The Boss. pic.twitter.com/tVAWWImBVW
— #ImForever (@WestHamUtd) May 23, 2018
By Dave Langton
Back in 2013, Spanish La Liga club Malaga were moments away from reaching the Champions League semi-finals when two injury time goals from Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund shattered their European dreams. It was a devastating few minutes compounded by controversy surrounding the decisive goal.
Despite their disappointment, Malaga could console themselves with a sixth-place finish in the Spanish top flight and a place in the following season’s Europa League. But even that was a step backwards from the fourth place they achieved the year before.
Throughout their history, Malaga have rarely had such lofty ambitions but that is the mindset installed during new West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini’s short time at the club.
Just two years before the ‘Quiet Chilean’ led the Andalusians to the Champions League, they had avoided relegation by a single point by drawing at home to Real Madrid (who, coincidentally, were coached by Pellegrini at the time) on the last day of the season.
In contrast, the club from the capital had just finished second in the league to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona having accumulated 96 points (a club record) and scored 102 goals.
That game marked a turning point for both sides as Pellegrini was dismissed by Los Blancos shortly after and hired by Malaga just a few months later. And his spell at Malaga is worth using as a benchmark when assessing his credentials as boss of West Ham United.
European ambitions or consolidation?
So what should Irons fans expect now? More consolidation? Or a push for Europe?
Clubs at that level are often accused of thinking above their station or told to be careful what they wish for when talk of anything other than survival comes up. But why shouldn’t they show some ambition and look to progress?
When Pellegrini took over at Malaga on November 5, 2010, they were in bad shape and had just lost five of their previous six games. Results immediately improved and he guided the club to 11th place in the league.
The club had recently been taken over by Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani who handed Pellegrini a £50m transfer kitty in the summer of 2011. In his first full season in charge, he led the club to fourth.
This tells us that given the right backing, he has proven his ability to turn relegation candidates into Champions League quarter-finalists in a short period of time. His spells at Real Madrid and Manchester City also proved his ability to deliver under pressure at the highest possible level. Real Madrid admitted they would have kept him had Mourinho not become available.
It should also be remembered that he led La Liga side Villarreal to third place in his first season in charge and followed that with a Champions League quarter-final in 2005, a Champions League semi-final in 2006 and a club-best second-place finish in La Liga in 2008. His biggest net spend during this spell was £20m in 2006/07.
Is there room for optimism?
Having failed to lure Rafa Benitez to the club (for the second time), West Ham United have made a very smart move in turning to Pellegrini. There are very few coaches out there who can boast such an impressive CV and would have entertained the idea of taking on the West Ham role.
He has managed at various budget levels across multiple leagues and has rarely failed to deliver results. To say he is an upgrade on David Moyes is an understatement. If the board supports him in the transfer market, West Ham fans should be very excited.
The Hammers are currently available at odds of 9/4 to finish in the top half of the table. Sounds discouraging, right? Fret not – all is not lost. As any good punter might tell you, there are instances where bookies misprice their odds, creating what is called “value betting” in the industry. This isn’t the forum to get into that but what we’re basically saying here is that there is a chance that representative of their realistic chances. Let’s take West Ham’s odds for example. They are longer than the odds on offer in the same market for newly-promoted Wolves, and Southampton, who, might we remind you, finished fourth from bottom last season. Considering Pellegrini’s track record during debut campaigns, the odds don’t look to reflect his considerable influence. The man known as ‘The Engineer’ finished in the top four in his first full seasons at Villarreal, Malaga, Real Madrid and Manchester City. So as we said, there is still hope.
High profile coach but were there better options?
His appointment hasn’t been met with optimism by everyone. Former Hammers’ boss Harry Redknapp complained: “you can’t tell me there’s not some good young managers about in the Championship who’ve done great jobs, who do deserve an opportunity to manage.” He even went as far to say: “Pearcey could have done the job no problems.” In reference to Moyes’ former assistant Stuart Pearce.
Sure, there may have been other options and West Ham could have opted for a Championship manager. In fact, they tried to recruit Benitez who was a Championship manager just over a year ago.
Previously they went for Premier League experience in David Moyes, and took a risk on Slaven Bilic, but this time they have opted to go for a high profile coach with a proven track record. This is the guy who broke the points record at Real Madrid, a club where Benitez lasted just a few months.
Considering the risk the board have taken in uprooting the club – upsetting a huge portion of their fan base in the process – they need to deliver something more palatable on the pitch. Something more than consolidation. And if the club gives the new coach the support and trust his record commands, West Ham United could take a huge step towards their goal of becoming a London powerhouse.