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Welcome, Pep. Adios, Manuel

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The hierarchy at Manchester City do not make any decision these days unless there is a strategically beneficial reason behind it.┬áTheir confirmation of football’s worst-kept secret was no surprise, writes Richard Tanner in the Express, but the timing of the announcement of Pep Guardiola’s appointment – on transfer deadline day no less – did come as something of a shock. But it is understood City’s logic behind clarifying their intentions is that it will fuel rather than deflate their bid for an unprecedented quadruple of trophies.

City’s expensively-assembled squad of stars are playing for their futures. Effectively, they will undergo a three-month audition with new boss Pep Guardiola watching every move, if not in the flesh then certainly on television and DVD. And they will be doubly determined to ensure Manuel Pellegrini leaves with his head held high and armed with a trophy or two or three – or even four.

While players will be excited to work under Guardiola, they have enormous respect for the popular Pellegrini whose calm man-management and dignified manner was a sharp contrast to the man he replaced, the highly volatile Roberto Mancini.

City have also dismissed the notion that Pellegrini will simply down tools and ease his foot off the pedal. If anything, the Chilean will be even more determined to go out with a bang.

And considering football’s love of throwing up intriguing twists to the plot, remember that Pellegrini could meet Guardiola in the latter stages of the Champions League if City and Bayern Munich both navigate their last-16 ties.

It is understood from sources close to Pellegrini that he would not have been so philosophical about losing his job if his replacement had not been Guardiola.

He has always been comfortable with City’s pursuit of the man regarded as the best coach in the world because he understands it is all part of a bigger plan by Abu Dhabi owner Sheikh Mansour to establish the outfit he bought in 2008 as the world’s leading club.

Guardiola is 20 years younger than Pellegrini and has won 19 trophies in his first seven years as a coach – 14 of them in a glittering four-year spell at Barcelona and the other five during his three-year spell at Bayern Munich.

That total is likely to increase by the time he arrives at the Etihad in the summer because Bayern are favourites for the League and Cup double in Germany as well as still being in Europe.

Photo Courtesy: Manchester City's official website
Photo Courtesy: Manchester City’s official website

City, in turn, would not be showing Pellegrini the door if Guardiola had not come onto the market. They tried hard in 2012 when the Spaniard quit Barcelona but insisted on taking a year’s sabbatical and then joined Bayern.

They turned to Pellegrini then and he has not let them down, winning a Premier League-Capital One Cup double in his first season, taking them to runners-up in his second campaign, guiding them into the knock-out stages of the Champions League three years running and keeping them on course for all four major trophies this season.

But City simply could not pass up the chance to hire Guardiola, especially when you consider the close relationship he has with their sporting director Txiki Begiristain and chief executive Ferran Sorinao from his days as a player and coach at Barcelona.

He and Begiristain played in the Barcelona dream team of the early 1990s and he became friendly with former Barcelona director Soriano when he was coach of Barca’s B team. They were both instrumental in his promotion to first team coach in 2008. The word is Begiristain and Guardiola barely go a day without speaking to each other on the phone.

City never considered Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho or Diego Simeone because Guardiola was the only manager they wanted. Pellegrini has always accepted that and was happy to end all the speculation, as was chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak.

City were aware both neighbours United and Chelsea have spoken to Guardiola’s representatives but always remained confident the Spaniard would keep his word and join their crusade for world domination.

As soon as Khaldoon had signed and sealed an agreement with Guardiola last week he told Pellegrini and they decided together there was little point trying to keep it under wraps.

Bayern Munich had no problem with the announcement because they had already told the world last month that Ancelotti would be taking over from Guardiola in the summer.

And the timing also suits Pellegrini because, despite being 64, he is not thinking of retirement yet. He loves the Premier League and wants to stay in English football. Ironically, he will now be on Chelsea’s radar as they look to replace his old foe Jose Mourinho – how he would love that.

City find themselves in an identical scenario to the one Bayern were in when they announced in January 2013 Guardiola would be joining them that summer to take over from Jupp Heynckes.

Far from undermine Heynckes, he guided them to the treble and walked out of the Allianz Area a hero. City and Pellegrini will hope for something similar come May.

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