Manuel Pellegrini says it was his decision for Manchester City to announce the appointment of Pep Guardiola early – and he is not sure it was the right one.
Pellegrini confirmed he would leave City in the summer way back on February 1, with 15 games of the Premier League season still remaining.
City were only three points behind Leicester City at the summit at that time and also still in the Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup.
They went on to win the latter tournament, beating Liverpool on penalties, but eventually finished fourth in the Premier League, 15 points behind Leicester, and failed to lift any further silverware, though they did reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.
City lost three games in quick succession after the Guardiola announcement, leading Pellegrini to question the sense of his decision to go public.
“After Guardiola said he was coming to England it was my decision because all the media was talking about Guardiola here, Guardiola in Arsenal, Guardiola in Manchester United,” Pellegrini told The Guardian. “It was not fair for all managers – when everyone knew he was coming here.
“If I ask if I would do that again…I have some doubts. This is honest. Yes. I am very self-critical about what I do. Always.
“I don’t want to use [this] as an excuse, but it was so difficult to work after that. Not for me, for the players.
“It’s impossible to know if it was the right decision. But when you see the consequence of losing immediately three games in a row when you are winning the last five or something…
“The most difficult thing in a group is when you break something. Something was broken in that moment so, as I say, the complete glass is broken. Then, you must try to rearrange it.”
Pellegrini understandably rates this season as the least satisfying of this three at the Etihad Stadium, but he says injuries to key players prevented him from playing his preferred style.
He said: “The semi-final with Real Madrid: they can eliminate you but not in that way. Before we were with our mind on other things – at Southampton we lose [4-2], we draw with Arsenal, and we draw with Swansea. So we have two points from the last nine.
“If we have the normal finish winning those games we finish second. For me which season I was less happy with: this one.
“I like to know how to defend but with three players when they have a counterattack. Then, with line-back [the defence] and one midfielder. Line-back with three midfielders. Line-back with 11 players.
“If you have 11 players you can make a good pressing. If not, you can’t cover the complete pitch. You must cover a bit. What I want is to recover the ball as near to the other box as we can and when we have the ball, play. We couldn’t do this this season because we didn’t have 20 players [fit for long enough].
“[David] Silva was the whole year not fully fit. Samir Nasri couldn’t play a whole year. Yaya [Touré] was not in a good year. So what happened? We change our style of play, that’s why in three seasons I change absolutely the way we play.
“In this year with [Jesus] Navas, [Raheem] Sterling, [Kevin] De Bruyne, it’s impossible to be a technical team. You must be a speed team, one-v-one, make cross and counterattacks at speed. But I was not happy with the style of football we play – I don’t think that we had creative players.”
Pellegrini says De Bruyne’s injury in particular “killed” City’s season, but the Chilean is confident that both of the big-money signings he made last summer will prove to be long-term successes.
“Absolutely decisive,” he said of losing De Bruyne. “But as a manager what can you do? Say we cannot play without Kevin De Bruyne? What will all the other players think?
“When you keep the ball so well as Kevin it’s very difficult to be a bad player, but he must improve and will. He has to play a bit more with care, not to [misplace] so many passes. He has so good technique, in one or two years more he will have better decisions with the last pass.
“Sterling started well. After that, with the injuries and maybe the new demands of the club, the responsibility he has when he knows the club pay so much money for him, maybe this affected him. But I’m sure this [next] season he will be really important.”