Jim White

Pellegrini needs victory to validate big-spending City

Jim White

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Does Manuel Pellegrini pay much attention to football history? The Engineer is clearly a thoughtful, studious, thorough kind of coach, who seems more than aware of his position in the grander scheme of things. But if he is a student of the past, on this occasion he might be wise to stick to the present and pay no heed to what has gone before.

Because here is a quirk of history that the Chilean will certainly not wish to sustain: Sir Alex Ferguson aside, every single coach who has won the League Cup since 2007 has subsequently been fired by their club within a season of lifting the trophy.

The run goes like this: Jose Mourinho won it with Chelsea in March 2007 and was gone by the autumn. Juande Ramos won it with Spurs in 2008 and was soon on his bike. Fergie then took it home with him for a couple of seasons (remember those days when Manchester United won things?) before Alex McLeish steered Birmingham to a surprise victory over Arsenal at Wembley in 2011.

McLeish was removed from office barely three months later after his side were relegated. Then Kenny Dalglish won it with Liverpool in 2012. At the time he told us it was the trigger, the restart of something big at Anfield. Instead, it was something small that arrived in the dugout in the shape of Brendan Rodgers who replaced the dismissed Scot.

Most recently in 2013 Michael Laudrup extended the pattern. Despite steering Swansea to their first major trophy ever, he was summarily removed under a year later after taking an unscheduled spring break in Paris just after the team had lost a league game.

In short: look out Manuel. Because surely the Chilean is about to test the pattern by winning his first trophy in England (and his 'second' in Europe after the rather tenuous Intertoto Cup he lifted with Villarreal decade ago).

Surely there can be no other result than Manchester City, the most resourced club in the country, take the Capital One Cup back to the Etihad on Sunday evening. Surely Sunderland don’t have sufficient wherewithal to stop them. There can be no other result. Can there?

For Pellegrini this is a hugely significant moment. The Capital One Cup may be at the bottom of his stated priorities this season, but now he has reached the final he has to demonstrate that he has the wherewithal to convert potential into silverware.

Everyone knows City have the best squad, the deepest pockets and the sunniest financial outlook in the Premier League. But those are fruitless boasts without a stack of trophies to show for all the outlay. On Sunday Pellegrini has to prove that his side is as capable of accumulating cups as assumption insists they should be.

If the game were played on paper, he would be already home, hosed and with his feet in the ice bath. In theory, City – especially with Sergio Aguero back in the fold – are way better than anyone else in the country. Sure, there is a sizeable problem on the left-hand side of their defence, the one which Barcelona exploited so effectively in the recent Champions League encounter. But Sunderland aren’t Barca. And even in the form of his life, Adam Johnson isn’t Lionel Messi.

Frankly, Pellegrini could pick himself at left-back and the rest of his team would be more than capable of easing past the north easterners on Sunday.

Fortunately for Gus Poyet, the game won’t be played on paper. And the excitable Sunderland manager will be making his players more than aware of the huge expectation gap between them and their opponents. City are expected not only to win, but win comfortably.

Given the difference in resources between the two sides, the City players should walk it. Which, oddly, as Poyet will be telling his men, brings a certain pressure. Whereas Sunderland have absolutely nothing to lose and can approach the game with the carefree abandon of the underdog, City will walk out on the Wembley turf burdened with assumption.

And assumption can play funny tricks. You only have to look at the most recent of history to see what that can do. Last May, City were up against Wigan in the FA Cup final, a side if anything even less favoured than Sunderland. The supposition was they would not just walk it, they’d stroll contemptuously to victory. Yet they blew it. At Wembley the divide between potential and trophies suddenly appeared a vast chasm.

Sure, things have changed for City in many ways since then. For a start the players have in charge of them a man who does not spend most of his working life lambasting them for their failings. They have instead a man of patience, dignity and sensitivity. They also have a much improved squad. The addition of Alvaro Negredo and Fernandinho have been hugely significant.

But one thing they still don’t have is a collection of trophies to prove their superiority. They need to start accumulating silverware fast, even if it is just in the shape of the Capital One Cup.

No matter what happened to those who won in the recent past, Pellegrini has to engineer victory. If what is going on at City is to have any point, any purpose, he has no choice but to win. No pressure then, Manuel.

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