that they can meet either in the semis or the May 28 final in Milan.
You heard that right. Pellegrini, who declared months ago the team’s major objective is to win the European crown, could be jettisoned despite doing just that. Among the final eight, City isn’t among the favorites, yet neither is it regarded as lightly as rank outsider Wolfsburg or definitive longshot Benfica.
One must wonder what is going on with Man City management. Yes, Guardiola has usurped Jose Mourinho – whose chutzpah reached new bounds when he proclaimed last month he’d agreed to replace Louis van Gaal at Manchester United, with no ensuing confirmation by the club -- as the game’s hottest managerial commodity, and surely team officials didn’t want word to leak out so far in advance of the fact.
Three years ago, City fired Roberto Mancini – hailed as a hero a year earlier after leading City to its first top-tier title since 1968 – after it stumbled in the Champions League and lost to Wigan, which would be relegated from the Premier League, in the FA Cup final.
Pellegrini took over and recaptured the Premier League title during the 2013-14 season, and six months later City advanced out of the 2014-15 Champions League group phase but lost in the round of 16 to eventual champion Barcelona. In the Premier League it finished second, eight points behind leader Chelsea.
Nevertheless, City management kept him on and again City advanced out of the UCL group phase. But in the Premier League, despite a shocking collapse by Chelsea and the struggles of Manchester United and Arsenal, City could not seize the initiative from upstart Leicester City and the most resilent Tottenham team seen for more than a decade.
When City hosts archrival United in the Manchester derby on Sunday, it will be desperate for the points that could secure third place. A victory can do no more than move it within four points of second-place Spurs and it will enter the weekend a point behind Arsenal. United, even by winning, can rise no higher than fifth, and there seems no way van Gaal, despite dealing with a roster decimated by injuries, can keep his job.
For much of the season, Pellegrini has been deprived of his rugged captain Vincent Kompany and he’s still on track in Europe. Still, City Football Group is adamant that Guardiola, who among his many stops in his careers as international player and team manager has never worked in England, is its man of the future.
Depending on perspective, City got a bit of luck in the draw by avoiding Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as Atletico Madrid and Bayern. Its quarterfinal opponent, Paris St. Germain, has itself spent lavishly to elevate the club into the European elite yet -- like City -- has yet to prove it can command the respect afforded to the Spanish clubs, Bayern, the Milan powers, and of course, United.
Chances are that City won’t win the European crown for the first time and Pellegrini, a classy and well-spoken native of Chile who established his continental credentials at Villarreal, will exit this messy scene as elegantly as possible. And the club in some ways is responding to Guardiola, who for the past couple of years has hinted of seeking out new challenges in England.
The stark irony of this situation is that City could not only fall short of winning the Champions League, it could slip far enough – lower than fourth place – in the Premier League to compete instead in the Europa League next season.
City can take a big step toward that goal by dispatching United on Sunday. But anything less than victory will perpetuate one of the more bizarre scenario seen in recent seasons.