Manuel Pellegrini on Pep, KDB, Ronaldo, West Ham and more
“I knew Guardiola was coming when I was Manchester City boss – the club had already told me they wanted Pep when I arrived”
Manuel Pellegrini looks across the Staffordshire countryside and spies a hint of blue between the heavy clouds of late July. “An English summer,” says the smiling Real Betis manager, 67, who has brought his team to England for pre- season.
With Seville’s temperatures touching 40 degrees, St George’s Park and its plush facilities make for a welcome base as Betis prepare for their return to European competition. Last term was a roaring success under the manager who joined them a year ago, as Betis leapt from 15th to sixth under Pellegrini to nab automatic qualification for the Europa League group stage.
After a rough ride at West Ham – an uncharacteristic failure for the Chilean – it was a welcome return to normality for Pellegrini, who has made a career of taking unfancied sides into Europe ever since he guided Villarreal to the Champions League semi- finals back in 2005- 06. That came after a decade spent managing in his native Chile, followed by stints in Ecuador and Argentina, and preceded high- profile spells with Real Madrid, Malaga and Manchester City, whom he steered to the 2013- 14 Premier League title and a pair of League Cup triumphs.
Now, following a day’s graft with Los Verdiblancos, the jovial Santiago native perches on a patio with Fourfourtwo to answer readers’ questions...
Were you close to going into civil engineering instead of football? Did your degree help you as a manager? @ spursdab, via Twitter
I worked a lot of years as an engineer. First, I was a professional footballer, but I’d been at university from 17 and by 24 my studies were complete. I was a player and also an engineer, but when I finished playing I decided to see if I liked being a manager. That was 1986 – until 1994, I was both an engineer and a professional football manager. I was working mainly on houses and small buildings, including those affected by the earthquake [ of Algarrobo in 1985], which is a big part of our history. But I reached the point where I had to decide. For the last 33 years, I’ve worked only as a manager.
As a player, you were a one- club man with Universidad de Chile. Why didn’t you move on? You’ve said before that Ivan Zamorano basically retired you! Tyler Spencer, Ashbourne
Universidad de Chile are one of Chile’s three biggest clubs. I’d supported them as a boy and wanted to play for them, though I studied at a rival university, Catolica. Why did I retire from football in the end? Yes, it’s true that I played against Ivan Zamarano when he was coming through. I could jump really high – I had played volleyball and basketball when I was younger – but he could jump higher! [ Laughs] So, maybe it was time to retire, but it wasn’t simply because of that. I was happy with my career. I played once for the national team, against Brazil in 1986 – it was only a friendly but it was a special, emotional moment.
What did you learn about yourself during your early days managing? What were your aspirations then? Jude Palmer, Gravesend
I started managing at the club where I’d always played. Maybe I was too young to have that duty at a big team in a difficult financial moment, but as a confident young man you think you can do it all. So, I started my career with a relegation – by only one goal – and that was a hard moment for me. But it also allowed me to grow a lot, and it convinced me that I should be a manager. I did coaching courses in several different countries, including England. Altogether, I spent 10 years managing in Chile. I had three years at Universidad Catolica, a huge club where we lifted the Copa Chile. Then I moved to Ecuador with LDU Quito, where we won the league, before the next step – a big one – in Argentina.
What’s it actually like to manage a club like River Plate? How bad was the situation in 2002, when things turned nasty after a Superclasico defeat and the fans attacked you in your press conference? Simon Selby, Brighton
I won the title at both River Plate and San Lorenzo [ left] in my two years in Argentina, plus a first international title for San Lorenzo [ the Copa Mercosur]. My target was to get to Europe, but football is very passionate in Argentina. As for that press conference, I had to play against Boca Juniors with only half a team, and River fans didn’t accept the defeat. The anger passed, but I did what I thought was right for the club.
Your assistant, Ruben Cousillas, has followed you to your last nine clubs. What makes a manager- assistant relationship work well? Does he have a different role to other assistants? He often wears a suit, for starters… Lee Clarke, via Instagram
I first met Ruben in San Lorenzo – he had played there for several years. The president told me that he was out of