Manuel Pellegrini on Pep, KDB, Ronaldo, West Ham and more

- Interview Andy Mitten Portrait Ignacio Borrego López

“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

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